Royal Ascot: Crown fits for James Doyle as he proves far from second best

Sunday June 19 2022, 12.01am, The Sunday Times

Second string need not mean second best. Just ask jockey James Doyle. In April, he rode the lesser-fancied, albeit highly regarded, Coroebus to edge out the better-fancied Godolphin stablemate Native Trail in the 2,000 Guineas.

In yesterday’s featured Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, it was much closer. First jockey William Buick was on Creative Force, but Doyle and Naval Crown had it by a neck in a photo — and at 33-1.

Doyle was best man at Buick’s wedding last year and with the firepower of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, neither friendship, nor second option, has prevented him riding more than 100 winners in seven of the past eight seasons. At 5ft 10in, he is tall for a jockey who rides at nine stone, but his strength, style and composure were at their best as he powered Naval Crown home.

In hindsight, the muscled-up four- year-old should never have been such a generous price. There was little more than a length in it when Creative Force beat him at last year’s Royal Ascot. That was over a furlong further than yesterday’s trip. “He was favourite over seven in Saudi Arabia and ran away with me,” Doyle said. “We were hopeful dropping back.”

There was no running away yesterday, as he was able to shadow the Australian favourite Home Affairs, whose rider, James MacDonald, had his feet braced hard against the dashboard as he blazed into the lead on the stands side when attempting a repeat of his stablemate Nature Strip’s triumph on Tuesday.

Up to 300 yards out, it had been an intercontinental duel as the American filly, Campanelle, led another group up the centre. But as Home Affairs shot his bolt to fade back to finish 20th of the 24 runners in the Group One field, Doyle sent Naval Crown hard and true for the line, whilst much drama happened out to the right of him.

Campanelle was duelling with the flint-hard Yorkshire mare Highfield Princess. Buick was driving Creative Force on the outside, while the Cheveley Park filly, Sacred, was closing and Jamie Spencer was finally galvanising the late-running Australian runner, Artorius.

At the line, a length covered the first six. Naval Crown held off his stablemate by a neck, with Artorius and Campanelle dead-heating a neck in front of Sacred. You don’t get a much more breathless finish than that. “I’ll be honest,” trainer Charlie Appleby, for whom Buick had earlier won the Jersey Stakes on Noble Truth, said, “William rode a piece of work on both horses and couldn’t split them. They were flying up the gallops and are tough horses.”

Appleby and Buick had less luck with odds-on favourite Hurricane Lane in the Hardwicke Stakes. Last year’s St Leger winner is a magnificent brute of a horse, but this was his first race of the season and from the gates it was clear Ryan Moore was going to make this an exacting test of fitness. The attrition paid off. Hurricane Lane got close two out, but buckled under pressure to weaken into third, fully four lengths off the winner, Broome.

Moore followed this with a last-to- first masterclass as Rohaan won his second Wokingham Stakes, giving the jockey his own 73rd Royal Ascot winner and ninth title at the meeting. He has neither Frankie Dettori’s crowd-pleasing ebullience, nor the Italian’s dramatic shifts of fortune — of which we saw another colourful chapter this week. But he remains as good as it gets. However, no pilot deserved more praise than the postillion Lucinda Perrett, who managed a bronco riding session when the bay mare, Ivory, kicked over the traces as the second royal carriage pulled up in the paddock. It turned out that Ivory had been stung by a horse fly. Nasty, but better than being struck by lightning.

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