As well as the track specialists who lit up Ascot in their time, Friday’s Royal Roll of Honour tells a tale of some remarkable journeys, like the juvenile whose spectacular season took him to the States, and the handicap winner who rose from the humblest beginnings.
ALBANY STAKES: MEMORY (2010)
A race that couldn’t buy alcohol until last year, when it turned 18, and none of the winners went onto great things (though some runners-up have), and so it’s more the theatrics of the performance that make a memory – and it was the theatrics of the performance that made Memory.
Just a month on from her debut, Memory was still raw and the last to leave the stalls, trading at 50/1 in-running as she had all 21 rivals ahead of her, but, benefiting from a Richard Hughes special, she motored through when it mattered, just in time, from impossible to inevitable, trademark Hughesy, a thing of beauty.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
And, on ratings, she was one of the best winners in the race’s history, because I mentioned there were some famous seconds in the Albany, and the filly Memory caught close home was Margot Did, who landed the Nunthorpe in 2011. By then, Memory had already been retired, in some shame, refusing to race, out of love with the game, but she graced the Royal Ascot stage to the extent that, whenever the Albany is mentioned, it’s Memory that I call to mind; and, as a postscript, Call To Mind is her son who won the Belmont Gold Cup in 2018 for William Haggas and The Queen.
NORFOLK STAKES: JOHANNESBURG (2001)
In researching a project like this you read about the campaigning of horses from yesteryear and it sometimes feels like a different sport.
Take Felicitation, for example, who in 1934 finished third in the March Stakes in May, then won twice in as many days at Royal Ascot (including the Gold Cup), before successes at Ayr in August, Newbury (John Porter) in September and Newmarket (Jockey Club Cup) in October, with a third in the Arc in between.
Or how about the undefeated two-year-old who started at Fairyhouse in May and finished in America, on dirt, in October, with four Group 1s along the way, on top of being rolled out at Royal Ascot. Only that two-year-old campaign was in 2001, and it was Johannesburg’s.
For a horse who was so impressive at an extended mile in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Belmont, it was a wonder he could win over 5f on fast ground in the Norfolk, but even then his reputation preceded him, sent off 11/8 favourite on just his second start, partnered all season by Mick Kinane, who said at the time that ‘he’s as good a two-year-old as I’ve ridden; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever been on a better one.’
HARDWICKE STAKES: HARBINGER (2010)
Whether or not you buy into Timeform’s monster rating of 140 for his performance when he returned to Ascot for the King George (but he did win it by ELEVEN lengths), it’s less controversial and more categorical to say that Harbinger was the best winner of the Hardwicke.
It didn’t last long, because an injury on the gallops resulted in his retirement a fortnight after the King George, but for a brief time Harbinger was the world’s best racehorse, the highest honour, though humility goes before honour, and his three-year-old season had as many downs as ups, a muscle tear preventing a shot at the Derby, and a lifeless run in the Voltigeur taking the St Leger off the table.
But, refreshed and reprogrammed by the best in the business with older horses, Sir Michael Stoute, Harbinger was unbeatable as a four-year-old, culminating in one of the most devastating displays in the history of the King George, and the history of the sport for that matter. He didn’t get the chance to repeat it, but it hardly came from out of the blue, a storm brewing all season, and the Hardwicke was the harbinger of the real Harbinger.
COMMONWEALTH CUP: MUHAARAR (2015)
You can play the game another way in this instance, by pricing up a virtual race of all the winners of the nascent Commonwealth Cup. Here’s my tissue:
4/5 Muhaarar, 5/2 Caravaggio, 5/1 Advertise, 8/1 Quiet Reflection, 14/1 Eqtidaar.
One of the surprises of last year was that Muhaarar didn’t do better with his first crop, because he was such a fine specimen, and such a fast racehorse. The Commonwealth Cup was the game-changer for Muhaarar, miscast as a miler before but unstoppable thereafter, sprinting to a sensational streak of four Group 1s, in the July Cup, Maurice de Gheest and Champions Sprint.
At Royal Ascot, when 10/1 and ridden by Dane O’Neil, with Hanagan opting for Adaay, Muhaarar was recharged by sprinting and rampant in the race, out on his own (by 3¾ lengths) in the end, making Limato look slow in second, outperforming what his elders did in the King’s Stand or Diamond Jubilee at the meeting. It was the start of his dominance, and the start the Commonwealth Cup needed, nothing coming close to matching him since.
QUEEN’S VASE: LE MOSS (1978)
The 2013 edition was renamed the Queen’s Vase In Memory of Sir Henry Cecil, following his death the week before, an apt accolade, attached to a race in which Cecil had eight winners, the best of whom was Le Moss.
He had a lot to live up to, his brother, Levmoss, having been champion stayer in Europe in 1969, but Le Moss ended up surpassing his sibling’s stardom with not one but two Gold Cups, a pre-determined path perhaps, but what set him along it, and set him alight, was the 1978 Queen’s Vase, having won his maiden only a month prior.
He landed the stayers’ triple crown in consecutive years, overcoming Ardross in three epic battles in 1980, his essay in the Timeform Annual concluding that ‘if there is such a thing as a top-class racehorse that stays forever, then Le Moss is probably the closest to him we have encountered since the mid-1940s.’
DUKE OF EDINBURGH HANDICAP: YOUNG MICK (2006)
We’re in the twilight zone, because if you thought that Red Evie’s Royal Ascot win was a checkpoint in an insanely progressive season, take a look at Young Mick, eerily in the same year.
The experiment of ‘banded racing’ was introduced in 2006 in the shape of 50 regional meetings to cater purely for lowly-rated horses. One such beneficiary was Young Mick, who won his first race at the seventeenth attempt in a maiden claimer at Wolverhampton in January, for which he could have been picked up for £5,000. He would go on to win a further nine races that year, and over £300,000 in prize money.
By the time Young Mick rocked up in the Duke of Edinburgh, he had risen 29lb in the handicap, by winning four more times on the All-Weather and once at Yarmouth, but he still went unnoticed in the plush surroundings of Royal Ascot, allowed to go off at 28/1, not that it bothered Young Mick, who once more rolled his sleeves up and put his head down to see off favourite Glistening, and 17 others, for a famous win for the underdog.
And it didn’t end there. He returned to Ascot a further three times in 2006 and won three times, culminating with the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge. It’s known as the sport of kings, but this was sport for all, the power of progress, from a Wolves maiden claimer to an Ascot hall of famer, a story and a season to remember, so take a bow Young Mick, and his trainer George Margarson.