London (AFP) – Former Australian star Merchant Navy ensured recordbreaking trainer Aidan O’Brien didn’t leave Royal Ascot without a Group One winner, taking the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the final day of the carnival.
Despite the dearth of Group One winners the 48-year-old Irishman ended the meeting as leading trainer with four winners, equal with John Gosden but edging it by dint of more placed horses.
Merchant Navy bowed out of his competitive career — he is due to return to Australia to take up stallion duties — in style just holding off the fast-finishing French raider City Light.
Ryan Moore, who topped the jockey’s table, called him a “remarkable horse” whilst O’Brien admitted when he first arrived in Ireland — after being bought by his employers Coolmore Stud for AUS $30million (£16.8million, $22.3million) — they thought it an impossible task.
His task became that much easier when first favourite Harry Angel stumbled out of the stalls and then Australian raider Redkirk Warrior went out “like a light”, according to his jockey Frankie Dettori.
For O’Brien — who received his trophy from Queen Elizabeth II — it was relief mixed with a suspicion his horses have not quite hit their stride yet.
“They have run well, but not won unfortunately,” he said. “Maybe in three weeks they will be better, they just lacked their edge this week.”
Whilst O’Brien’s week ended on a high, jockey Charlie Bishop experienced the reverse.
Having ridden Accidental Agent to Group One success in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday — his maiden winner at the meeting — he was stood down from riding on Saturday after failing a breathalyser test when he arrived at the track.
“The clerk of the scales reported that Charles Bishop had provided a sample which was found to contain alcohol above the threshold level for breath samples,” read the steward’s report.
Michael Stoute couldn’t buy a winner at last year’s meeting but having become the all-time winning trainer on Wednesday — Poet’s Word giving him his 76th — he improved his tally to 79 with his 11th victory in The Hardwicke Stakes with Crystal Ocean.
Crystal Ocean is likely to try and emulate Stoute’s Harbinger in 2010 in going on to win the Group One King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July.
“He’s really continued to progress and is a joy to train,” said 72-year-old Stoute.
“It would be nice to win another King George as it has been a while,” added the Barbados-born handler, referring to Harbinger.
– ‘Incredibly difficult, painful night’ –
There were tears aplenty in the opener when Arthur Kitt won the Chesham Stakes, just two years after he nearly died at birth.
In winning at Royal Ascot he emulated his dam (mother) Ceiling Kitty, who had won the Queen Mary Stakes in 2012 but had to be put down when she gave birth to him.
“This is so special. I’ve been more emotionally attached to this horse than any horse I’ve ever had,” said his owner and breeder Andrew Black.
“The night he was born was such an incredibly difficult, painful night, she had to be put down in seconds and he had a twisted leg that took time to fix.”
Archie Watson can only dream of making such a mark on racing history as Stoute but he still had a day to remember as his Soldier’s Call gave him his first win at the meeting.
Danny Tudhope guided him home in the Windsor Castle Stakes just an hour after Watson had watched in frustration as Nate The Great was touched off in the opener.
“I thought I would have to wait longer than an hour for my first winner,” joked Watson, who is in his second year of training having started with just three horses.
“This means a lot to the whole team and is a deserved success for their work.”