After taking in nearly 12 hours of TV coverage over five days of the stately Royal Ascot meeting wearing shorts, T-shirt and running shoes, I’m ready to significantly upgrade my attire next year.
The coverage was that impressive, so a shout out to NBC Sports and co-hosts Nick Luck and Britney Eurton & Co. for blending history, humor and racing drama into highly entertaining telecasts. Bravo!
The real stars, of course, were the sensational horses from around the world brought here to compete, and the story lines that unfolded with each race. A gold star for top performance is awarded to Godolphin’s Blue Point, who became the first horse in 16 years – and third ever – to pull off a rare Group 1 double at the meeting by winning the King’s Stand Stakes on opening day and then gamely holding on to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on closing day, Saturday.
“Great horses are just a pleasure, and yes, I think it was magnificent,’’ said Godolphin founder Sheik Mohammed bin Rashin Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
Here’s a bunch more intriguing results, at least from my seat:
Day 1: Blue Point and Battaash returned again for the five-furlong King’s Stand, and for the second year in a row it was Blue Point who prevailed, this time by 1 1/4 lengths. The win for the 5-year-old son of Samardal kept him unbeaten in four races this year. The hope of trainer Charlie Appleby was that Blue Point would be fit enough to run again on four days rest in the Diamond Jubilee (to the delight of the closing day crowd, he was) … A year after a half-length loss in the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes (G1T), 6-year-old France-bred Lord Glitters returned to the same race and rallied to defeat Beat the Bank.
Day 2: A second day of rain produced several upsets, including the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean topping favorite Magical and the filly Sea of Class in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1T). Crystal Ocean, ridden on this day by Frankie Dettori, had finished second in his previous three races … American trainer Wesley Ward’s Kimari finished second by a head to Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2T). Later in the day, Kimari’s jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, was suspended nine days by the British Horseracing Authority using his whip “above the permitted level and in an incorrect place” from about 1 ½ furlongs to the finish. The suspension begins Sunday. “It’s a different way of riding. We come here once a year,’’ he told NBC Sports. “I made a mistake, and I’m paying for it. I used the whip incorrectly.”
Day 3: 4-for-4 Frankie! This was a day the exuberant Italian jockey stole the show, winning four consecutive group stakes highlighted by a victory in the Gold Cup (G1T) aboard Stradivarius, the 5-year-old who won the same race last year. Dettori’s other winners were with A’ali in the Norfolk Stakes (G2T), Sangarius in the Hampton Court (G2T), and Star Catcher in the Ribblesdale (G2T). Stradivarius was caught up in traffic during the nearly 2 ½-mile Gold Cup, but Dettori maneuvered him through the crowd and accelerated past Dee Ex Bee and Master of Reality to win by a length. Seconds after crossing the wire, Dettori wore a huge smile, and raised four fingers in the air to celebrate his big day. Of course, his patented flying dismounts were greeted by cheers from the crowd … Maven, scheduled to be the first horse sired by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to compete at Royal Ascot, was scratched from the Norfolk due to a soft turf after trainer Wesley Ward checked the course.
Day 4: Hayley Turner became the first female rider in 32 years – and second ever — to win at Royal Ascot after guiding 33-1 long shot Thanks Be to victory in the Sandringham Handicap, which had 27 starters. Turner raised a fist skyward at the finish, and was all smiles in the gallop out, saying later she would have been just as happy if any of the other female riders had won, “but I’m pretty glad it’s me.’’ … Dettori followed up his four-win day with an upset victory aboard Advertise in the Commonwealth Cup (G1) … A drying course led to a rousing 4 ½-length win by Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan in the King Edward VII Stakes (G2T).
Day 5: What a way to end another memorable Royal Ascot with Blue Point hanging on by a head to edge Dream of Dreams in the Diamond Jubilee to complete a remarkable double. Queen Elizabeth II presented Sheik Mohammed with the winner’s trophy, while Appleby would say in an interview later that it’s doubtful Blue Point would come to America after earning an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and may have run the final race of his career … The meeting closed with Dettori, 48, running off with the top jockey award – his first in 15 years — with seven winners (three seconds, two thirds) and O’Brien taking yet another trainer’s title (five wins, seven seconds, two thirds).
In 2020, it’ll be top hat and morning suit.