As promised, a quick review of Ascot each day starts here with my thoughts on the first day. After eventually arriving (the traffic was the worst I have ever seen in all my years and it’s a train for me for the rest of the week), I arrived hot and bothered yet there was a strange atmosphere from before I even walked in to the course. The sad passing of Sir Henry Cecil has been covered by the acre elsewhere but that was the sombre feeling permeating the race goers though after an immaculately observed minutes silence the gloom sort of lifted and we all returned to “normal”?
On to the racing and the betting sent out conflicting signals regarding the opener as Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom drifted before heavy support forced him back to 5/4 at the off, while eventual winner Declaration Of War drifted all morning like a barge before late support saw his odds cut from 11/1 in a place to 15/2 when the gates opened. Personally, I would have been all over Elusive Kate at a double figure price but 8/1 was too short so I saved myself from a bullet there as she blew up late on and only made it in to fourth.
Race two saw Shea Shea sent off favourite and I ran in to Mike De Kock (who I know from my Cape Town trips) who seemed pretty confident by his standards. I backed him and he was in front everywhere except the line until mugged by old favourite Sole Power under Johnny Murtagh in a great finish, while the well supported Reckless Abandon ran a blinder but showed to everyone that five furlongs is a bit too quick for him and he is crying out for a sixth.
Moving on (the races come thick and fast I assure you (with hardly enough time to get a beer in!), and the St James Palace Stakes looked a classic renewal on paper and so it proved in a race that I will remember for some time. Dawn Approach was looking to redeem his reputation after a disastrous Derby, Magician was bidding to follow up his Irish 2000 Guineas victory, Toronado was the talk of the Hannon gallops and the press room, and My ante post Derby bet (binned) Mars, dropped back to a mile. Long story short, some bumping and barging did distract a little from the actual perrances but Dawn Approach shoed admirable heart to go with his undoubted ability to narrowly see off Toronado in a finish that bought everyone to their feet, especially when the favourite was announced as the victory for the brilliant Jim Bolger after what could already be the training performance of the season.
With barely enough time to draw breath (let alone powder my nose), the next race was upon us but I ran in to an Irish stable lad I know quite well but no names no pack drill. He told me that Stubbs was NOT the best O’Brien two year old in the Coventry Stakes and that I should be backing Sir John Hawkins at the bigger price with Ryan Moore in the saddle. Turns out he was only half right (sadly) as his tip finished third (and no, I backed him to win), as the third stablemate scooted home with a great turn of foot at odds of 20/1 and goes by the name of War Command. Instant 2000 Guineas quotes as low as 5/1 are and were laughable and I noted connections were far more interested in what had gone wrong with the other two, so keep your powder dry before even considering an ante post bet at this early stage.
With two races to go it was Ireland 3-0 England so far though we did at least try to claim victory after Well Sharp took the Ascot Stakes. Trained, ridden, and owned by Irishmen, he is physically trained in England by Jonjo O’Neill and as we were clutching at straws by now, any crumb of comfort was eagerly labelled British! Tiger Cliff was given a bit too much to do for Lady Cecil (what a winner that would have been) while my selection Lieutenant Miller ran perfectly well I third at odds of 8/1.
By race six we had a single favourite to cheer us punters (Dawn Approach), and there was much, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the press room but the getting out stakes would surely see us right at 5.35pm? Twenty-four juveniles over five furlongs would not ever be considered for a bet if it wasn’t Royal Ascot but so be it, and I fancied American raider Ogermeister – though I think he is still running! Congratulations to Olly Stevens who trains not a million miles away from me at Chiddingfold and landed his first winner at the festival. Seven runners and no winners in the last fortnight for the yard would put anyone off, and Extortionist (the winner) was well beaten in a novice event at York last time out, so good luck if you found that one, and can I borrow your crystal ball for the rest of the week please? He must have been backed by someone (16/1, with that sort of form?), but sadly it wasn’t me, though my losses were limited and tomorrow is another day……