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June 2019

Royal Ascot week is about to be upon us and although it’s going to be a quiet one runners wise for Highclere, it is nonetheless a wonderful time to meet up with share owners from here and abroad throughout the five days. The racing is utterly mouth watering and having seen Sea of Class last week in Newmarket I know that I will be having a small investment on her to win the Prince of Wales on Wednesday! It is probably the best race of the week quality wise and although short of her ideal trip something tells me looking at the filly and the trainer's demeanour that a big run is anticipated.

We tried to get Nicklaus’s handicap mark up high enough to get into the Royal Hunt Cup but sadly time was against us despite him running a big race at…

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We tried to get Nicklaus’s handicap mark up high enough to get into the Royal Hunt Cup but sadly time was against us despite him running a big race at Chelmsford in a £40,000 handicap last weekend where he finished third. Projection is all set for the Diamond Jubilee and although it’s a big ask he loves Ascot and has never run a bad race there. If ground conditions are on the soft side then he just could run into a place in this Group 1 contest.

A number of our two year olds are close to making their debuts and it was good to see Sermon make a highly encouraging start to his career when finishing third at Haydock. He got tired that day and needed the run so he is definitely one to watch next time he runs which could be at Chester, his trainer's favourite track.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the stable visits and hope that if you haven’t already been to see your horses that you will make a plan soon to do so. There was great banter this week over dinner in the Jockey Club Rooms as William Haggas told us some wonderful stories of days gone by. He was less easy to get information out of for his runners next week but his string are in great form and I suspect that he will have a winner or two for sure.

I do hope that you enjoy a wonderful week at the Royal Meeting whether you are watching from afar or are actually there for the five days and wish you all possible success in choosing plenty of winners.

Harry Herbert, Chairman

On The Track

Durston is rapidly turning into a seriously exciting animal. He built on his encouraging seasonal debut when winning a very competitive handicap at Doncaster and followed up in another tough race at Chester.  He was switched off at the back of the field for much of the race and looked to be short of room when asked to pick up by his jockey. He then showed a really good turn of foot to power down the home straight and finish with a good bit in hand. David Simcock would like to train him for the Melrose at York.

Camber remains progressive despite struggling (and getting bumped at a crucial time) at Yarmouth. Previously he nearly followed up on his win at Newcastle when just touched off at Redcar…

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Camber remains progressive despite struggling (and getting bumped at a crucial time) at Yarmouth. Previously he nearly followed up on his win at Newcastle when just touched off at Redcar and is sure to be back in the winner's enclosure before too long.

Camber winning at Redcar

Pesto had even more traffic problems on his three year old debut at Sandown and made a up a huge amount of ground inside the final furlong to dead heat. This was a really encouraging performance on testing ground and bodes well for the rest of his season.

Pesto winning at Sandown

Nicklaus has been running in top handicaps and looked to need the race at Epsom before finishing third in a very valuable affair at Chelmsford. He will continue to improve and should also be getting his head in front soon.

On the two year old front Sermon looked a very nice prospect when finishing third at Haydock, having looked a little green and tiring inside the final furlong. Precocity showed plenty of early speed on her debut at Redcar but was too free and couldn’t get home, but she too looked to have potential. As I write, Byline and Thunderous have just received entries for this week so we will hopefully see them make their racecourse debut's imminently. 

Sermon - Dark Angel ex Kermana colt 3rd at Haydock on debut

Rolf Rambling's Part 1

If you plough through the Royal Ascot Media Guide – War And Peace is a Colour Supplement by comparison - you will find relevant (some irrelevant) facts to help you emerge from the best week’s racing in the world financially unscathed: but to be honest you (make that a healthy proportion of you) will still have to work to pay for it all: luxurious self-indulgence doesn’t come cheap so polish the betting boots.

But first, prominence among the welter of information in the Guide is given to the availability of a novel “plant-based menu” (all the rage) with the celeriac gnocchi and nettle…

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But first, prominence among the welter of information in the Guide is given to the availability of a novel “plant-based menu” (all the rage) with the celeriac gnocchi and nettle pesto “especially recommended” – to be washed down with the “official” champagne, Moet & Chanson: other champagnes may be available along with the products of eighteen official Royal Ascot meeting partners ranging from Qipco and Dubai Duty Free to Harrogate Spring Water (no disrespect to Harrogate, or Spring Water). There are eighteen Group races during the week – just the fifteen restaurants.

You’d need a tank full of midnight oil to plough through form for all the five days and even then, foot down, the effect of the going, the declarations, shape of the race and the draw all need consideration. The last factor, I venture, bears less important than it is credited with; even in 2016, the only year this century when ‘soft’ was the official going description, where you raced appeared to convey no advantage.

Royal Ascot is all about the fastest horse on the day and I’m indebted to the Guide for records ranging from 57.44 seconds for five furlongs, Miss Andretti, 2007, to 4 min 45.24 seconds which it took Pallasator to complete the longest race, 2miles 5furlongs and 159 yards, in 2018.

Aidan O’Brien has been top trainer the last four years and in seven of the last nine (see also Derby facts and figures). Ryan Moore has been top jockey in eight of the last nine years (Frankie Dettori top jock only five times all told!).

Sectional timings are in for the first time: the Jersey has been moved from Wednesday to Saturday: the in-house pool betting operation will be co-mingled with Hong Kong to increase dividends – so it is said.

What is essential is avoiding distractions, for a start the fashions – there’s surely a by-law against some of them – long enough to scrutinize the paddock.

Though the Investec Derby was shifted without a by-your-leave from Wednesday to Saturday, Royal Ascot weekdays are never out of harmony with the times, surviving the departure of such ‘institutions’ as: no divorcees in the Royal Enclosure; wanton desertion of the old pre-parade ring arbour; the sale of artefacts such as the wondrous Iron Gates into the old winners’ enclosure; and the demise of Gertrude Shilling, twenty years ago. Her millinery showed just how much a national treasure could get away with – a ‘giraffe’ one year and a ‘football’ – in 1966 of course. Australia’s equivalent’ Dame Edna Everage tried to upstage Mrs Shilling perching a four-foot Sydney Opera House on her head. Edna told the Press that she “wasn’t aware it was a racing event. I always thought Ascot was an exhibition of gas water heaters!”  (You have to be of a certain age to totally appreciate the wit).

Enough, the quality of the sport will, as ever over three centuries, reduce flummery and excess to sideshows and society columns. Stradivarius’s job is to maintain the tradition of multiple Gold Cup (Thursday) winners – with a long way to go to match the sans pareil Yeats’ record of four successive. The admirable current Cup holder never wins by as much as two lengths so it is legitimate to take him on with Dee Ex Bee and Kew Gardens both of whom are each-way prices (at the time of writing). Kew Gardens had Dee Ex Bee nine lengths back in last year’s St Leger but hasn’t won since (he looked in great shape before his latest Coronation Cup second); Dee Ex Bee has won both season’s starts in style.

Arguably the race with greatest significance for the future (well I’m going to argue so) is the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday. Sea Of Class could make her seasonal debut whereas her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe nemesis, European champion Enable who has never been to the Royal meeting, stays in her box. In six races Sea of Class has been beaten twice (in photos) and Crystal Ocean has an almost identical record and won the Hardwicke here last year. The 2018 Investec Derby hero Masar hasn’t been seen on the racecourse since that day and has been beaten more times than he has won, but the greatest burden of proof is on his fitness; ninety nine per cent is rarely enough at Royal Ascot.

On the Tuesday we could see the three principals from the Qipco Two Thousand Guineas and the Irish Two Thousand together again contesting the title of top three-year-old miler, in the St James’s Palace Stakes. At the Curragh Phoenix of Spain had little to find on our Guineas winner Magna Grecia and last year’s top two-year-old Too Darn Hot from first season encounters but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the betting: Charlie Hills’s colt hadn’t been out previously this season and was sent off double figure odds behind the other two as joint-favourites. Such was the authority of Phoenix of Spain’s victory he may vault his rivals again. It wouldn’t astonish me though if Too Darn Hot rediscovered himself.

Also on the opening day, in the Queen Anne Stakes, Zabeel Prince has had his absences and hasn’t yet reached double figures in appearances despite being a six-year-old. Lockinge winner Mustashry could supply Sir Michael Stoute with his eightieth Royal Meeting success and is the same age as Zabeel Prince: I like the fact that no horse of that age has won the Queen Anne – get a better price from slaves to statistics.

The juvenile races, the Coventry (Tuesday), Queen Mary and Windsor Castle (Wednesday), Norfolk (Thursday). Albany (Friday) and Chesham (Saturday) are outnumbered by races for three-year-olds but they catch the imagination no less. As I write who will take on who is not established. Lady Pauline came from the States for an earlier Ascot meeting – it wasn’t supposed to be a recce and she started odds-on. She will likely seek redemption in the Queen Mary because affable Yankee Wesley Ward usually gets it right for this meeting, most notably with Lady Pauline’s half-sister Lady Aurelia. Ward also has Nayibeth in the Albany and that is being touted too.

Among the juvenile colts, missing the break at Epsom in the Woodcote proved no impediment to Pinatubo (Charlie Appleby): he wouldn’t necessarily want a repetition of that tardy start in the Coventry or the Chesham. Pinatubo had War Storm in third on his debut win and the latter represents the best of the top two-year-old trainer Archie Watson’s team. Pierre Lapin (Roger Varian) couldn’t have been more impressive at Haydock on his debut than if he’d been his half-brother Harry Angel in disguise.  And it is hard not to be taken by eight length juvenile winners, even if your stable mates are second and third and you finish in the order the market dictated so Arizona, winner in an exceptional time on the Curragh, could be the best of team Ballydoyle’s juveniles.

A Chinese-owned colt Coase (Hugo Palmer) put up the fastest time for a juvenile this season and may slip under the radar because his victory came at Carlisle: last year’s Coventry winner stoked his coals at Newcastle. And for once the French have a juvenile star – Etoile who may thrive if it comes up soft.

The sprinters have the King’s Stand (Tuesday), Commonwealth Cup (Friday) and Diamond Jubilee (Saturday) to establish a pecking order. Blue Point (Appleby) has only been beaten once, narrowly, at Ascot and is fancied to repeat last year’s King’s Stand triumph. The ‘I’s’ have it in the Diamond Jubilee – Inns of Court from France and Invincible Army (J Tate) – the latter swapped places all season with last year’s Commonwealth Cup winner Eqtidaar. Those moaning about Ballydoyle’s monopoly of the Derby can count up to ten entries from them for this year’s Commonwealth Cup. Last year’s Middle Park could be replayed with Ten Sovereigns (O’Brien) from Jash (Crisford), though both have been tried over further this season.

The mountain (waste tip?) of information still doesn’t cover a tipster’s inclination to cover all eventualities. If I had the discipline to have one bet at the meeting it would be John Gosden’s Private Secretary in the King Edward VII. His Goodwood comeback was far too close to the Derby to allow participation at Epsom. He’s been favourite in all his races and Frankie Dettori ‘minded’ him to win the Cocked Hat Stakes. A majority of punters leave their fate in the hands of Ascot’s ‘mascot’, talisman if you prefer, and in this instance they may well be right.

Rolf Rambling's Part 2

If, as some complain, the Investec Derby is becoming just a numbers game - here are a few more to be getting on with. 

The horse named for a seventh son, Anthony Van Dyck (the seventeenth century Flemish artist), one of Aidan O’Brien’s seven Investec Derby runners and latest of the great trainer’s seven…

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The horse named for a seventh son, Anthony Van Dyck (the seventeenth century Flemish artist), one of Aidan O’Brien’s seven Investec Derby runners and latest of the great trainer’s seven victories in the world’s most famous race – came from stall seven. Somebody might have strung these otherwise irrelevant facts together only to be trumped by someone trolling out the tosh: “If Aidan feels obliged to send out a troupe he hasn’t got a surefire winner”, drawing breath before adding “and obviously hasn’t got one that’s any good”. How many times must that cliché be refuted?

Critics rave on about the Derby being not what it was (as if it were the race’s responsibility) citing the Coolmore dominance as culprit. More tosh. The past they talk about wasn’t drowning under a deluge of fixtures and alternative, sometimes cheaper, sporting attractions. If equine heroes have, increasingly, to jostle for attention with other ‘performers’ – tellingly not often the real thing but ‘tribute bands’ – we’re in trouble: we racing fans have to stand for it: football and cricket can at least sit down: in fact I can’t think of another sport where the sport isn’t the be all and end all.

When O’Brien won his first Derby in 2001, with Galileo (the seventh horse to win the Derby, the Irish Derby and the King George) the exploits of those behind the winner were subsequently only enlivened by two Group One winners, Golan and Storming Home neither of whom made great impact as stallions. Galileo has strong claims to be the greatest sire of all time.

That probability wasn’t appreciated when he began his stud career at a fee of £50,000. Nowadays add another nought and you still wouldn’t get consideration unless your mare was exceptional. And (what will become more relevant in a moment) back in 2001 we were treated to Aidan O’Brien’s post-race comment on Galileo: “This is a serious horse who is capable of producing the unbelievable.” On all other six occasions I have listened to the O’Brien encomiums for the Australias, the Camelots in that same Galileo (where else?) room beneath the Queen’s Stand the words “He is very special” were obligatory: for this ‘debriefing’ they were absent.

When O’Brien breaks the record of seven Derby wins held jointly with John Porter, Robert Robson and Fred Darling, it will be a “very special horse” that carries on to emulate just one of Porter’s three Triple Crowns.

I don’t recognize any assessment which doesn’t rate this as one of the worst modern Derbies – a stone behind what Galileo achieved. Sir Percy in 2006, is cited as a nadir but he did have Dylan Thomas (Irish Derby, King George and Arc), as well as the St Leger winner Sixties Icon in arrears.  Eddie Hide, late engagement in 1973 for the once-raced outsider Morston, complained beforehand that he’d come south for a “non-trier” when he could have been on a certainty in the seller at Ripon.  Hide would not have said as much in earshot of the last of the gentlemen trainers, Arthur Budgett who also owned and bred Morston, and Blakeney, and was categorical that Morston was the superior.

But it would be perverting the art of handicapping to give Anthony Van Dyck, on the day, a rating anything like as high as Sir Percy or Morston. He clung on from a group of four none of which went into last Saturday’s race officially rated higher than 115: in seventh, Humanitarian raced off 95 and got a 10lb beating from the winner. Humanitarian has been raised to 107 – do the math and by any stretch of the imagination this looks a pretty ordinary year – let’s not use the misleading ‘non-vintage’.

The false logic, and slovenly thinking concerning the quality of this 240th Derby was based on the presence of all the major trials winners, apparently conferring authenticity whatever the outcome. Yet the most ‘reliable’ trial, the Dante, proved nothing of the sort, Telecaster, winner at York, finished last. His trainer Hughie Morrison hesitated about supplementing Telecaster because of the ludicrous proximity of York to Epsom (though the £85,000 was easily covered by the colt’s owners banking Anapurna’s earnings of nearly £300,000 for winning the Investec Oaks the previous day). But for this particular colt a fourth race in two months, the Dante stretching every fibre, washed him out.

I’m not saying Anthony Van Dyck will take, as was the case with High-Rise, in 1988 last winner of the Lingfield Trial to go on to succeed at Epsom, another three years to win a race. Being a great blockhouse of a horse he looks sure to be better suited by the Curragh’s ranges for the Irish Derby than Epsom’s twists and slopes where he was on and off the bridle.

But in truth it was not a field of much distinction in the parade ring: Telecaster’s temperament was twanging; as finely made as he is Sir Dragonet was furthest removed from the one hundred per cent proof Galileo bloodline of his twelve adversaries - as mind boggling as any of the all-time compendium of Derby facts. One day people will wake up to the misinterpretation of success at Chester by extraordinary margins on soft ground such as was Sir Dragonet’s primary qualification for Derby favouritism. Still Sir Dragonet’s supplementary entry fee was swallowed up in the £1,249, 137.50 accumulated by Coolmore from five of the first six home; less is certainly not always more (especially if it’s the bottom line of your bank balance) but the Coolmore team are never going to be inhibited about the numerical strength of their challenge.

Of the rest, runner-up Madhmoon (official rating 113) does what he can – preventing a Ballydoyle monopoly and outrunning his non-staying pedigree: but then Anthony Van Dyck is almost purely sprint bred on his dam’s side. In third, Japan at least beat the horses that had beaten him resoundingly in the Dante; next came Broome who always gives himself an awful lot to do but, this generation being what it is, will probably add to Ballydoyle’s Group One tally somewhere.

There wasn’t a paddock pick that would have you eagerly anticipating future glories. We must remain patient for the return of Enable and Sea of Class. Meanwhile Anapurna’s place in history may rest on her being Frankel’s first Classic winner (he didn’t have a Derby representative) here and by the lesser fact that she too came on from a Lingfield Trial. 

As is the rule, Coolmore’s participation in the next day’s Qipco Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly seemed an afterthought (surely perish that particular thought?) with the O’Brien-trained trio starting 24, 43 and 53-1 on the Pari-Mutuel and running accordingly. Still, the winner Sottsass was out of a Galileo mare, so all’s right with the Coolmore world.

Seamus Heffernan, on board Anthony Van Dyck for the first time in public, persevered through eleven previous Derby attempts, until he succeeded. Aidan O’Brien you feel will go on and on until he fails. Not that 47-year-old Heffernan is retiring or that the word failure is in O’Brien’s vocabulary, as he approaches his fiftieth birthday. Heffernan recollected having ridden (2009) a Coolmore Derby favourite, Fame and Glory, runner-up when unaccountably preferred in the market to Sea The Stars: the next year he was back on a 100-1 ‘rag’. In his time he has accepted second fiddle to Roche, Kinane, Spencer, Fallon, Murtagh, Joseph O’Brien and now Moore. It is impossible to contemplate Aidan O’Brien being second to anyone.

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We look forward to keeping you glowing to Royal Ascot this year in style, with glow&dry.

Out and About with the Highclere Camara

(Please click on the photographs to expand and see captions)

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