Cracksman and Hydrangea went down to defeat as heavy favorites on the second day of Royal Ascot as trainer Sir Michael Stoute saddled two winners and surpassed the late Sir Henry Cecil as the leading trainer in the glorious history of the meeting.
After scoring triples of Tuesday’s opening day, trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori drew blanks, including Cracksman’s second-place finish. Irish master Aidan O’Brien had a triple of his own — but it was in a single race.
Here’s how it went on a warm day:
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes
As the field crested the hill and turned for home in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the hot favorite Cracksman swooped around the leaders and looked poised to charge to victory. But Poet’s Word, under James Doyle, was moving right to his outside and it was Poet’s Word who found the most in the final 200 yards, edging clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. After Cracksman, it was another 8 lengths back to Hawkbill in third.
Poet’s Word, a 5-year-old son of Poet’s Voice, returned to England this spring after a second-place finish behind Hawkbill in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan. He won the Group III Brigadier Gerard at Sandown in preparation for the Ascot bid and with Wednesday’s win earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Churchill Downs through the international Challenge program.
“There are a lot of options with him, as I think he is equally effective over 10 and 12 furlongs and there are not many that are,” Sir Michael said of Poet’s Word. “Anybody would love training this horse as he is so sound and honest.” He mentioned the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown July 7th and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot July 28 as possible slots.
Of surpassing Sir Henry for the Royal Ascot training premiership, Sir Michael said, “Last year at Royal Ascot, we had plenty of runners and had five beaten favorites, so I’m pleased to just win any race as we only needed one winner. I love the game and we have great staff and very supportive owners, so I’d like to keep going for a little while more.”
“Henry’s record was formidable,” he said, noting it was set while the Royal meeting was four days, compared to the current five.
“Sir Michael is a master trainer, isn’t he?” asked Doyle after riding the winner. “With horses like this he is just very patient with them. It is nice to ride him a big winner and particularly a landmark winner like this.”
While Cracksman was the favorite, there were questions about the form of the 4-year-old Frankel colt after he was all out to win the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Ascot in his first start of the season. Dettori and Gosden put that result down to a dislike for the undulations of the Ascot course but their colt again failed to show a late-game punch in the Prince of Wales’s.
Gosden called Cracksman “a clever horse” whose mental sharpness needs work. “The ability was there but I didn’t feel he was being exactly generous with it today. You did notice from a long way out that Frankie was having to nudge and nudge him,” the trainer said.
The Queen’s Vase
Aidan O’Brien sent out the first three finishers in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase for 3-year-olds, a 1 3/4-miles test that foreshadows the St Leger in the fall. Kew Gardens, a Galileo colt, idled at the back of the field under Ryan Moore as Donnacha O’Brien, the trainer’s son, sent stablemate Nelson, a Frankel colt, out to a big early lead. Kew Gardens closed the gap a bit coming up the hill and came around the rest in the stretch, winning by 4 1/2 lengths.
Another Galileo offspring, Southern France, with Seamie Heffernan aboard, was along to edge Nelson for second.
“He can do a lot of things,” O’Brien said of Kew Gardens’ season. “He can go back to the Irish Derby. He can be trained to the St Leger. We couldn’t be happier, really.”
Kew Gardens came to Ascot after finishing ninth, beaten 27 lengths, in the Investec Derby at Epsom in his previous start.
The Duke of Cambridge Stakes
Aljazzi, last year’s runner-up, went one better in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge, bursting through from near the back of the field and drawing clear in the final 100 yards to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Tribute Act and Wilamina were second and third. The favorite, Hydrangea, chased the early leader but had nothing left for the final battle, finishing a fading eighth.
Aljazzi, a 5-year-old daughter of Shamardal trained by Marco Botti, finished seventh in the Grade II Goldikova Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup undercard last fall at Del Mar. She came to the Duke of Cambridge off the back of a third-place run at Sandown April 27.
“We have been so close here so many times with horses like Dandino, Excelebration and Euro Charline and it is just nice to finally get one on the board,” Botti said. “I am really delighted, and I have to thank the owners for keeping Aljazzi in training.”
Botti pointed to the Falmouth Stakes in July nearby his Newmarket training yard as a potential target.
The Queen Mary Stakes
For the second day in a row, the opening race went to a big longshot as Oisin Murphy got Signora Cabello’s nose on the line first in the Group 2 Queen Mary for 2-year-old fillies. The Camacho filly was in the middle of a sandwich with Gossamer Wings a nose behind on one side and Shades of Blue a similar margin further behind on the other.
The favorite and one of American trainer Wesley Ward’s Ascot hopefuls, Chelsea Cloisters, had an uncharacteristic poor start and never reached contention for jockey Frankie Dettori, finishing 11th. The First Samurai filly won her only previous start at Keeneland by 8 lengths.
Murphy said he wasn’t confident he had nailed his second-ever Royal Ascot win. “I only hit the front with about 50 yards to go and I was always vulnerable to something flying,” he said.
The Jersey Stakes
Sir Michael tacked on to his record in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes, a 7-furlong dash for 3-year-olds, as Expert Eye got through a narrow opening a furlong out and sprinted clear to a 4 12-lengths score. Society Power was second, followed by Could It Be Love.
The favorite, Emaraaty, faded to finish 16th in a field of 21.
Expert Eye, a Juddmonte farms homebred by Acclamation, won his first two starts as a juvenile, then finished last in the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst. He was 10th in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas in his last outing before Ascot.
“He felt like a rocket-ship out there,” said Australian rider James McDonald. “He settled further back than I would have liked, but he travelled kindly and past the three-furlong pole, he picked up really good.
The Royal Hunt Cup
Settle For Bay came to the lead a furlong out in the Royal Hunt Cup, a 1-mile heritage handicap, and beat all 29 rivals. Afaak was second, 2 1/4 lengths back, with Circus Couture third.
Settle For Bay, a 4-year-old gelding by Rio De La Plata, is trained by David Marnane and spent much of his career on Dundalk all-weather surface.