The top hats will be out at Ascot next week with some blokes letting themselves down badly taking the fashion too far and seriously. The dress code is there for traditions stake and that is fine but please spare me the wannabe’s although racing does need their support even if only once a year!
My first love will always be National Hunt racing but the Ascot Gold Cup was the first race at Royal Ascot to capture my attention. A flat race run over 2m4f was more like a NH bumper with a few furlongs extra thrown in on top. Vintage Crop was the Irish Horse running in the Gold cup back in 1994 and he was a good thing or so thought all his new followers (myself included) having captured the Irish Nations heart by winning the Melbourne Cup the previous year. A swell of money saw Vintage Crop go off at 11/10 favourite to follow his Melbourne Cup with an Ascot Gold Cup. It was not to be as outsider Arcadian Heights trained by Geoff Wragg held on to win by ¾ of a length costing the Irish Economy several million in the process!
Despite the loss Vintage Crop and the Mark Johnston trained 1995 Gold Cup winner Double Trigger are favourites of mine to his day. Whilst on a working holiday in Australia in 1995, I was fortunate enough to attend that years Melbourne Cup and let’s say the equine stars security back then is not what it is today.
During the preliminaries my mate Ciaran and I decided to check if Vintage Crop and Double Trigger were relaxed before placing our bets. We walked up to Vintage Crop in the saddling barn and noticed by good fortune that Double trigger was been saddled next door for the big race. We gave both horses a pat on the head, tickled their ears and asked the travelling lads what form they were in? He’s in “tip top shape” sparked Vintage Crops minder before Trainer Dermot Weld appeared and asked who we were? That was our que to move on quickly as we had determined that both our bets were in “tip top shape”! Double Trigger ran poorly finishing down the field but Vintage Crop powered up the finishing straight from last to grab third place.
So from watching the 1994 Ascot Gold Cup I became a fan of the race especially as the runners were always kept in training unlike the Derby horses and could be followed from year to year. My pal Double Trigger finished second as a short priced favourite in the 1996 renewal having recovered from his trip down under. Royal Rebel was a double Gold Cup winner but Yeats was a different animal to anything around at the time and won the race four times in a row from 2006 to 2009.
Time has moved on and the 2013 version of the Ascot Gold Cup is a cracker but does have a link back to my first bet in the race. Dermot Weld is the trainer of the current ante post favourite Rite of Passage proving what a “class stayer” he is in his own right. Rite of passage is a class animal but is very injury prone and as a nine year old I am prepared to leave him alone at 6/1. He has only managed to run once each of the last two years and despite running really well (Won Group 3) must be very difficult to train and keep sound. The final declarations will not be known until Saturday so the last thing to do is back a non-runner at this late stage. The Two that are of interest to me as last year’s first and third Colour Vision and Saddlers Rock. Colour Vision won well last year and team Godolphin have a good record in this race. Saddlers Rock pulled way too hard last year on good/soft ground. He was beaten less than a length and will really appreciate good or good/firm ground this time round. Saddlers Rock has a big win in him but is proving unfortunate to follow with his saddle slipping last time in Dubai! The value lies with the horse that beat him last year Colour Vision who is available at 12/1.
Speaking of total different animals watch Animal Kingdom in the Queen Anne Stakes. It’s the first race of the Royal Ascot Meeting next Tuesday. He is a horse with a serious turn of foot and on the likely good/firm ground will surely reward connections with another Group 1 success. If like me you do not like backing money on shots then Paddy Power have a great special on the race offering to refund up to £/€100 on Singles or the Win part of all each way bets in this race if Animal Kingdom wins! Now that is tempting considering only one of the last three money on favourites obliged in this race.
The St James’s Palace stakes looks like being the race of the meeting at the moment. This race will sort out who is the best British 3 year old Miler this year. Magician, Tornado & Dawn Approach all line up and the late confirmation of Dawn Approach following a failed Derby attempt adds great intrigue to this race. Will Dawn Approach settle like when unbeaten in seven attempts over the mile trip? All will be known very soon in the top Flat Season Festival of the year. Royal Ascot really is the Cheltenham of the Flat after all!
Finally, what a brave face Sir Henry Cecil put on the last number of years when fighting the almighty battle against “the big C”. At times during interviews following a Frankel victory he looked very weak but always completed his interviews with humour and honesty. Ascot was his playground and with 75 Royal Ascot winners during his career he is out on his own like all the True Masters of their craft. May he rest in Peace.
Eye Catchers that ran over the previous Week and weekend 8th/9th June
Gemix – Trainer Nicolas Bertran De Balanda – Jockey David Cottin
This five year old put up a huge performance to win the Grande Course de haies better know as the French champion hurdle easily. Cheltenham and Aintree Staying Hurdle winner Solwhit could only finish eight lengths behind with a further nine lengths back to the third. Most likely he will be bought to run in the UK and will be present at Cheltenham 2014 to welcome back Big Bucks!
Beachdale Lad – Trainer Jessica Harrington – Jockey Mark Bolger
Looks a natural chaser and beat the much more experienced and classy The Real Article well on his Chasing Debut. His Trainer mentioned that he is very quick at his fences and loves good/firm ground. There is a good chance he will run at the Galway festival and prove very hard to beat. The only caveat is that he wants good or better ground. Who knows what ground will turn up at this years Galway Festival and on what day!
Steps to Freedom – Trainer Jessica Harrington – Jockey Robbie Power
It’s never easy trying to win a beginners chase on your debut let alone a conditions chase like this one. Both the Trainer and Owners do not want to rock the horse’s confidence first time out by throwing everything at the horse and asking him to be brave at his fences. The main objective is to educate the horse and get him enjoying his jumping. Steps of Freedom made quite a bad mistake and the second fence but was very good thereafter. He jumped the last well and closed on within a half a length of the winner at the ride without much use of the stick. This runs showed how genuine a horse Steps to Freedom is and how important good/firm ground is for him. It was a massive run against very good chasers on his debut chase. This very classy Flat (103) and Hurdler (146) is sure to rank high in the two mile Novice division this season.
Best of Luck for the coming Week,