Things We Learned » Things we learned – from Royal Ascot

Lottery draw

The precariousness of including the draw as a factor when assessing a straight-track race was once again in evidence in the Royal Hunt Cup on Wednesday.

The difficulty with incorporating the draw into your assessment these days is that you don’t know how a race is going to pan out.  Nobody does.  A perceived bias can be negated – or indeed reversed – if jockeys cotton onto the bias and act accordingly, which is exactly what happened in the Hunt Cup.

The evidence that we had beforehand suggested that high numbers were going to be favoured.  Any evidence that we had from Tuesday suggested that the near side was the place to be.  Sole Power, War Command and Extortionist had all come with winning runs down the near side.  Also, in the seven renewals of the Hunt Cup since the new track was laid, no winner had been drawn lower than 11.  Moreover, five of the seven winners had been drawn 23 or higher, and 15 of the 28 places had been filled by horses who were also drawn 23 or higher.

That was compelling stuff.  The only problem was that the jockeys had also copped it, with the result that the majority of the field made their way towards the stands side, the perceived favoured side.  After they had gone two furlongs, 21 of the 28 runners were clustering towards the stands rail, with just seven horses left to race towards the far side.

The net result was that the seven runners on the far side all had clear runs through the race, while many of the 21 horses on the near side struggled to get racing room.

There were plenty of hard-luck stories on the near side.  Stirring Ballad, Dimension, Redact, Two For Two, Educate, Santefisio and others were all short of room at crucial stages of the race.  The net result was that four of the seven horses who raced on the far side finished first, second, third and fourth.  For the puposes of assessment for the future, it is a race over which to place a large question mark.

Duntle rumbles on

Duntle just keeps progressing, a fact to which her victory in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes on Wednesday bore testimony.  Remarkably, the David Wachman-trained filly has passed the post first now in her last five races.  She hasn’t been beaten in over a year, not since she finished a close-up fourth in the 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown on May 2012.

Of course, that is not strictly true, because she did lose the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last September to Chachamaidee in the stewards’ room, when you could have argued the toss either way.  It could literally have been a toss-up, even money each of two.

The Niarchos Family’s filly deserved this Group 2 prize to add to her brace of Group 3s, but she is surely a Group 1 filly in-waiting, and a Group 1 win is no more than she deserves.  A return to Leopardstown for the Matron Stakes in September is an obvious target, but the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting is surely on Wachman’s radar in the meantime.

Power trip

Speaking of Group 1s, Sole Power landed his second when he got up on the near side to win the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday.

One of Eddie Lynam’s stated concerns going into the race was that he was drawn away from his main danger Shea Shea.  With a hold-up sprinter like Sole Power, you usually want to be close to your main rivals so that you can eyeball them, target them, catch them and pass them.  However, it might have actually worked to Sole Power’s advantage that he was drawn away from the South African.

Shea Shea struck the front on the far side fully a furlong from home.  At that point, Reckless Abandon was meadering his way towards the stands rail on the near side (as is his wont) and Johnny Murtagh was only just beginning to wind Sole Power up.  It looked like Christophe Soumillon had made a race-winning move when he and Shea Shea burst clear on the far side, but he didn’t have any company for a furlong, and that was just long enough to allow Sole Power, with the power-packed finish that is his trademark and which makes him a Group 1 horse, get up and nut him on the line.

Doyle high

Wednesday started poorly for rider James Doyle as the quietly-fancied Thistle Bird faded from an early prominent position to finish last of nine in the Duke of Cambridge.  He had ridden two also-rans on Tuesday.  Lonely week ahead.  This place could tame lions, he told Mick Fitzgerald.

His demeanour on returning after Thistle Bird was not the demeanour of a man who was brimming with confidence, yet he rode Al Kazeem with bags of it, allowing Mukhadram build up what could have been a race-winning lead before setting out after him and running him down, getting up to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes – one of the most important races of one of the most important weeks – by a neck.

He could never have thought that he would win the Royal Hunt Cup 40 minutes later on 33/1 shot Belgian Bill, but he did, and after that, there was no way that he was going to be beaten on the well-fancied Rizeena in the Queen Mary.

It was some day for the 25-year-old, a day of days.  And in the same way as Cheltenham 2013 was a coming-of-age meeting for Bryan Cooper, so Royal Ascot 2013 could be the meeting at which Doyle makes that quantum leap from talented youngster with potential to serious operator.  And, like Cooper, Doyle has the talent to go right to the very top.

Irish week

It has been a fantastic week so far for Irish horses.  To win the first four races on the first day of Royal Ascot – the Queen Anne, the King’s Stand, the St James’s Palace and the Coventry, three Group 1s and a Group 2 – was dreamland.

The first two on Wednesday, the Jersey Stakes and the Duke of Cambridge (say: Windsor Forest) continued the momentum, while Roca Tumu’s win in the Britannia Handicap on Wednesday brought Cheltenham-like celebrations to Ascot and Leading Light’s relentless march continued with victory in the Queen’s Vase on Thursday.  And just like Cheltenham, the spread is good, with Aidan O’Brien (4), Eddie Lynam (1), Jim Bolger (1), David Wachman (1) and Joanna Morgan (1) all contributing.

It is just the continuation of the theme that has been running through this flat season that has seen Irish-trained horses land the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, and pilfer several other important prizes across the water.  There have been near-misses this week so far too and, with a whole day to go, Irish trainers are probably not finished yet.

© The Irish Field, 22nd June 2013