Bobby Zen

Royal Ascot was tremendous in myriad ways. Sun up, crowd up, and a spread of results which drew in some of the world’s biggest owners and trainers alongside syndicates and smaller yards. Then on Sunday morning came the news that QIPCO is to significantly reduce its sponsorship of British racing from next year. British Champions Day will still be run in its name, and the company owned by Sheikhs Hamad and Fahad Al Thani will remain as an official partner of Ascot racecourse, but Newmarket’s Guineas meeting, Ascot’s King George meeting and the British Champions Series will no longer benefit from the largesse of QIPCO.

Since 2011, when QIPCO first got behind the new-look British Champions Day, it has put £47 million into that day of racing alone, and it drove the prize-money on offer for the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas to record levels. This news, though not unexpected, will come as a blow to Newmarket in particular in a time of upheaval within the Jockey Club owing to the impending departure of CEO Nevin Truesdale. However, it also opens up opportunities for emerging forces within British racing, perhaps even from fellow members of Qatar’s royal family, or those from Bahrain, to enhance their own profile in a country which they clearly regard as a world leader when it comes to first-class racing.

Few who attended or watched the royal meeting last week can argue with that. There are superb race meetings across Europe throughout the Flat season but Royal Ascot stands alone when it comes to tradition, high fashion, picnic-partying and the pulling power of the royal family. One only needs to read Sue Finley’s interview with Mark Taylor, one of a large group of American owners connected to the Coronation Stakes winner Porta Fortuna (Ire) (Caravaggio), to understand the lure the meeting still has internationally. “It was a bucket-list experience for them,” Taylor said of the investors in the Medallion Racing syndicate. 

Wathnan Racing, which arrived in style on the British scene during Royal Ascot last year when winning the Gold Cup and Queen’s Vase, clearly enjoyed that experience so much that bloodstock agent Richard Brown was instructed to amass a far larger team of challengers for this year’s meeting. The principal of that operation, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is both the Emir of Qatar and a cousin to the brothers behind QIPCO. He has clearly caught the bug which ensured that one of those cousins, Sheikh Fahad, became a significant owner and breeder in Britain, and whose support continues through Qatar Racing, which now also has interests and partnerships in America and beyond. 

Wathnan Racing was rewarded with four winners this week: Leovanni (G2 Queen Mary Stakes), Shareholder (G2 Norfolk), English Oak (Buckingham Palace), and Haatem (G3 Jersey). That quartet alone, of its 26 runners at Ascot, contains two potential stallion prospects and a decent future broodmare. Brown would not be drawn on whether Wathnan Racing plans to become Wathnan Breeding, but it does not require a huge leap to imagine that it won’t be long before the operation looks into purchasing land on which to rear its own champions. In the meantime, plenty of other owners, breeders, pinhookers and sales companies will have benefited from an outlay which must run to eight figures for Wathnan’s Ascot team alone. 

The Bahraini royal family has also had a growing presence in European racing of late. Shaikh Khalid Al Khalifa’s KHK Racing has struck with the likes of Group 1-winning juvenile Vandeek (GB) and St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov, while his brother Shaikh Nasser is behind Victorious Racing, the owner of dual Royal Ascot winner Bradsell (GB) who celebrated two further winners at Ascot last week in Pledgeofallegiance (Ire) and Isle Of Jura (GB). Another of their brothers, Shaikh Salman, is the Crown Prince of Bahrain and, though not a racehorse owner himself, was at Royal Ascot last week.

Isle Of Jura has given particular pleasure to his owner, having won the unofficial Triple Crown of Bahrain racing over the winter during a magnificent spell which saw him win four of his five races on the island between December and March. That he has held and improved that form on his return to Britain is to the great credit of trainer George Scott and his team. 

All of Isle Of Jura’s eight victories have come in the hands of Callum Shepherd, who leads our unofficial ‘Hats Off’ awards which reflect on a marvellous week of racing:

Shepherd’s Delight

It has by now been well documented that, through no fault of his own, Callum Shepherd lost the Derby ride on Ambiente Friendly (Ire) (Gleaneagles {Ire}), who went on to finish second to City Of Troy (Justify) at Epsom and will be one of the leading hopes for next weekend’s Irish Derby. 

It is generally a better guide to character to observe how someone copes in adversity rather than in triumph, and in public Shepherd accepted this reversal with good grace. If one could only guess at the depth of his misery at losing such a high-profile ride, his emotional response to winning the G2 Hardwicke Stakes told its own tale.

“Six weeks ago I thought I’d found my diamond for the season, but that wasn’t to be, and he’s stepped in,” said the jockey of Isle Of Jura. 

His conduct has been nothing but classy in a year which has already had its highs and terrible lows. Shepherd was also a close friend of Stefano Cherchi, who died in April following a race fall in Australia. He paid a beautiful tribute to his fellow jockey on social media, which included the lines, “[Stefano] was not defined by his abilities in the saddle, or by the races he has won. What defined him to us, those lucky enough to have known him, and I really do mean lucky, was the human being he was.”

It sounds like Cherchi was also lucky to have Shepherd on his side during his short life, and we can only hope to see his friend continue to flourish in his career.

Howden’s Just Reward 

David Howden, like QIPCO, has become a staunch supporter of racing, and in particular Ascot, where his company Howden is also an official partner. His homebred filly Running Lion (GB) (Roaring Lion) took him to the Oaks at Epsom last year only to be withdrawn at the start when getting upset in the stalls. She has managed several group placings since then but her victory in the G2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes clearly meant the world to her owner, whose love of eventing has now been enthusiastically expanded to the racing world. 

Dark Angel 

You’ve gotta love him, haven’t you? Now 19, the Yeomanstown Stud stallion certainly made his presence felt at Ascot last week as the only stallion to notch two Group 1 winners in Charyn (Ire) and the returning hero Khaadem (Ire). Dark Angel also featured as broodmare sire of the Coolmore-bred Bedtime Story (Ire), who provided the ‘wow’ moment of the week when winning the Chesham by nine lengths. But then, that is perhaps no surprise as the filly’s sire Frankel (GB) and dam Mecca’s Angel (Ire) each had a wow factor of their own during their racing days and have clearly transferred an explosive mix of genes to their daughter. 

The Boy from Ballarat

“We had a pretty big knees-up on Tuesday night,” said Australian trainer Henry Dwyer, and who could blame him for that? 

Dwyer’s speedy mare Asfoora (Aus) (Flying Artie {Aus}) provided one of the highlights of the opening day when landing her first Group 1 success in the King Charles III Stakes and, even better, she has a potentially long season of European engagements ahead of her, with a chance that her world tour could culminate in an appearance at the Breeders’ Cup. It is admirably sporting campaigning from her owner-breeder Akram El-Fahkri of Noor Elaine Farm and we look forward to following Asfoora’s progress. 

The Prince of Wales

The future King of England clearly has a number of greater concerns at the moment, and he is not a noted fan of horseracing, but his presence at Royal Ascot on the only day that his father was absent could only have given the meeting an extra boost. 

That same day, the official social media accounts of the Prince and Princess of Wales posted to nearly 20 million followers, “A pleasure to be at Royal Ascot for a thrilling afternoon of racing. Congratulations to Ryan Moore, Aidan O’Brien and of course Auguste Rodin on winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.”

Prince William spent plenty of time on the podium congratulating all those connected with Auguste Rodin (Ire), including having an especially lengthy chat with travelling groom David Hickey. 

From Ascot, the prince then headed to the England v Denmark match at the European football championships, followed by spending his birthday on Friday night at Taylor Swift’s Eras tour in London. Not a bad week really, even if the rumour that Taylor Swift would be at Ascot on Friday was ultimately unfounded. 

 

A pleasure to be at Royal @Ascot for a thrilling afternoon of racing. Congratulations to Ryan Moore, Aidan O’Brien and of course Auguste Rodin on winning The Prince of Wales’s Stakes! pic.twitter.com/Xm3ttTVWlk

— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) June 19, 2024

 

Threefold

Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum has now enjoyed three homebred Group 1 winners in the last two years of Royal Ascot, all of whom descend from his increasingly influential mare Reem Three (GB) (Mark Of Esteem {Ire}).

Her son Triple Time (GB) (Frankel {GB}), winner of last year’s Queen Anne Stakes, is already at Dalham Hall Stud, and it was encouraging to hear the sheikh say on Friday that both St James’s Palace Stakes winner Rosallion (GB) (Blue Point {Ire}) and Commonwealth Cup hero Inisherin (Ire) (Shamardal) will race on next year as four-year-olds. Stallion duties can wait for two of the most exciting three-year-old colts in training.

Fairy Dust

From Fairy Godmother (Ire) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) to Port Fairy (Ire) (Australia {GB}) and a few more besides, it was a sensational week for Aidan O’Brien, who was the leading trainer at Royal Ascot for the thirteenth time. But hats must also be doffed to the wider O’Brien family. Donnacha and Joseph each trained a winner, while Annemarie and Ana, who are the brains behind the family’s breeding operation, Whisperview Trading, bred both the G1 Coronation Stakes winner Porta Fortuna and aforementioned G2 Ribblesdale Stakes winner Port Fairy.

The Two That Got Away

We can’t say that the performance of Calandagan (Fr) was ballsy because that is precisely the part of his anatomy which is missing, but his six-length victory was certainly one of the most impressive performances of Royal Ascot. 

Reportedly, the gelding operation has improved the behaviour of the Aga Khan-bred winner of the King Edward VII Stakes, who has also won two Group 3 contests in France this year since the cruellest cut. While it is a measure which has kept him out of the Classics, his fast-rising profile means that the name Calandagan is now written on plenty of lists of horses to follow. Both he and Ambiente Friendly look set to boost the profile of their sire Gleneagles this year. 

Ascot Racecourse 

Ascot pledged to donate £5,000 per winning ride of Ryan Moore to the Retraining of Racehorses charity and, following a mighty week for the world’s best jockey (that’s official in our book), will end up handing over £30,000. Hats off to Ascot for important acknowledgement that it’s not just about what happens on the track that matters, but that finding proper second homes for racehorses, either in retraining or retirement, is crucial to the sport’s future. 

 

The post Seven Days: Good for Ascot, Bad for Newmarket  appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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