Two superb American triumphs, two stunning 2-year-olds, a mighty stayer and two major forces who notched up multiple successes but may still be disappointed - analyst James Willoughby has plenty to say about the great festival last week.
Super mare Tepin needed nothing more than her talent
North American racehorses have added another dimension to Royal Ascot in the last few years. Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tepin will be remembered with some fondness following her display in the opening G1 Queen Anne Stakes – a triumph gained without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, without her usual nasal strip and without familiarity with the stiff, straight mile.
Incidentally, it is likely that Ascot will feature on the racing calendar of an increasing number of U.S. and Canadian racing professionals, which is exciting for the meeting, especially when those runners come outside the juvenile division that Wesley Ward has recently dominated.
Tepin succeeded where Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom failed in 2013, thanks in no small measure to a wonderfully judged ride by Julien Leparoux, who guided her through each of the eight furlongs in optimal splits.
Nevertheless, Tepin was tired in the final furlong and, understandably, did not match the brilliance of her Breeders’ Cup Mile win. Winning, however, was the only thing that mattered.
A middle-distance crusade for St George?
Aidan O’Brien saddled the magnificent stayer Yeats to win four Gold Cups between 2006 and 2009. But the son of Sadler’s Wells was never asked to prove himself among the elite over middle distances and probably would have lacked the pace.
Order Of St George, already the equal of his illustrious Ballydoyle predecessor in terms of ratings, definitely has the potential to drop back in trip. He was in tight quarters in midfield for most of the Royal meeting’s G1 showpiece and only got rolling in the straight, but he recorded a faster last two furlongs than Profitable in the G1 King’s Stand Stakes over five furlongs.
Connections must now decide whether Order Of St George is right for a crack at the Arc. The data suggests he is.
There is a snag, however, because this year, while Longchamp gets a facelift, the race will be held at Chantilly, which is not sufficiently testing to suit a stayer and tends to see closers get into trouble if they take a while to pick up.
Wherever he goes, Order Of St George will take a lot of beating. He got warm down at the start, but he sweated less than on some occasions and settled beautifully. He is rounding into a seasoned pro.
Tumbling to the bounce
When the Japanese-trained A Shin Hikari disappointed as odds-on favourite for the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, many analysts diagnosed his performance as the latest manifestation of ‘The Bounce’.
Traditionally, the thought process of many backers in Britain and Ireland is to focus on horses with good recent form. This makes sense and is backed up by the numbers, but sometimes horses can exceed previous expectations one day, then regress back to their mean performance afterwards. This has long been known as ‘The Bounce’ by U.S. horseplayers.
The Bounce is really nothing more than an artefact of racehorse form – and the physical condition of racehorses themselves – running in cycles. Most natural systems are up one day, down the next, and horses are no exception. The Bounce is a philosophy rather than a theorem, inasmuch as it is hard to prove statistically but seems to fit the facts.
The hard-pulling son of Deep Impact certainly seemed to fall prey to severe regression from his G1 Prix d’Ispahan rout, pulling hard at a steady pace in front and tiring badly.
Ward sensation must prove she can progress
Lady Aurelia’s seven-length romp in the G2 Queen Mary Stakes was one of the best performances ever seen from a juvenile filly in Britain. The winning time broke most speed-figure algorithms because it did not fit with any other race on the card.
This was a display to eclipse even that of another Ward-trained Queen Mary winner, Acapulco, only a year ago. To my mind, it is highly probable that the Ward juveniles have an advantage in preparation.
Last year, Acapulco was seen next in the G1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York, where connections let her take on older horses on outdated weight-for-age terms thought to heavily favour youngsters. She could finish only second to Mecca’s Angel and did not match her Royal Ascot form.
Lady Aurelia is a smallish filly with a fast, fluent, slightly rounded action. In addition to her natural dazzling speed and acceleration, she may have got over the soft surface better than many. But, whatever the conditions, I will be sceptical we will see this filly run back to the same number. Racing Post Ratings awarded her a 123 and Timeform even higher.
It seems as if Ward is fighting shy of another Nunthorpe bid, which is a shame, and is taking the path of another of his seven Royal Ascot winners, the 2013 G2 Norfolk Stakes winner No Nay Never, in heading for the G1 Prix Morny at Deauville in August.
Top-class Caravaggio underlines loss of sire Scat Daddy
The royal meeting seldom passes without an O’Brien-trained juvenile winner, and 2016 saw Caravaggio light up the scene with a truly brilliant win in the G2 Coventry Stakes.
The way that the grey made his way from the stands-side group to first chase and then master the favoured far-side runners marks him down as a top-notch juvenile. Naturally, the plaudits flowed for him, even leading to his promotion as favourite for the 2017 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. He is all about speed, however, and unlikely to be so effective over a mile.
Caravaggio’s win highlighted what a sad loss his sire Scat Daddy was at the end of 2015.
Moore strangely below his best despite honours
No jockey in the world can lay claim to the same global success and influence as Ryan Moore. He has no peers, either in his thinking or his riding. He managed to claim the leading rider title with six wins over the five days, but, as ever with riding titles, the deciding factor was the quality of his mounts.
Moore seemed to ride the G1 St James’s Palace Stakes on favourite The Gurkha as if the leaders were coming back to him. He was pocketed on the rails behind a moderate pace and gave lengths away cheaply to the resurgent 2,000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold, who had finished only second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas to Awtaad (third here) since his Newmarket triumph.
Early in the straight, Moore seemed still to believe that he had time to make a challenge, but he was forced to switch and faced an impossible task as Galileo Gold accelerated to take command, the leader throwing in a slick finishing split which would have been very hard for any horse to claw back.
The Gurkha finished strongly to be beaten just over a length, but the ground he had to make up came at a much higher energy cost than that he had given away early.
A rematch between the first three in the G1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood is eagerly anticipated. My money will be all-in on the runner-up here.
Godolphin win four races but still do not excel
Four wins but no Group 1s still represents an underwhelming Royal Ascot from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin ownership, and only one (Hawkbill, Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes) was trained in-house (by Charlie Appleby).
Godolphin were represented by a huge team of horses at Royal Ascot and this return is less than would have been expected back at the start of the century. They came into the meeting reportedly with high hopes.
Still, Godolphin are gradually moving back in the right direction under chief executive John Ferguson, but there is plenty more to do. Leaving aside the rest of the world, top-class flat racing in Europe has never been more keenly contested, especially considering the outstanding success recently enjoyed by Sheikh Joaan of Qatar’s Al Shaqab racing operation – with considerably fewer horses than Godolphin.
Godolphin can call on a stallion in Dubawi who is more versatile than Galileo and virtually the equal of the Coolmore great, considering also winners-per-runners as well as overall success.
European racing is much the better for the presence of the royal blue silks and hopefully the trajectory will continue upwards.