Things We Learned » Fairy story of the week

Fairy story of the week

You know a fairy story because of its happy ending.  But this year’s Royal Ascot fairy story happened at the start.  On the first day.  In the first race.

Accidental Agent was bred by Gaie Johnson Houghton.  A son of Delegator out of the Xaar mare Roodle, who won two of her 16 races and was never rated higher than 90, he went to the sales in October 2015, an entry in Tattersalls’ Book 2.  He reached 8,000 guineas and was taken back home again.

Trained by her breeder’s daughter Eve, he showed talent as a two-year-old.  He won at Chepstow and he won the valuable Tattersalls October Auction Stakes on his final run as a juvenile.  He progressed as a three-year-old and he started to show a liking for Ascot, winning the Challenge Cup there in October last year and finishing fourth in the Balmoral Handicap there on Champions’ Day. 

He didn’t have a lot of luck in the Lockinge Stakes on his second run this year, he ran better than his finishing position in sixth suggests, but even so, he went into Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes as one of the outsiders.  He was the 14th highest rated of the 15 horses in the race, and he had a stone to find on the top-rated one. 

Then he won the Queen Anne Stakes.  And they all lived happily ever after.

Record-breaker Stoute

They’re like busses, those Royal Ascot winners.  You wait for two years for the number 76, then the number 77 comes along just over an hour later. 

Last year’s Royal Ascot had to have been a frustrating Royal Ascot for Sir Michael Stoute.  There he was, teetering on the brink, 75 Royal Ascot winners in the bag, level with the late and similarly knighted Sir Henry Cecil.  One winner and he becomes the winning-most trainer at Royal Ascot of all time.

He went close last year all right.  Mori was beaten a neck in the Ribblesdale Stakes, Crystal Ocean was sent off as favourite for the King Edward VII Stakes and finished a close-up third, Dartmouth was sent off as favourite for the Hardwicke Stakes, but could finish only fourth.  Ulysses and Queen’s Trust finished third and fourth respectively in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Ballet Concerto finished fourth in the Royal Hunt Cup, Mirage Dancer finished third in the Hampton Court.  But the trainer ended Royal Ascot week last year as he started it: still on 75.

It was appropriate that Stoute should break the record with Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday.  Poet’s Word is the type of horse that defines Sir Michael Stoute, a middle distance horse who progresses as he matures and develops.  The son of Poet’s Voice is five years old now, he was racing for the 15th time in his career on Wednesday, and he put up the best performance of his life.  That was 76.  Then, an hour and a quarter later, the trainer put the saddle on Expert Eye, talent all in harness again, and sent him out to land the Jersey Stakes.

Michael Stoute’s first Royal Ascot winner?  Etienne Gerard in the same Jersey Stakes in 1977, ridden by Paul Cook.  And there are some iconic names in the Stoute roll of Royal Ascot honour: Shareef Dancer in the King Edward VII Stakes in 1983, Sonic Lady in the 1986 Coronation Stakes.  Milligram, Hellenic, Rock Hopper, Kalanisi, Russian Rhythm.  Estimate in the 2012 Queen’s Vase, Estimate in the 2013 Gold Cup.

Stoute was magnanimous in accepting the accolades on Wednesday.  When Henry was clocking up his total, he said, there were only four days at Royal Ascot.  Now there are five.  It’s easier now. 

No it’s not.  It’s not easy to have one.

Cracksman defeat

There is a danger that Cracksman’s defeat in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes will garner more attention that Poet’s Word’s victory, but the winner’s performance was top class all right.  He travelled well through his race, he picked up impressively and he stayed on well. 

Taking Cracksman out of it for a second, Poet’s Word finished 10 lengths clear of Hawkbill and 11 lengths clear of Cliffs Of Moher, and he clocked a good time.  He could still be an under-rated horse, as reflected in best odds of 6/1 about him for the King George.

Cracksman ran a similar race to the race that he ran in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.  He got away with it at Epsom, he got on the golden highway beside the stands rail and he got up to beat Salouen, but he was meeting a higher-class rival on Wednesday in Poet’s Word, and he didn’t get away with it. 

It was impossible to know what effect that bang on the head had on Cracksman in the Coronation Cup.  Before Wednesday, you could have excused his lack-lustre run at Epsom on that basis.  It is not easy to run a race when you are dazed.  However, after Wednesday’s evidence, no bang on the head, the revisionist in you says that maybe he the bang on the head in the Coronation Cup wasn’t at the root of his under-performance at Epsom.

Ten furlongs on fast ground probably presents a test that is less arduous than optimum for Frankel’s son, but even so, he didn’t travel at any stage of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.  It wasn’t down to ground and it couldn’t have been down to distance.  Frankie Dettori was niggling him along from early.  That is not the real Cracksman.  Hopefully we will see the real Cracksman again soon.

Marnane strikes again

We knew that David Marnane could get one ready for a big Royal Ascot handicap.  He had done it in 2012 when he won the Wokingham with Dandy Boy, and he did it again on Wednesday with Settle For Bay in the Royal Hunt Cup.

There are similarities between Dandy Boy and Settle For Bay.  Both bought relatively cheaply, both out of Spectrum mares, both winners at Dundalk.  But there are differences too.  Dandy Boy was six when he won the Wokingham and he was racing for the 21st time.  He had won a handicap at Meydan the previous year, and he had already shown his liking for Ascot when he had won the Victoria Cup two years previously.  He was at his zenith in that 2012 Wokingham. 

Settle For Bay is different in that he is an improving four-year-old.  He had won four of his previous five races, all at Dundalk, all under Donagh O’Connor, and he had run a good race in a handicap at Leopardstown behind subsequent listed race winner Zorion on his last run before Ascot.

Billy Lee gave the Rio De La Plata gelding a really nice ride on Wednesday.  He got him settled early, got him travelling.  The horse probably surprised his rider with the ease and the rapidity with which he was able to make his ground, which probably led to him getting to the front marginally earlier than ideal, but it didn’t matter.  He was an impressive winner.

The handicapper will have his say now.  A two-length Royal Hunt Cup winner with psychedelic green silks will not go unnoticed. 

But that is a secondary matter.  The job is done.  The Hunt Cup is in the bag.  And he is progressive enough anyway to take a significant hike in his stride, or to step up into Pattern company, or both.

Thought for the week

We Irish need a queen.  Not to rule or anything, just to go racing.  Just for one week a year.

© The Irish Field, 23rd June 2018