Royal Ascot 2021: High-drama, heroics and hope

Features | 21st June 2021

The meeting started with a Frankie Dettori flying dismount and ended with the uplifting feeling that a large step forward had been taken towards normality.

Frankie’s Queen Anne Victory on the world’s top‐ranked horse Palace Pier was watched by the biggest crowd allowed on a racecourse for 15 months.

It was a fitting start to five days of fantastic top‐class racing when there was hardly time for the 12,000 racegoers to draw breath before the next stunning performance or heart‐warming victory.

The opening day rarely fails to live up to expectations with three Group 1 races within the space of two hours.

Day 1

Palace Pier’s powerful display provided Frankie Dettori with his fourth Group 1 victory of the season in Britain. A list which includes British racing most prestigious races – QIPCO 1000 Guineas, Al Shaqab Lockinge and the Cazoo Oaks to go alongside the Queen Anne.

The records didn’t stop there for the Italian, Palace Pier was Frankie’s 75th victory at the Royal meeting only Lester Piggott has ridden more.

Frankie Dettori 75 Royal Ascot winners achieved at Royal Ascot 2021

Jockey Cieren Fallon Jr roared with delighted as he crossed the winning line to register his first winner at Flat racing’s greatest meeting on last year’s July Cup hero.

It was one up on his father Kieren. Fallon’s dad rode 30 winners at the meeting but he never lifted the King’s Stand trophy for the winner of Royal Ascot’s only top‐level 5f sprint.

From a jockey and trainer recording their first winners to a man who first graced the Royal Ascot winners’ enclosure 38 years earlier.

In the very next race, 79‐year‐old Irish trainer Jim Bolger won the St James’s Palace Stakes with a hugely‐impressive performance from Poetic Flare.

The 2000 Guineas winner was beaten in the French and Irish versions of the Classic but he bounced back to his best to storm clear in the straight under the Bolger’s son‐in‐law Kevin Manning.

It was Poetic Flare’s fifth run of the season and it sets up a potentially mouth‐watering clash with Palace Pier in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

Day one ended like it started with victory for the father‐and‐son training partnership of John and Thady Gosden. Palace Pier had been a red‐hot 2‐7 favourite when landing the Queen Anne but Amtiyaz was an unconsidered 33‐1 shot for the Copper Horse handicap.

It didn’t stop Hollie Doyle driving him home in a pulsating finish to the 1m6f contest to record her second Royal Ascot success.

Day 2

Just three months ago Irish trainer Gavin Cromwell was celebrating winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with Flooring Porter. 

You could almost fit five Queen Mary Stakes into the three miles of that championship contest but Cromwell showed he’s as good with the sprinters when Quick Suzy lived up to her name in the opening race on Wednesday.

She got the better of American raider Twilight Gleaming in the closing stages of the fillies’ juvenile contest to give her trainer and jockey Gary Carroll their first winners at the Royal meeting.

Later in the afternoon another Irish‐trained filly was to take centre stage when Love made all the running for win in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

It was Aidan O’Brien’s 75th Royal Ascot winner and a fifth Group 1 prize for last year’s Oaks heroine. She was given a brilliant ride by Ryan Moore and she is now likely to feature in some of the summer’s top races.

Aidan O'Brien, Ryan Moore and Love after winning the Prince Of Wales's Stakes
Aidan O'Brien 75 Royal Ascot winners

The other powerhouse of world racing, Godolphin, made sure it got in on the act with a double in the famous royal blue colours.

William Buick guided Kemari to a smooth Queen’s Vase victory for this year’s Derby winning trainer Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor had a winner for the first time since 2017 at the meeting when Real World caused an upset in the Royal Hunt Cup.

The Stands’ side had looked the place to be on the straight course but Italian apprentice jockey Marco Ghiani rode a brilliant race to land the historic mile handicap from a low draw on Real World.

The 3lbs claimer is rarely seen without a smile and it’s hard to imagine anyone sporting a wider grin after he returned to the Royal Ascot winners’ enclosure for the first time.

Marco Ghiani after winning The Royal Hunt Cup with Real World

He wasn’t the only apprentice to showcase his talents on Flat racing’s greatest stage. Laura Pearson has impressed with her riding skills all year and she outrode far more experienced jockeys when making all the running on Lola Showgirl in the Kensington Palace Stakes.

It was a remarkable result for David Loughnane. Not only was it his first winner at the meeting but he did it by saddling the first two home in the mile handicap contest.

After greeting Lola Showgirl back into the winners’ enclosure he said: “Some kids dream of being footballers, singers and superheroes – this is my dream. To be living it is very surreal.”

Day 3

To many racing fans, Stradivarius would their idea of a superhero in equine form but not even he could overcome the kind of traffic problems you would normally expect to find of the M25 around a bank holiday weekend.

Attempting to match Yeats’ record four Gold Cups, he found weakening rivals blocking his path as Subjectivist set sail for home off the final turn.

It was a case of third time lucky for winning trainer Mark Johnston. He had saddled the runner‐up in Stradivarius’ last two Gold Cups but there was nothing lucky about the way Subjectivist charged clear of Irish cult heroine Princess Zoe for a five‐length victory.

The jockeys not riding in the Gold Cup, led by Franny Norton, clapped and cheered as popular jockey Joe Fanning came back in after riding his second British Group 1 victory.

It came 30 years after he had ridden his first winner for Yorkshire‐based Johnston and it remains one of the longest partnerships in British racing.

Subjectivist -Joe Fanning wins from the field The Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 2021
Jockeys congratulate Subjectivist and Joe Fanning after winning The Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 2021
The Presentation by The Princess Royal after Subjectivist and Joe Fanning winning The Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 2021

There were also first Royal Ascot wins for jockeys Hector Crouch and Jason Hart. Crouch got Surefire home in front in the King George V Handicap before Hart steered Highfield Princess to victory in the Buckingham Palace Handicap.

They were just two of nine jockeys to get their name on the Royal Ascot winners’ board for the first time during the week.

Day 4

The first two days had been played out in glorious summer sunshine but it was a very different story when the curtains were opened ahead of Friday’s racing. Torrential rain even forced track chiefs to call an inspection with racing under threat.

The work of brilliant Ascot groundstaff saved the day with some of the rails moved to avoid patches of the worse going and racing went ahead.

That wasn’t the end of the drama. Dragon Symbol, trained by Archie Watson, got the better of Wesley Ward’s American raider Campanelle in a thrilling finish to the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup.

It was decided in Stewards’ Enquiry that Oisin Murphy had allowed his mount to drift over towards the far side taking Campanelle and Frankie Dettori with them. As just a head separated the pair at the line the stewards had little choice but the reverse the placings.

It took the shine off what was an otherwise superb day for Murphy. The champion jockey notched a double on Alcohol Free in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes and Quickthorn in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes.

Johnny Murtagh joined an exclusive club of people to have ridden and trained a Royal Ascot winner when Create Belief landed the Sandringham Stakes giving jockey Ben Coen his first success at the meeting.

Create Belief and Johnny Murtagh after winning The Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot 2021

Little more than an hour later Clifford Lee got his name on the board for the first time when making most of the running on the stands’ side when taking the Palace Of Holyroodhouse Stakes on Significantly.

Day 5

The final day was made extra special when The Queen made her first appearance of the week, much to the delight of the 12,000‐strong crowd.

The Queen with John Gosden and John Warren after The Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot 2021

Unfortunately, Reach For The Moon couldn’t quite carry her colours into the winners’ enclosure when runner‐up behind Point Lonsdale in the opening Chesham Stakes. It was the first leg of a treble for Ryan Moore, who took the day’s Group 1 prize on Dream Of Dreams for old boss Sir Michael Stoute.

Dream Of Dreams had been runner‐up, beaten a head, in the last two Diamond Jubilee Stakes but the pair made sure it wasn’t going to be a hat‐trick of near‐misses when sweeping into the lead inside the final furlong.

Rohaan might well be joining him in the top sprints later in the season after a stunning performance in the Wokingham.

He became the first three‐year‐old to win the ultra‐competitive 6f handicap since 1987 to give both trainer David Evans and jockey Shane Kelly their first Royal Ascot winner.

It was Rohaan’s seventh win since November and he was only running in the Wokingham because, as a gelding, he wasn’t qualified for the Commonwealth Cup.

David Menuisier, a Sussex‐based Frenchman, also enjoyed his first Royal Ascot winner when Wonderful Tonight, owned by music mogul Chris Wright, landed the Hardwicke Stakes.

She now has the Arc de Triomphe as her end‐of‐season target Moore ended the meeting by riding his 66th Royal Ascot winner when Stratum stayed the marathon 2m6f distance, the longest race in the Flat racing calendar, strongest in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.

It wasn’t quite enough to give the former champion jockey the accolade of the meeting’s top rider. That went to Murphy. His five winners gave him the title for the first time.

Oisin Murphy Champion Royal Ascot Jockey Royal Ascot

The week’s top trainer award went to John Gosden, who narrowly edged out Andrew Balding. The pair ended level on four winners each but the second place of The Queen’s Reach For The Moon in the opening race on Saturday just tipped the title to Gosden.

It was a week that had everything and, despite taking place under the toughest circumstances, was, undoubtedly, a roaring success. Royal Ascot again proved there really is nowhere like it.