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I’m looking forward to Royal Ascot next week and, bar one non-runner, I like our ante-post positions. In anticipation of the meeting, I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane by the decades.
My first recollection of the meeting was back in 1983 when I was off school with glandular fever. The only horse that I recall running was the five-year-old, Irish-trained mare Stanerra as she won both the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (when it was a Group 2) and then the Hardwicke Stakes three days later under Brian Rouse for Frank Dunne breaking the 1m4f course record in the process. Unsurprisingly, Julian Wilson and Jimmy Lindley made a big deal out of her achievement. To this day no filly or mare has since won the Hardwicke, which is something that Coronet is trying to put right this season.
My first strong memory of Royal Ascot though was the rain-sodden 1987 meeting when Henry Cecil trained seven winners over the four days including Paean who took the Gold Cup by a modern-day record of 15 lengths. To win seven of the 24 races was one heck of an achievement. I remember backing Lanfranco (King Edward VII Stakes) of that successful septet but that was it. The other main talking point of the meeting was Michael Jarvis’s Bob Back causing a 33/1 surprise in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes that was billed as a big duel between Pebbles and Commanche Run in a four-runner contest. Pebbles then got her revenge in the Eclipse.
It was two years later when I attended the meeting for the first time. It was also the one and only occasion that I took to be wife-to-be racing! If she didn’t like Royal Ascot then I couldn’t see her braving the arctic blasts at Cottenham or being gripped by the charms of an all-weather bonanza at Southwell. I took her to the final day on a blazing afternoon, most of it spent on the lawn trying to engender a modicum of interest out of her.
That afternoon also wasn’t successful from a punting standpoint either as the Barry Hills-trained Gallic League was my main bet of the meeting in the King’s Stand before it was moved to the opening day but he was beaten into third by David Elsworth’s Indian Ridge who went on to become a successful sire. I remember Assatis trained by Guy Harwood winning a four-runner Hardwicke at 4/11 (he then won it the following year at 50/1 overturning the odds-on Old Vic) and Macs Fighter took the Wokingham off top weight. I kept the racecard which is hiding somewhere in my attic and like the fact that the style of that official document has hardly changed at all in the interim.
Into the early 1990s, by which time I was working in the Raceform department at Weatherbys so we all looked forward to the office naps table for the big meetings which meant being allowed to stop compiling The Form Book and The Note Book to watch the televised races before bunking off early to catch the last two races at Arthur Prince bookmakers. I remember winning the 1994 competition mainly due to finding Arcadian Heights (more famous for trying to take chunks out of other living creatures but I loved a Geoff Wragg Royal Ascot runner) who won the Gold Cup at 20/1 and Bobzao who took the Hardwicke at 11/1. It wasn’t the classiest year I grant you.
A couple of seasons earlier, the race at the meeting that was most eagerly anticipated during those years was the supposed head to head between Arazi, who had been a stunning two-year-old, and the 2000 Guineas winner Rodrigo de Triano in the St James’s Palace Stakes. I was all over Arazi having, like everyone else, been wowed by his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile performance which still makes me smile when I see him picking off horses to this day but, remarkably, neither could even finish in the first three as Brief Truce caused a 33/1 shock.
Into the current century and the gg.com years and we were ready to cover Royal Ascot for the first time in 2001. Being such a Wragg fan at the meeting I doubled up his Swallow Flight (2nd at 11/2) and Cassandra Go (1st at 8/1) in the first two races so was narrowly denied a very nice pay out. However, I recall we went very big on the website on Andre Fabre’s Banks Hill in the Coronation Stakes to beat the 1000 Guineas winner Ameerat, having finished second in the French Guineas and then won the Sandringham, which she did on her favoured fast ground. So with the banker obliging at 4/1, it went down as a good year.
Yeats’ four-timer in the Gold Cup and the Aussies winning the sprints were what the middle part of the first decade of the century were about but neither really caught my imagination. I found Yeats’ dominance boring to be honest. In fact, I’m not a big fan of runners from outside of Europe at Royal Ascot as I can’t get a good punting angle on them. First it was Choisir et al and now it’s trying to guess just how good Wesley Ward’s two-year-olds are.
Onto the current decade and I’d argue that the best performance I have seen on a British racecourse on the flat was Frankel’s demolition of the Queen Anne field that kicked off the meeting in 2012. Not only was it outstanding on the eye but the 11 lengths’ runner-up, Excelebration, then went on win the Jacques le Marois and QEII on his next two starts. The manner of Frankel’s 2000 Guineas win the previous season was extraordinary and he oozed class when winning the Sussex and Juddmonte International as a four-year-old, but his Queen Anne victory was his standout career performance as far as I am concerned.
If I have a lucky race at the meeting then it has been the Hardwicke Stakes with Almaarad, Bobzao, Rock Hopper, Fruits Of Love, Doyen, Macarthur, Harbinger, Await The Dawn, Telescope and Idaho all providing happy memories. I missed the boat recommending Crystal Ocean in this season’s six-weeks’ build up (actually it was a case of being unfortunate as he wasn’t priced up until after he won at Newbury and then wasn’t a tempting enough ante-post price) but he’s my banker this year. The stronger opposition the better please to help obtain a more competitive price.
The best of luck next week. The weather looks set fair so hopefully it will be another good one.