Stradivarius edged French raider Vazirabad in dramatic finish to win Thursday’s Gold Cup with jockey Frankie Dettori scoring his sixth victory in the historic highlight of the Royal Ascot meeting.
Her Majesty the Queen handed over the hardware after the 211-year-old race, which she won in 2013 with Estimate. She also surprised Dettori with a special Royal Ascot saddlecloth bearing the number 60, matching the number of his Royal Ascot winners.
“And I’m only 47!” the jubilant rider said before heading to the winner’s enclosure for his trademark flying dismount.
Ryan Moore rode his 50th and 51st Royal Ascot winners but missed on the Gold Cup, finishing fourth on 2016 winner Order of St George in possibly the one he wanted most of all.
American trainer Wesley Ward finally cracked this year’s win column to his obvious relief.
Here’s how it went at the midpoint of the five-day Royal meeting:
The Gold Cup
The 2 1/2-miles Gold Cup long has been “the” race at the Royal meeting and one Her Majesty holds in special regard. It rarely fails to disappoint British horsemen and fans, who relish tests of stamina.
Stradivarius, a 4-year-old colt by Sea the Stars, tracked the leading trio through the first run through the Ascot stretch, down to Swinley Bottom and back up the hill to the final bend. At that point, Moore already was working hard to keep Order of St George in contention while Dettori was just starting to ask Stradivarius.
As they raced midway down the lane, Stradivarius took over the lead only to find Vazirabad right alongside. Vazirabad appeared to put a head in front but Stradivarius was not to be denied, winning by 3/4 length with a final burst of effort. Torcedor, who contested the lead throughout, held on to finish third as Order of St George was fourth.
“It was a real proper finish, wasn’t it?” said John Gosden, who trains the winner for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen. “But this little fellow stuck his neck out front again … He’s a bit of a mighty mouse, we call him.”
“Stradivarius was a lion,” Dettori said. “He fought everything off — Order Of St George, Vazirabad. I wanted to time it right and at the end he took off.”
Stradivarius appears to have come into his own atop the ranks of European stayers. Winner of the Queen’s Vase at last year’s Royal meeting and the Group 1 Goodwood Cup two months later, he finished third, beaten only 1/2 length, in the St Leger at Doncaster and was third again, behind Order of St George, in the Group 2 British Champions Long Distance Cup.
The colt now is halfway to landing a 1 million-pounds sterling bonus, the new W H Stayers’ Million. He won one of four designated prep races in May and now needs to repeat in the Goodwood Cup and win the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Stakes at York to claim the prize.
Gosden said: “He will go back to Goodwood next — he won the race last year – and then try for the Lonsdale Stakes. I’ve heard the bonus is well insured … “
The Norfolk Stakes
Shang Shang Shang, the only filly in the field, got Ward his 10th Royal Ascot winner and first this year in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds — but just barely.
With Joel Rosario riding, the Shanghai Bobby filly jumped perfectly for the 5 furlongs and showed the way. In the final 100 yards, Pocket Dynamo ranged up right alongside and the two fought to the wire with Shang Shang Shang winning just by a head bob. Land Force, from Aidan O’Brien’s stable, also was closing but settled for third, another 1/2 length back.
With the victory, Shang Shang Shang earned a spot in the spanking new Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint this November at Churchill Downs through the international Challenge program.
The victory was a huge relief for Ward, who saw two favorites, Chelsea Cloisters and Lady Aurelia, defeated earlier in the Royal meeing.
“To do this with a filly is quite unbelievable,” said Ward, who still has four more runners lined up for the final two days of the meeting. “I come here every year, but we were kind of scratching our heads for a few days and felt like we were back at the beginning and wondering if we were in the wrong place or not.
“We had done all the planning just as before but it wasn’t coming through. Thank God it did today. Barely!”
Ward credited Rosario’s dedication and intimate knowledge of the filly. “He has put the time and effort in, which is why he is here. He has won Derbys, World Cups, yet he was in every day breezing my 2-year-olds all winter long.”
Rosario performed a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount in the winner’s enclosure, albeit not getting quite as much “air” as Dettori usually accomplishes.
The Ribblesdale Stakes
Magic Wand rebounded from her fourth-place showing in the Oaks to run away with the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. After shadowing the pacesetter up the hill from Swinley Bottom, Moore sent the Galileo filly out to the lead and she quickly put matters to rest, winning by 4 lengths.
Wild Illusion, second in the Oaks behind Forever Together, settled for the bridesmaid spot again while Sun Maiden, making just her third start, ran on well to finish third.
Magic Wand won the Cheshire Oaks over good turf and the Ascot course has been good to firm throughout the Royal meeting. She has struggled over footing with more give, including the soft going at Epsom.
“Magic Wand did it nicely today,” Moore said. “She is a lovely filly and she enjoyed being on better ground. That was a good performance.”
Trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore owners have more big plans for their fillies.
Oaks winner Forever Together, he said, might go back to the Curragh in Ireland for the Group 1 Pretty Polly and Magic Wand could contest the Group 1 Irish Oaks. “And then they both might head for the Arc or something like that.”
The Hampton Court
Hunting Horn, a close-up fourth in the French Derby in his last start, raced clear in the final furlong of the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Crossed Baton. Zaaki was third in a race restricted to 3-year-olds who had not won a Group 1 or Group 2.
Hunting Horn, a Camelot colt trained by O’Brien and ridden by Moore, showed promise in Ireland last season and won his first start of 2018. He then finished third in a pair of Group 3 events and was only 2 1/4 lengths adrift of Study of Man, winner of the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club or French Oaks at Chantilly in his last start.
Derrick Smith, representing the Coolmore owners, said Hunting Horn “ran very well today and was a little unlucky in France where he got a bit impeded. They can often bunch up in France, but he put it right today.
“This is a double whammy for us because he’s a son of Camelot, which makes the win even more pleasing,” Smith said. Camelot won the 2012 Derby for Smith, John Magnier and Michael Tabor.
The King George V Handicap
Baghdad survived a tight, three-horse finish to win the King George V Handicap for 3-year-olds by a neck over Corgi with First Eleven an unlucky third, just a nose back.
Jockey Andrea Atzeni found running room in the stretch for Baghdad while Dettori, aboard First Eleven, was shut off at the critical moment, forced to shift to the rail and missed second by a nose.
Baghdad and First Eleven are both by former champion Frankel. It was Frankel’s third winner of the meeting.
The Brittania Handicap
Ostilio, under Silvestre De Sousa, shifted quickly to the stands-side rail in the Brittania Handicap for 3-year-olds, led every step of the way and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Curiosity. Magnificent was third in the 30-horse field.
Ostilio, a New Approach colt trained by former Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, finished second in each of his first four starts, two last year and two this season. He finally broke through in a handicap at Newmarket May 14 in his last race before the Ascot run.