As Friday’s races at Royal Ascot began, there was something very different from what had happened at the Berkshire course in 2008 and 2009. The Ballydoyle team, at the end of the third day, had not gotten off the mark. What looked like a winning lead for Age of Aquarius in Thursday’s Gold Cup evaporated in the final 100 yards as Rite of Passage and Pat Smullen went one better to get the verdict in a photo. Jockey John Murtagh and Aidan O’Brien were in danger of going back to Ireland empty-handed. A bookmaking outfit had the audacity of offering odds on an Aidan O’Brien 2010 duck.
The Coronation Stakes, Friday’s feature, was run at 3 50 P M. Thirteen sophomore girls went postward. It was Lillie Langtry, a Ballydoyle runner, who came away victorious. The Aidan O’Brien trainee was the 7-2 favorite and was given a confident ride by John Murtagh. Lillie Langtry ran the 1600-metre race in 1 39.69 seconds.
Gile Na Greine, another Irish runner, showed the way and it was a brisk pace. Lillie Langtry moved up to challenge the pacesetter and drew clear as the race took a serious turn. A poor race in the Breeders’ Cup last November and a fifth in Newmarket’s English 1000 Guineas were no deterrents and Lillie Langtry’s impressive win boosted the confidence of the O’Brien camp. “We always thought she was a very good filly. She had a little injury at the back end of last year. The Pretty Polly at the Curragh and the Nassau at Goodwood are options,’ trainer O’Brien stated.
Jockey Murtagh spoke. “I got a perfect run. We got a great ground-saving trip. I thought she was, by far, our best filly last year.”
I remember sitting in a bus with Pat Healy, a racing correspondent from Ireland, going to downtown Los Angeles for a party. I was in a Pasadena hotel for the Breeders’ Cup races. Mr Healy spoke to me about Lillie Langtry. He told me that Lillie Langtry was the best filly O’Brien has trained in a long time. In the Breeders’ Cup, Lillie Langtry had a trouble-filled journey. It was moments after the Coronation Stakes that my chat with Mr Healy crossed my mind.
Two races later, at 5 00 P M, John Murtagh and Aidan O’Brien got their second Royal Ascot winner. It was Mikhail Glinka, the 2-1 favorite, who got the better of Theology in a photo finish. Twelve ran in the 3200-metre Queen’s Vase. A bet on O’Brien not leaving Ascot with a zero would have yielded a healthy return. Jockey Murtagh, champion jockey in 2008 and 2009, was back in the picture. Saturday offered more than ordinary hope for the Irish reinsman. His odds were in double figures going into Friday’s card.
Richard Hughes started Friday on an auspicious note. Hughes was aboard the Richard Hannon-trained Memory, a 15-2 chance, who won the 1200-metre Albany Stakes. It was a 22-horse field.
Then came the King Edward VII Stakes over 2400 metres. Monteresso offered evidence that he’s a progressive sort by registering an easy win. Monteresso, trained by Mark Johnston, was a 7-2 chance. Eight ran. Dettori, with three wins, had become a serious contender in the jockeys’ race.
The 2000-metre Wolferton Handicap had 15 runners. The money flowed in only one direction. It was Rainbow Peak, trained by M A Jarvis, who was the 13-8 favorite as post time approached. Neil Callan had the favorite in striking range and Rainbow Peak was drawing away when asked.
Jockey Fergus Sweeney and trainer J A Osborne provided some relief to the bookmakers in Friday’s finale. Treadwell, at 14-1, came through in the 1400-metre Buckingham Palace Handicap. There were 26 runners, yes, 26 runners.
Becket’s win on Saturday, based on what I have read, was gained with a measure of comfort. Becket is exceptional. My belief is that trainer Padmanabhan has the Maharaja’s Cup as his main option.