Things We Learned » Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot 

Think less Queen Mary, more Queen Alexandra

A couple of things to keep in mind for Royal Ascot this week.  Firstly, it is a long week.  It is five days, Tuesday to Saturday (inclusive) these days, since the Royal meeting expanded to envelop ‘Ascot Heath’.  Think less Queen Mary, more Queen Alexandra.

Pace yourself.  Similar to Cheltenham for National Hunt racing, you will see lots of familiar names, lots of them available at prices that will tempt.  Be tempted for sure, but dig deeply before you commit. 

And it’s a long way home, physically as well as metaphorically.  Even in the sprints, it’s a long way home.  Ascot is a stiff track and they usually go hard at the Royal meeting.  Adrenaline and field sizes are high.  So you need a horse who will fully stay the trip over which he or she is competing.  And horses who come from at least a little way off the pace are often favoured.  You can make all in the big-field handicaps (ref. Zhui Feng, 2017 Royal Hunt Cup), but it is not easily done.

You generally want a jockey who understands all of that and who has the nous and the confidence and the Royal Ascot experience to ride accordingly.  Look twice at horses who will be ridden by Ryan Moore or Frankie Dettori or Jamie Spencer or James Doyle or Olivier Peslier, all of whom have all ridden 10 Royal Ascot winners or more.

Look twice at horses too who have demonstrated an ability to act on the track.  Course form is an asset at any track, but course form at Ascot, especially on Ascot’s straight track, is more important than it is at most tracks.  And all-weather form is a factor.  It is not a myth that Polytrack form translates well to Ascot’s straight track.

Most importantly, try to take the time to enjoy it.  Immerse yourself in the week if you can.  It’s a special week.

Heartfelt reception

The most heartfelt reception at Leopardstown on Thursday evening was reserved for Sheila Lavery after Galeola won the Korea Racing Authority Handicap.

It’s desperate when any horse is lost, but for Sheila and Joanne Lavery, and for her rider Robbie Colgan, losing Lady Kaya must be absolutely heart-breaking. 

Lady Kaya achieved lots during her all-to-brief racing career, but there was the promise of so much more.  She was the equinification of bravery.  Bravery in her racing style, and bravery in how she was campaigned by her connections, the manner in which they backed their faith in their filly with their actions.

That bravery was rewarded when the Dandy Man filly won her maiden last year and finished second to Skitter Scatter in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes.  She looked better than ever on her debut this year when she won the Guineas Trial at Leopardstown, and she ran an unbelievable race in the 1000 Guineas to finish second to Hermosa, who followed up in the Irish Guineas, first on the near side, over a trip that probably stretched her stamina beyond its limit.

The plan was the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, another foray into the big time, taking on the best, reportedly in tremendous form, and a stiff six furlongs would probably have been ideal.  Alas, we will never know how she would have fared.

Galeola’s win on Thursday evening was some consolation.  And Sheila Lavery has her horses in tremendous form.  Galeola was her fourth winner from her last eight runners.  Lil Grey was particularly impressive in winning at The Curragh last Friday evening, and she could take her chance in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot.  If she does make the trip, you wish her all the luck in the world.


Imagine the fourth official asking Mick McCarthy to come into his dressing room before the game to explain how his team was going to set up.  Or the referee asking Katie Taylor to outline to him before the fight what tactics she was going to employ. 

Mullins dominant again

The Prix la Barka is a race that usually goes a little under the radar, given that it is run in France just when the flat season is getting going.  It used to be run in May, but these days they run it when you are trying to pick over the bones of Epsom and pick through the prospect of Royal Ascot. 

It doesn’t go under Willie Mullins’ radar though.

Ireland’s champion trainer fielded five of the nine runners in Sunday’s race, and he came home with the lion’s share of the prize money, with Mr Adjudicator winning the race and Bapaume finishing second.

Mullins has now won the last four renewals of the Prix la Barka, and he has won six of the last eight.  Thousand Stars won it twice, once under Katie Walsh and once under Paul Townend, who also won the race last year on Bapaume.  Ruby Walsh won the race for Mullins on Un De Sceaux in 2016 and on Shaneshill in 2017, and it was Bertrand Lestrade who rode Mr Adjudicator to victory on Sunday. 

It will be interesting to see where Mr Adjudicator goes now.  Winner of the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Hurdle last year, and runner-up to Farclas in the 2018 Triumph Hurdle, it took him a while to get going over hurdles last season, as can often happen with four-going-five-year-olds, but he won the big Ballymore Handicap Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival last month off a mark of 149, and his win on Sunday was probably another step forward.

Interestingly, now rated 157 over hurdles, he holds an entry in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle on Irish Derby day, with a flat rating of 91.  David Bobbett’s horse hasn’t raced on the flat since he won an apprentice handicap at Killarney under Killian Leonard in August 2017 off a mark of 75 on his final run for Joe Murphy, but he would be interesting in the Northumberland Plate if he took his chance in it now off that flat mark.

Thought for the week

Safe Voyage is flat racing’s answer to Bristol De Mai. 

© The Irish Field, 15th June 2019