By Tony Elves
Big Orange may not be back to defend the crown he so courageously earned in an epic battle for the Ascot Gold Cup 12 months ago but for winning rider James Doyle it is a success that remains as fresh in his memory as the paint used to touch up the woodwork at Ascot in the build up to the most prestigious meeting of the Flat season.
The Bill Gredley-owned powerhouse is unfortunately sidelined by injury but the roof was raised by the 70,000 crowd on Gold Cup day when Big Orange repelled the determined late challenge of the 5-6 shot and reigning champion Order Of St George by a short head to send the champagne corks popping.
Doyle recalls: “I didn’t know I was riding him until a couple of days before as Frankie (Dettori) had that unfortunate fall at Yarmouth that ruled him out. I stuck a text into Tim Gredley and said “I’m your man” and he rang me back and told me they would love to have me ride Big Orange.
“Frankie told me a bit about the race and I did all my research and watched as many races the horse had ridden in and got as much information as I could get together.”
“The way the race panned out I was a bit concerned early as Jamie Spencer took the lead off me on Quest For More and then steadied it a bit. A key point in the race was whether to staying sitting in behind Jamie or come out and round him and let him go to the front. I think I definitely made the right decision to switch out and let him use his stride and he came back to me nicely in front.”
Hitting the front six furlongs out, the winning post was still a blur in Doyle’s field of vision but as the noise started rising from the baying crowd Big Orange pulled out all the stops to land the Jewel in the Ascot crown.
Replay: James Doyle's epic Gold Cup triumph aboard Big Orange in 2017.
Doyle said: “I could tell Big Orange was just going through the motions a bit from a furlong and a half out until Order Of St George joined us and then he really stuck his neck out and found another gear.
“It’s regrettable I couldn’t have got back on him this year as he’s a People’s Champion and has a real following. The reception he got at Ascot showed that and it was unbelievable. It was massively uplifting and something that I didn’t really have a grasp of.”
The success of the Michael Bell-trained gelding was providing Doyle with his second winner of the meeting which had been instigated by the success of Barney Roy in the St James’s Palace Stakes on the opening day of Royal Ascot when the Richard Hannon-trained colt scored by a length from Lancaster Bomber with Thunder Snow, Churchill and Forest Ranger in his wake in a Course record time.
James said: “Barney Roy was brilliant that day and it has turned out to be a pretty strong St James’s Palace Stakes. It was a good performance and there have been a hatful of Group wins from those that finished behind since.”
Replay: James Doyle and Barney Roy break the track record in the 2017 St James's Palace Stakes.
That was a second win for Doyle in the three-year-old Milers Championship race which he had previously taken in 2014 with Kingman as his mount strode to an impressive two and a quarter success from Night Of Thunder and gained imperious revenge over a rival that inflicted the only defeat of his career in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“I think Kingman winning the St James’s Palace Stakes was pretty electrifying. Barney broke the track record but it was a little bit harder work whereas Kingman was a real joy to ride as it was just as if you were playing with them. He was on a comeback from being beaten in the Guineas for whatever reason, whether it was field splitting or going too soon, but on that day he had all the aces.”
The highlight of the Flat season is almost upon us and is there any change in his daily regime as he prepares to add to a total of eight winners at the meeting which was instigated with a treble in 2013 on Al Kazeem (Prince of Wales’s Stakes), Belgian Bill (Royal Hunt Cup) and Rizeena (Queen Mary Stakes) and seen him have at least one winner every year since?
James said: “Fitness-wise I won’t do anything different and building up to it everything is very much the same but when you walk into Ascot and it is Royal Ascot Day 1 that is when the hairs come up on the back of your neck. The weighing room is quite different and you become pumped up. On Day 1 it is quite tense from then on everyone becomes settled. If you can nick a winner on the first day then that calms you down a lot.”
Doyle is certainly riding on the crest of a wave as the five-day jamboree gets ever nearer with 54 winners on the board (at time of press) and debatably riding even better than we have become accustomed too by one of the real talents in the saddle.
He said: “It helps when you have William Haggas’s horse in good form and Hugo Palmer knocking in a few and it has come together quite nicely. William had his horses out the traps nice and early and we had decent winners at the All-Weather Finals Day and the Lincoln and that definitely helped getting the ball rolling. I feel I am a confident as I have been and that is a plus with experience and all the rest of it coming together.”
Doyle book of rides has still to be completely formulated but there are a handful that he believes can make an impression this coming week.
He said: “I ride POET'S WORD in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and he would be a nice ride after his win at Sandown. Cracksman will be a tough nut to crack but he is not unbeatable. In the Wokingham, it looks like I ride DREAMFIELD - Rab (Havlin) rode him in a bit of work on the July course and was very happy with him and INVINCIBLE ARMY in the Commonwealth would be a very good ride. The stiffer track at Ascot will suit him better than Haydock and I think I can beat Sands Of Mali this time.”
“There is enough to get the blood pumping and let’s hope we can keep them coming.”Follow @the_doyler