Rite Of Passage survived an epic duel with Age Of Aquarius to claim the Gold Cup (Eng-I) by a neck at Royal Ascot June 17.
The victory provided trainer Dermot Weld with his first win in the Gold Cup and denied Aidan O’Brien a fifth straight win in the 2 1/2-mile marathon, following the memorable victories by Yeats.
A lightly-raced 6-year-old gelding, Rite Of Passage didn’t make his career debut until the age of 4, capturing a two mile National Hunt flat race at Galway in his only start. Campaigned as a dual-purpose runner, Rite Of Passage has now won seven of 10 career starts. His three prior starts this season were over hurdles, in which he won two and was third at Cheltenham in the other.
Jockey Richard Hills sent confirmed front-runner Akmal to the lead at the start, and the pair set an even pace as they led the field of 12 the first time past the grandstand. Both Age Of Aquarius and Rite Of Passage were placed prominently, as two of the main contenders, Kasbah Bliss and Manifest, were content to track from the back of the field.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically with just over a half-mile to go, as Akmal had had enough, and Age Of Aquarius took over. The 4-year-old son of Galileo was full of run and quickly opened up a two-length lead under Johnny Murtagh with only two furlongs left.
At the same time, jockey Pat Smullen had Rite Of Passage under a strong drive in the center of the course, and the pair drew alongside Age Of Aquarius with a furlong to go. The two runners slugged it out for the last eighth of a mile, with neither refusing to surrender.
At the wire, it was Rite Of Passage who just edged ahead, getting his neck in front in the final couple of strides. It was another six lengths back to the third-place finisher, Purple Moon.
Final time for the 2 1/2-mile contest was 4:16.92 over the good turf.
Dermot Weld told reporters afterwards, “The plan was hatched a long time ago. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to win and two previous runners, Vinnie Roe and Vintage Crop, finished second, so I thought it could be third time lucky.”
Rite Of Passage was bred in England by Newsells Park Stud, and is owned by Dr. R. Lambe. He is a chestnut gelding by Giant’s Causeway out of Dahlia’s Krissy, by Kris S. His third dam is the legendary Dahlia, a multiple champion who produced the grade I winners Dahar, Rivlia, Delegant, and Dahlia’s Dreamer.