Nothing pleases the Royal Ascot crowd more than a winner for the meeting’s crucial supporter, the Queen. Imagine, then, the dilemma of one of her Windsor Castle lunch guests, trainer Roger Charlton, when Her Majesty asked him, ‘Are you going to beat me?’ on the day of the Tercentenary Stakes. Charlton is one of the six Flat trainers with whom she has horses, but in that race his entry was Times Test, whom he trains for Khalid Abdullah, and Her Majesty’s runner was Peacock, trained by Richard Hannon. Charlton didn’t know how to answer and just hoped for a dead heat. After Times Test had run out one of the most impressive winners of the week, beating Peacock by three-and-a-quarter lengths, he reflected, ‘I don’t think I’ll get lunch again.’ A vote among the crowd would probably have had him incarcerated in the Tower.
It wasn’t a happy week for the Queen, always the most sporting of owners: her Touchline messed up the start in the Sandringham Handicap and endured considerable traffic problems before finishing third and her Capel Path was injured in the Britannia Handicap and taken to the Newmarket equine hospital.
Ascot is often about owners and trainers but this year Britain’s international racing festival was all about the jockeys. Two of the most popular wins were those of champion jockey Richard Hughes on Illuminate and Arab Dawn: this was his last Royal Ascot as a jockey but few doubt that he will be back soon in his new role next season as a trainer. Frankie Dettori’s glorious revival continued. Having won this year’s Derby on Golden Horn and Prix de Diane on Star of Seville, his victory on Osaila in the Sandringham Handicap was his 50th at Royal Ascot. Two more followed on Times Test and on Undrafted in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes for Ascot’s favourite American trainer Wesley Ward, who declared, ‘You can have a Porsche against Porsches and you still gotta have the right guy and this is a magical guy. He’s just a cool sitter and a go-getter.’ Hard to sum up Frankie’s instinctive gifts better than that.
Last summer Jamie Spencer announced his impending retirement. Fortunately he thought better of it and the master of the finishing swoop reminded us of his talents with another Royal Ascot win. On The Grey Gatsby Jamie should probably have won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes had not a piece of legal but ruthless riding by Frankie on Western Hymn kept him pinned to the rail until it was too late for his finishing burst to take him past the winner Free Eagle. Spencer still had the balls, though, to ride another waiting race on Balios, holding him up in last place and seizing the lead only in the last 100 yards of the King Edward VII Stakes for a smart victory.
The phenomenon of the week, though, was Ryan Moore, who rode a record nine winners. Only Fred Archer in the less competitive days of 1878 has done better than that with 12. Having now replaced Joseph O’Brien as the No. 1 choice for the Coolmore Syndicate and Aidan O’Brien, Moore rode five winners for them: Gleneagles, Washington DC, Waterloo Bridge, War Envoy and Aloft. Another, Curvy, was trained by the Coolmore-linked David Wachman and Ireland’s Willie Mullins provided another with Clondaw Warrior. The internationally in-demand Moore triumphed too on Wesley Ward’s Acapulco, winner of the Queen Mary Stakes.
We are accustomed to healthily-tanned Americans having the best teeth and to US-trained horses streaking first out of the stalls but the precociously muscled Acapulco is something else: she would not have looked out of place in a field of four-year-old hurdlers. Said Richard Hughes: ‘I have never ever seen a two-year-old filly as big as that.’ Ryan’s other winner was GM Hopkins for John Gosden, a horse he rode with split-second timing to triumph in the 30-runner Royal Hunt Cup having called his trainer and told him how he should be ridden. Seasoned trainers and fellow jockeys now speak of Ryan Moore in the same breath as Lester Piggott with both O’Brien and Sir Michael Stoute calling him the best ever. Like Lester, he is becoming the automatic pencil-in choice for punters. The only trouble is that Ryan is all about quietly dedicated professionalism: he doesn’t do exuberance or celebration. After Ascot he probably spent more time castigating himself for getting caught in a pocket on Kingfisher in the Gold Cup than congratulating himself on the nine successes.
What any sport yearns for in these days of competition for the leisure pound is a truly charismatic and quotable superstar but Ryan Moore is a quiet man to whom the promotional arts don’t come easily. Like others in the media, I have sometimes grumbled about his reluctance even to try to come up with a colourful description of his or his mount’s achievement but we should all give up on that. He can do the riding: it is up to us to come up with the adjectives.