Royal Ascot opened its glittering five-day run with jockey Frankie Dettori and trainer John Gosden each landing three wins under the admiring gaze of Her Majesty the Queen and a host of other royals.
The top U.S. hope of the meeting, Lady Aurelia, was unable to bring home her third straight Royal Ascot trophy. But American breeder John Gunther and his daughter, Tanya, eased that disappointment for the raiders as the horse they bred from a previously unproven mare emerged as one of the world’s most promising milers.
Beyond Dettori’s and Gosden’s triples, it was a day of doubles. Godolphin and jockey William Buick won the Group 1 King’s Stand, doubling up on their victory with Masar in the Investec Derby at Epsom less than three weeks earlier. The great champion Frankel sired a pair of the day’s winners. And the Gunthers’ win as breeders of Without Parole followed their breeding victory of U.S. Triple Crown winner Justify.
Into the bargain, the Gunthers received their trophy from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Prince Harry and his new bride, Megan.
The day was overcast and a bit humid but Her Majesty brightened things right up with a sunshine yellow ensemble as she arrived in the first carriage of the Royal Procession.
The St. James’s Palace Stakes
Without Parole took over the lead early in the long Ascot straight in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over late-running Gustav Klimt. Wooton was third and Tip Two Win was along for fourth in the fixture for 3-year-old milers.
Without Parole became a centerpiece of opening day, representing all three of the program’s dominant players — Frankel, Gosden and Dettori. Without Parole was chasing the early leader, U S Navy Flag, much of the way and took over the lead inside the final two furlongs but then Dettori fretted he may have moved too soon, holding off Gustav Klimt with a final burst of effort.
“Without Parole travelled well,” Dettori said. “But a furlong and a half out, I was out in front on my own with no one to help me. I wish I had somebody to keep me company, but that race made a man of him and what a horse he is. This is the first proper race he has had.”
Gunther said the victory meant more to him than Justify’s Triple Crown run. And his daughter, streaming tears of joy as she kissed the colt’s nose, confirmed that emotion.
“It is a dream come true,” John Gunther said. “In all the 20 years I have been coming to Royal Ascot, my dream was just to have a horse run at Royal Ascot. Then we start in a Group 1 and do it. I don’t know what to say.”
The King’s Stand Stakes
Blue Point was the beneficiary as the favorites, Battaash and Lady Aurelia, battled each other into defeat in a pace duel in the day’s co-feature, the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes. Battaash was sweated up before the start and when he jumped keenly from the gate, jockey Jim Crowley let him run. John Velazquez gave chase with Lady Aurelia, the American mare who won at Royal Ascot in the two previous years. At the end, they did too much, too soon and Blue Point, with William Buick upon the Godolphin runner, emerged from a chasing position to win by 1 3/4 lengths.
Battaash held onto second, just a neck in front of long shot Mabs Cross. Lady Aurelia reported seventh, beaten 5 1/4 lengths in the race she won last year by 3 lengths.
“He is a very quick horse, and I was always very comfortable where I was and I knew he would see the race out better than Battaash,” Buick said. “It was just a case of whether I would be close enough where it mattered.”
Blue Point had been a hard-luck horse for Godolphin, finishing second in some big races. Now 4 years old, he ended his 2017 season finishing a well-beaten ninth in the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize in Hong Kong in December.
Winning trainer Charlie Appleby said Blue Point “deserves it more than anyone. Last time out (at Sha Tin in Hong Kong), we got it wrong and it was a race we had to put a line through. There was no point judging him on that and he’s been in great form since.”
The Queen Anne Stakes
The royal meeting kicked off with a royal shock as unheralded Accidental Agent emerged from the pack to capture the day’s first race, the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, whipping some of the most highly regarded standard bearers of Godolphin, Coolmore and surging American partnership of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.
Accidental Agent, a 4-year-old colt by Delegator, edged fellow long shot Lord Glitters by 1/2 length. Lightning Spear, Century Dream and American invader Yoshida trailed in close succession. Among the favorites, Godophin’s Benbatl finished fading 10th and Coolmore saw their star filly, Rhododendron, get home ninth.
More accustomed to the handicap ranks, Accidental Agent arrived at Ascot after a sixth-place finish behind winner Rhododendron in the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury exactly one month earlier. Tuesday’s win earned Accidental Agent an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs this November through the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge” program.
Trainer Eve Johnson Houghton confirmed the potential for “the little guy” to win at the Royal meeting as she scored her first Royal Ascot victory while the likes of Coolmore’s Aidan O’Brien and Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor were left seeking excuses. Johnson Houghton, whose father trained 10 Royal Ascot winners, notched her first.
“My mum bred Accidental Agent — we have got the mare in the field — but nobody wanted to buy him and we bought him back for eight grand,” she said. “I thought I was tilting at windmills. I dreamt about finishing third and then watching it I said, ‘Oh my God, we are going to place.’ The poor people sitting in front of me and my Mum, I apologize to them. They will definitely be deaf because there was an awful lot of screaming going on. It is just ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”
The Coventry Stakes
Those looking to the future saw a potential superstar in Calyx, a Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Kingman who strode out impressively in the final furlong to win the Group 2 Coventry Stakes by 1 length for Dettori and Gosden. The hot favorite raced on the stands side as the big field split into two groups and he was the only one of that bunch to make any impression. All the other minor awards went to the far-side group with Advertise second and Sergei Prokofiev third.
Calyx ran his record to 2-for-2 following a first-out win just 10 days earlier at Newmarket. Dettori termed the Ascot win “an amazing performace. It was only his second start. Imagine how good he could get.”
Gosden added, “Calyx has had to race on his own for the last two furlongs with a huge crowd screaming. That is a big ordeal for him and I think he did amazingly to win. I could have easily seen him getting distracted with nothing to race with.” Asked if the colt is a prospect for the 2019 2000 Guineas, he said, “I don’t see why not.” But he said the immediate goal is to freshen Calyx, then try the Group 1 Prix Morny Aug. 19 at Deauville.
Dettori missed last year’s Royal meeting with an injury suffered only days before he was to ride several strong favorites and Gosden kept him off Calyx in the colt’s first start as a precautionary measure.
The Ascot Stakes
Lagoestovegas, one of only two mares in the field, got by pacesetter Dubawi Fifty in the final furlong in the Ascot Stakes, at 2 1/2 miles the longest race of the day. The 6-year-old daughter of Footstepsinthesand, proven both on the flat and over hurdles, won by 1 length with Dubawi Fifty holding on for second and Stratum third. Willie Mullins trains both Lagoestovegas and Stratum as well as the joint favorites, Chelkar and Whiskey Sour, who finished fourth and fifth.
There was confusion about the pronunciation of the horse’s name. The commentators and caller had it “L.A. goes to Vegas” but Mullins said, “We call him Lagos to Vegas”. Either way, he may go to Australia, as the trainer said he “could turn into a Melbourne Cup horse. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
The Wolferton Stakes
Monarch’s Glen, hopelessly next-last in Dubai in his previous start, found a clear lane in the final furlong of the 1 1/4-miles Wolfereton Stakes, shot through and went on to win by 1 length over a pair of outsiders, Eugenio and Muntahaa.
Monarch’s Glen, one of two Frankel offspring in the race, gave Dettori and Gosden their third win of the day — Dettori’s 59th in his record Royal Ascot career.