Things We Learned » Title drama

Title drama

Perhaps there wasn’t time to do it justice, what with Frankel Fever and Aussie Rules and a Royal winner and the obligatory time dedicated to followers of fashion, but the battle between Ryan Moore and William Buick for the Top Jockey’s title at Royal Ascot did not get the airing that it deserved.

It looked all over before it had really started for Buick when he was unshipped from the sadly ill-fated The Nile on the crown of the home turn in the St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday.  If you had been told at that stage that Buick would not ride again at the meeting, you wouldn’t have been hugely surprised.

But the Norwegian-born youngster (did you know that he was born in Norway?) dusted himself down, then went and rode Joviality to win the Windsor Forest Stakes on Wednesday.

By the close of play on Wednesday, Buick was one of 12 riders who had ridden one winner.  Moore was another, Zac Purton was another, although Zac Burton’s book of rides for the remainder of the week just looked a little weaker that Buick’s or Moore’s.

Moore’s win on Fast Or Free in the Britannia Handicap on Thursday put him onto the two-winner mark and set him apart from the 16 riders – including Buick and Pat Smullen and Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon and Wayne Lordan and Kevin Manning and Seamie Heffernan and Joseph O’Brien – who had ridden one at the end of Day 3.

It was on Friday that Buick cut loose, riding a treble on Newfangled, Fallen For You and Gatewood – Newfangled from the front, Fallen For You and Gatewood from the rear – and, despite the fact that Moore managed to cling onto his coat-tails by winning the Queen’s Vase on the Queen’s Horse, went into Saturday as the 4/11 favourite to end the week as Top Jockey.

On Saturday, oscillation.  Moore joined Buick on four winners when he won the Hardwicke Stakes on Sea Moon, a win that left him in the golden armband (say: yellow jersey) position because, although both had ridden two seconds (Carlton House and The Fugue respectively), Moore had ridden two thirds (Gregorian and Hairy Rocket) to Buick’s one (Thought Worthy).

Then Buick won the penultimate race of the week, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, on Camborne, and grabbed the golden armband back.  That left the battle perfectly poised going into the last race, the Queen Alexandra Stakes: Moore had to win the race on favourite Simenon to give himself any chance of landing the title, but he would only do so if Buick finished worse than third on third favourite Zuider Zee.  So if Buick finished in the first three on Zuider Zee (he had three fourths to Moore’s one), the title was his, even if Simenon won the race by a distance.

You couldn’t have written a more dramatic ending to the tale.  Simenon did win the race by a distance – or by seven lengths, to be precise – and Zuider Zee progressed up the centre of the track, looked certain to run on into third place, but then just ran out of stamina inside the final 50 yards, missing out on third spot by a neck.

The title was Moore’s with a record of 5-1-2-1 (wins-seconds-thirds-fourths), which was better than Buick’s 5-1-1-4, but only marginally.  Ironically, if Moore hadn’t ridden Gregorian, who finished third in the St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday, Buick would have won the title.  (Gregorian is trained by Buick’s boss John Gosden.)  The entire episode just gets more dramatic the deeper you delve into it.

Unfortunately, in a dramatic week, this mini-drama went largely untold.

Fine approach

Q: What sire is responsible for both Newfangled and Dawn Approach?

A: It’s not Dawnfangled anyway.

It was quite an incredible week for the freshman sire New Approach.  It is a huge achievement for a new stallion to sire the winner of the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, but New Approach was also responsible for Newfangled, who went and won the Albany Stakes three days later.

Not only that, but both were really impressive winners, Dawn Approach (bred and trained by New Approach’s trainer Jim Bolger) in battling on as bravely as he did to win the hottest juvenile race run this season to date, and Newfangled in picking up as well as she did despite racing freely through the early stages of the race.  It is not surprising that the colt and filly are clear favourites for the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas respectively at this stage.

As well as that, New Approach is also responsible for Tha’Ir, impressive winner of the Chesham Stakes on Saturday and now second favourite behind Dawn Approach for the 2000 Guineas in most lists.  And to put the cap on it, newcomer Wexford Opera (trained in Kilkenny) made a pleasing debut at Leopardstown last Thursday evening.

Irish to the fore

Eight Irish-trained winners was a huge haul at Royal Ascot.  There were eight Irish winners at the meeting in 2008 (the next best recent total was seven in 1977), but six of them were trained by Aidan O’Brien and two were trained by Jim Bolger.  There is something altogether more solid-looking about eight winners representing six different trainers.

Aidan O’Brien, inevitably, led the way again with two winners, but he was joined by that well-known flat trainer Willie Mullins on two, even if those two winners were supplied by one horse.  Jim Bolger, David Wachman, David Marnane and Dermot Weld supplied the other four winners, while Eddie Lynam, John Oxx, David Nagle, Ger Lyons, Tommy Stack and Pat Flynn all went close.

As a reflection of the depth of the equine and human flat racing talent-pool operating these days on these shores, it was a glowing week.

Track bias

It was difficult to work out if there was a draw-bias or not on the straight track all week, with the rain that they had on Wednesday and Thursday just adding to the confusion.  If there was a bias, it probably favoured the near side on Tuesday and Wednesday and favoured the far side on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, although the probability is that it was more a pace bias than a track bias.

Unusually, however, there did appear to be a bias on the round track against those horses who raced handily and who raced towards the far rail in the home straight, especially during the latter stages of the week after the rains had fallen.  William Buick had obviously worked that one out fairly quickly, as his three winners on the round track were all delivered late and wide.

Lots of horses who raced handily and towards the inside disappointed quite badly, so it is probable that the performances of Shirocco Star and Anomaly can be marked up significantly.  Shirocco Star led from a mile out in the Ribblesdale Stakes on Thursday, racing keenly.  She stayed on the inside rail in the home straight yet, while she obviously had no answer to Princess Highway’s finishing surge, she kept on remarkably doggedly to miss out on the runner-up spot by just a short head.  She will probably be under-rated when she runs next.

Anomaly also did remarkably well to keep on as well as he did for fourth place in the King George V Handicap, having led or raced handily to the furlong pole and having clung to the inside in the home straight.  The early pace didn’t appear to be that fast, there were plenty with chances turning for home, but the time wasn’t too bad for all of that and it was still probably a disadvantage to race as prominently as the Godolphin horse did.

This was just Anomaly’s fourth ever run, his first handicap, and he will be of interest wherever he runs next off just a 2lb higher mark, ideally on easy ground and possibly dropped back down to 10 furlongs.

King Edward missing

It is a pity that this year’s racing calendar dictated that Royal Ascot took place just a week before the Irish Derby.  The King Edward VII Stakes winner is always a welcome visitor to The Curragh on Irish Derby day – King Edward winner Monterosso was fourth when favourite for the Irish Derby in 2010, Boscobel was also fourth in 2007. This year’s King Edward fourth Astrology is set to line up this evening but, Camelot’s prowess notwithstanding, either one of the Sir Henry Cecil-trained pair – Thomas Chippendale and Noble Mission – who filled the first two places at Ascot would have been an interesting addition to the Irish Derby field.

© The Irish Field, 30th June 2012