Royal Ascot - At The Races

Mike Cattermole's five favourite Ascot Gold Cups

    The Ascot Gold Cup is the showpiece of the Royal Meeting and here ATR’s Mike Cattermole nominates his top five renewals.

1980 LE MOSS

Le Moss came into this race as the defending champion, having beaten his popular but fragile Henry Cecil-trained stablemate Buckskin 12 months earlier. 

However, this was the year that Le Moss cemented his reputation as one of the doughtiest and greatest stayers that we had seen for many a year. Le Moss was a front-runner, a pure galloper who stayed, it seemed, forever and was just about impossible to pass.

The Gold Cup was the first of three occasions that season that he slugged it out with Ardross, then trained by Kevin Prendergast, and although it was very tight every time, the result never changed. Try as he did, Ardross and Christy Roche just couldn’t get past Le Moss and Joe Mercer but, by golly, what a treat they delivered.

I used to love the way that Joe got into a rhythm with Le Moss and the way they complemented eachother’s styles. In the Gold Cup, Joe, obviously supremely fit, got after Le Moss a long, long way from home, but Le Moss responded in kind. That’s what brought out the best in him.

Ardross ranged up with two furlongs to run and looked sure to go by but Le Moss seemed to relish the challenge, dug deep and held him by three quarters of a length, the pair of them pulling miles clear. It was fabulous.

It was exactly the same in both the Goodwood Cup (so splendidly captured in George Selwyn’s iconic photograph) and the Doncaster Cup where in both races, Le Moss had to concede 2lb.

Talk about running to form! It was quite extraordinary.

Le Moss had completed the triple crown of Cup races for the second year running. Meanwhile, Ardross, transferred to Henry Cecil, won the next two Gold Cups with ease and also proved himself just as good at shorter trips.

Both were two outstanding stayers whose stoic rivalry throughout the summer of 1980 will never be forgotten.

Race replay: 1980 Ascot Gold Cup.

1988 SADEEM

There was uproar after this year’s race when Royal Gait, trained by John Fellows in France, was disqualified and the race awarded to Sadeem who had passed the post very much second best, five lengths in arrears.

This was the first time that I can recall getting very annoyed indeed that the stewards had made totally the wrong call. It was all down to an incident on the turn when the weakening front-runner El Conquistador collided with Royal Gait, who was making ground on the inside, causing him to stumble and unseat Tony Clark.

For that, Royal Gait’s rider, the colourful Cash Asmussen was adjudged guilty of careless riding and in those days, the infamous Rule 153 stated that the horse must be placed behind any horse with which it had interfered. If the stewards had deemed the incident accidental – as most of us did – then the result would have stood.

I thought it was a terrible injustice to Royal Gait who was a brilliant winner – by far the best in the race - and reflected badly on the way we treated disciplinary matters at the time.

Of course Royal Gait would have known nothing about this and his stock rose further some four injury-plagued years later when he came back and won the 1992 Champion Hurdle for James Fanshawe. He was a special horse, no doubt.

Sadeem, meanwhile, returned to win the Gold Cup entirely on merit in 1989.

Race replay: 1988 Ascot Gold Cup.

1997 CELERIC

Celeric was a horse who grabbed the imagination and came into his own as he was stepped up in trip. His trademark was a late turn of foot, which always made him exciting to watch.

Be careful though, as Celeric was a character who tended to pull himself up when he thought he had done enough! Timing was everything.

I enjoyed following him, especially as he was trained by David Morley, a lovely man, who I had got to know during my days as agent to Willie Carson. It was Willie, in fact, who had forged a great partnership with the horse during his four-year-old season, a breakthrough summer, which yielded wins in the Northumberland Plate, Lonsdale Stakes (now Cup) and Jockey Club Cup.

Sadly, due to injury, that year was to be Willie’s last in the saddle and for the 1997 season, Pat Eddery was Celeric’s preferred partner.

After failing by three quarters of a length to give 7lb to Persian Punch in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown, the Gold Cup had to be next and presented Celeric with a new challenge. Would he stay?

It was a fine Gold Cup field that year, too, containing names like Persian Punch, Moonax, Double Trigger and Double Eclipse and Pat was at his brilliant best as he dropped Celeric out to last place.

As he made up his ground in the straight, he even switched him to the inside to get some cover (a la Dancing Brave) and then took a pull on him with about a furlong to go before finally, finally pressing the button! Celeric duly quickened past Classic Cliché, the defending champion, to win by three quarters of a length.

It was a plan carried out to perfection by Pat and it was so poignant as David Morley was terminally ill at the time and sadly passed away later that year.

Celeric tried in three more Gold Cups for John Dunlop but the best he could manage was fourth.  

Race replay: 1997 Ascot Gold Cup.

2009 YEATS

This was the year that the mighty Yeats, now immortalised in bronze in the Ascot parade ring, became the first horse to win four consecutive Gold Cups.

Sagaro had completed the hat-trick in the mid-1970s and many had won two but it seemed impossible that any horse could win four in a row. A sprint you might understand but a championship staying race? And with one that was a full horse? Come on.

Yeats, as a fine a looking beast as has turned up at the remodelled Ascot, had a real air about him, a proper swagger. It is well known that the son of Sadler’s Wells had originally been earmarked for the Derby (for which he was favourite at one time) before injury ruled him out. He was class.

However, the dream to win the fourth Gold Cup looked in real trouble when Yeats was beaten out of sight in his usual prep, the Vintage Crop Stakes. Perhaps time had caught up with the now eight-year-old?

Even so, the public made Yeats the 6-4 favourite on the day and the old horse pulled it off in style with his defeat of Patkai sending the crowd into raptures. Johnny Murtagh paraded Yeats in front of the stands as we all acknowledged that we would probably never see anything like it again.

Aidan O’Brien admitted after the race that he had been feeling the pressure. Three wins under his belt and with an unprecedented fourth on the line. It was a once in a many lifetimes opportunity and Yeats and O’Brien seized the moment. Unforgettable.

Race replay: 2009 Ascot Gold Cup.

2017 BIG ORANGE

There was more than hint of Le Moss and Ardross here as Britain’s big orange hope took on the defending champion and Ireland’s best in the ironically named Order Of St George.

As Big Orange and James Doyle swung into the straight, Ryan Moore was galvanising Order Of St George who had just moved into eighth place. Approaching the final furlong, Order Of St George had passed six of them and had Big Orange very much in his sights but still with three lengths to find.

He was coming! But then Order Of St George started lugging in and with James Doyle expertly switching his whip to his left hand, Big Orange kept going and was always just holding on. Although it was a photo, Doyle knew he had won it.

Nobody would have begrudged either horse winning but once again we had been privileged to see Ascot’s greatest prize fought out by two great staying racehorses.

This stirring finish summed up once again why the Gold Cup remains so special.

Race replay: 2017 Ascot Gold Cup.