‘This looks the ideal place for horses to gallop at full stretch.’
One remark became a remarkable race place, a vision by Queen Anne, who had the germ of an idea in 1711 for the land that was then known as East Cote and is now known around the world as Ascot racecourse.
History is the compilation of events and heritage is what we do with it, giving it identity and value; and history and heritage are the twin turbos of tradition for Royal Ascot, each meeting another layer of racing history, every magic moment adding myth and meaning to its heritage.
Watch every race of Royal Ascot 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Tuesday 16th June to Saturday 20th June.
Built upon famed and fabled foundations, Royal Ascot now comprises five days and 30 races. Using the modern framework, of what comes when each day, here’s a Royal Roll of Honour, with the most memorable winner in the history of each race, and my reasons for why.
Some inclusions speak for themselves, for a showstopper that connects them to a race more than any other winner, but above all they’re subjective selections, and for ‘memorable’ see also important or influential or even indulgent.
Try coming up with your own 30-strong guest list for an all-time Ascot members club, hopefully with some inspiration from my Royal Roll of Honour.
Using the revamped format of the upcoming 2020 meeting, here is the Royal Ascot Roll of Honour for Tuesday’s long-standing races, including an international invader who changed the game, a filly whose impact went way beyond what she did on the track, and the ‘GOAT’ – the Greatest Of All Time.
QUEEN ANNE STAKES: FRANKEL (2012)
What better way to start than with (and don’t @ me, as the kids say) the greatest racehorse we’ve ever seen and the greatest performance he ever produced.
Sure, the ‘wow’ factor was huge in the Juddmonte International, and the emotional peak came in the Champion Stakes, but for numbers nerds like myself the 2012 Queen Anne was the big one, when Frankel blitzed a field that collected six Group 1s between them, by a monstrous margin of 11 lengths.
That defining day, he was primed by Cecil and powered up by Queally, but it was almost as if Frankel himself sensed the stakes and the stage and decided to self-stoke a fire that would burn a hole in the history of Royal Ascot and leave a trail of smoke that would linger over the meeting for decades to come.
Frankel’s fireworks in the 2012 Queen Anne was a new benchmark for brilliance in our sport, which is his tallest tribute and lasting legacy.
RIBBLESDALE STAKES: HELLENIC (1990)
The fundamentals of horse racing are to find the best in order to breed the best, so that class has consequence and empowerment becomes endowment. Royal Ascot helped identify Hellenic’s importance, and her influence is still echoing today.
She was a classic of the Stoute genre, crawling down the slip road but speeding along the fast lane once she got going, the Ribblesdale her coming-of-age day, only the third race of her life, shaming her foes (by six lengths) and shaping her future, ending up in the Arc, via the Yorkshire Oaks (first) and St Leger (second to Snurge).
Fast forward a dozen years to 2002 and her daughter likewise won the Yorkshire Oaks, and again in 2003, prior to her crowing achievement in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Islington was her mother’s daughter, but not the only one, because Hellenic produced two other Group 1 winners, Greek Dance and Mountain High, all under the management of Sir Michael Stoute. The generation game in racing is a family fascination, the very lifeblood of the sport, of transmitting talent, and Hellenic was the queen of her own royal family.
KING EDWARD VII: PENTIRE (1995)
The ‘Ascot Derby’ has an uneasy relationship with the Epsom Derby, attracting only the bit-part players, on top of the proximity problem, and it’s those three-year-olds who swerve Epsom for whom the King Edward VII can work as a springboard to stardom, such as Nathaniel in 2011 who followed up in the King George. But better than Nathaniel - and indeed the best horse to win the King Edward VII in my experience – was Pentire.
He by-passed Epsom, but it was about the only dance he didn’t dance in 1995, charging through the season with six successes, making short work of Classic Cliche and co at Royal Ascot but bettering that by winning the Great Voltigeur (from Singspiel) and Irish Champion. His only defeat as a 3-y-o was when beaten a neck by Lammtarra in the King George, though he righted that wrong by winning it the following year, in scintillating style, prompting his regular rider Michael Hills to comment that ‘you don’t often come round the turn at Ascot travelling like he did.’
In fact, thinking about it now, if I was to draw up a purely personal list of my ten favourite horses, Pentire would be in there, for the excitement and electricity he generated in me, fuelling the fire that turned a pastime into a passion and then a profession.
KING’S STAND STAKES: CHOISIR (2003)
A powerhouse and a pioneer, the first Australian-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot, Choisir the chestnut cannonball was described as being ‘like a brahma bull’ by Shannon Perry, assistant trainer to his father Paul.
The parade ring was more divining than the betting boards, some dismission if not derision about Choisir reflected in his odds of 25/1 in a 20-runner field, but the origins of the phrase ‘beast mode’ might well be found in the 2003 King’s Stand because that’s exactly what Choisir went into, putting on a show of pace and power that Royal Ascot had never before seen to win by a length from Acclamation, with none other that Oasis Dream also in his jetwash in third.
And Choisir did it all again in the Golden Jubilee four days later, lowering the then track record in the process, a ground-breaking week in every sense, as, for international competition at Ascot, the 500-kilo Choisir didn’t so much open the floodgates as charged them down.
DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE STAKES: SOVIET SONG (2006)
In most cases, my memorable winner is for what they did on the day and/or what they went on to do, but this is different, more a lap of honour in Soviet Song’s case, a six-year-old by then with five Group 1s on her CV, as well as twice finishing second at Royal Ascot, in the Coronation and the Queen Anne.
A magnificent miler with an electric turn of foot, Soviet Song had a seat at the top table over several years, and though the 2006 Duke of Cambridge (or Windsor Forest as it was then) was the easier option, she won it in trademark style, and it was especially significant for the fact it took her past the £1m milestone for prize money, an astonishing achievement for a mare who earned it only in Britain and Ireland.
Jamie Spencer did the steering in the Duke of Cambridge, but Johnny Murtagh was the rider most associated with her reign and, in his words, ‘there are not many that can quicken up like she can.’
ASCOT STAKES: THOMAS HOBSON (2017)
With the handicaps, it’s always more subjective as to who sticks in your mind, but objectively Thomas Hobson was brilliant winner of the Ascot Stakes – under top-weight, off a mark of 100, by six lengths, in a fast time – and then there’s the way he did it, some sight in the straight, from as far back as thirteenth on the home turn, with a strong sensation that Ryan Moore was literally and figuratively enjoying the ride.
Thomas Hobson returned to Royal Ascot last year, for the Gold Cup itself, no threat in that, but in the meantime he had won a Doncaster Cup and given Stradivarius a race in the Long Distance Cup, proof that he was the proverbial Group horse in a handicap in the 2017 Ascot Stakes, and the fact that Moore clearly knew it that day certainly adds to the spectacle when you watch it back, maybe not the most memorable renewal for you, but a memory-maker for me.