Some inclusions in this Royal Ascot Roll of Honour select themselves, highlighted by Thursday’s celebrity checklist, including the stayer who made the Gold Cup his own, the most exciting two-year-old of the modern era, and a magic miler from the 80s, plus the one and only occasion where a race belongs to a rider as much as any horse.
WOLFERTON STAKES: ADDEYBB (2019)
The youngest – bar the Commonwealth Cup - of the Royal Ascot races in the current schedule, and a handicap up until 2018, so not much to work with here, but there is a standout, less of a recency bias and more of a recency requisite, as recent as last month, when Addeybb made it back-to-back Group 1 wins in Australia, the climax of a plan but also a renaissance that began in the 2019 Wolferton.
Prior to Royal Ascot, Addeybb was looking a little lost, over a year without a win, but, charged by conditions, and cheekpieces, he won a renewal that was more like a Group 2 than a mere listed contest, beating Magic Wand, Elarqam and Latrobe, a turning point for the race and not just the horse, in all probability, making it the most meaningful if not memorable renewal in the Wolferton’s short history.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
JERSEY STAKES: ZILZAL (1989)
Walter Swinburn said that two horses gave him goosepimples. One was Shergar, the horse who won the Derby by 10 lengths, the widest margin in the race’s history; and the other was Zilzal.
Zilzal was odds-on for the Jersey, pretty remarkable considering it was only 22 days on from his debut in a maiden, though scooting in by 10 lengths at Leicester. Hype is a hollow vessel, but Zilzal’s cup runneth over at Royal Ascot, as he cruised through to win by four lengths, a tremor in the season that signalled the earthquake to come: and Zilzal, in Arabic, means earthquake.
From the Criterion to the Sussex and the QEII, Zilzal was unstoppable, beating Distant Relative, Markofdistinction, Warning and Polish Precedent along the way, but an aftershock came in America, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, when the highly-strung Zilzal just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Still, he’d done enough to be crowned Horse of The Year in Britain, which was some accolade in 1989, also the year of Old Vic and Nashwan, saying everything about the cultural crater left by the earthquake.
CHESHAM STAKES: PINATUBO (2019)
The best juvenile in Europe for 25 years. That was the BHA’s assessment, and it doesn’t need much expansion nor explanation by them, by me or by anybody else, because Pinatubo speaks for himself. Six months of racing, six races of increasing difficulty, six difficult jobs made to look very easy, which only champions can do.
If his climax in the Dewhurst was a bit shoulder-shruggey, nonetheless well on top at the line, it was only because he’d been so spectacular before then, winning the National Stakes at the Curragh by a ridiculous nine lengths, spanking subsequent Group winners Positive and Lope Y Fernandez in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, and breaking the juvenile course record in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot.
His sire, the late Shamardal, who won two of the same races at two (Vintage and Dewhurst), had his sparkling swansong at the Royal meeting, albeit at York, in the St James’s Palace, and the last day of the last Royal Ascot was to all intents and purposes ‘Shamardal Saturday’, courtesy of his supercharged sons Pinatubo, Blue Point and Cape Byron. The biggest stage deserves the biggest horses, and Pinatubo will hopefully light up Royal Ascot again in the future but, whatever happens, his first season of power and perfection is already a fixture in folklore.
GOLD CUP: YEATS (2006-9)
When Yeats won his second Gold Cup, in 2007, it was the 200th renewal of the race, and in all that time, Sagaro had won three, but no horse had ever won four Gold Cups. ‘I’ve never felt such pressure for any race before,’ said Aidan O’Brien, after Yeats went where no horse had gone before, ‘history is very hard to change; we were in this position and we never would be again.’
He was eight by then, because he didn’t turn to staying until the age of five, once it was clear he wouldn’t be the horse they hoped over middle distances, perhaps the most celebrated course-correction in the history of Royal Ascot, where his statue now stands in the paddock.
Over four years, over ten miles at Royal Ascot, Yeats beat 34 different horses, and won by an aggregate of 14 lengths. I said all along that this list was subjective and never objective, that no could ever quantifiably and justifiably be described as ‘owning’ a Royal Ascot race. I was wrong.
BRITANNIA HANDICAP: JAMIE SPENCER
Okay, so this doesn’t follow convention, but neither does the rider who has sprinkled stardust on Ascot’s straight track in his time, in one race in particular, as the stats show Spencer rules Britannia.
The Britannia is uniquely difficult to win, comprising 30-odd improving three-year-olds, equalised in theory in the handicap, sorted by 100 or so seconds of intense race-riding where every moment and movement matters. If once is chance, twice is coincidence and three times is a pattern, then four wins in the Britannia must be must be some sort of sorcery, but that’s what Spencer has distinctively done, on board New Seeker, Sir Gerard, Defrocked and Bless Him, on top of a second, a third and two fourths in the race.
Athleticism is the art and science of human motion. We explore and emphasise the science, increasingly so, at the expense of the artistry that speaks to our soul, and Jamie Spencer at Ascot is akin to a work of art, especially the exhibition entitled Britannia.
SANDRINGHAM HANDICAP: RED EVIE (2006)
The way she won, the ride that got her there, the campaign it represented, and the superstar she produced. All of those considerations combined make Red Evie the conspicuous choice for most memorable winner in the 32-year history of the Sandringham.
The way she won: from virtually last (of 19) to first, in the final stride, and overcoming all sorts of traffic and trouble along the way.
The ride that got her there: classic straight-track Spencer, the confidence in himself and in the filly transmitted to her, but he and she were bold when they had to be to force their way out, before Red Evie’s turbo did the rest.
The campaign it represented: a maiden at Yarmouth in March was the start of a phenomenal seven-race sequence that took her through Royal Ascot and all the way to the Group 1 Matron Stakes in September, improving the best part of three stone in the handicap along the way. And, not content with that, she then won the Lockinge on her reappearance the following year.
The superstar she produced: Red Evie’s final race was in the Prix de La Foret at Longchamp on Arc weekend in 2007. Nine years later, her daughter Found won Europe’s biggest prize at that same meeting. Found was renowned for her constitution, for thriving on a busy campaign. Well, we know where she got that from.