It was billed as the headline event of the Royal Ascot meeting, and it did not disappoint, as Canford Cliffs outdueled defending champion Goldikova to capture the $406,928 Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) in the opening race at Royal Ascot June 14.
It was the fifth consecutive win for 4-year-old Canford Cliffs, and his seventh win in 10 starts overall. The Irish-bred colt entered the showdown off a victory in the group I JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury May 14 in his season debut.
Richard Hughes settled Canford Cliffs at the back of the pack as Cape Blanco shot to the front immediately from the start. Cape Blanco was quickly joined by Goldikova’s pacemaker Flash Dance, and the pair went to work setting swift fractions on the front end.
Goldikova, the 5-4 favorite ridden once again by Olivier Peslier, tracked closely behind Flash Dance in third, with Ransom Note just off her flank in fourth. Hughes was content to bring up the rear aboard Canford Cliffs, keeping the son of Tagula running easily in between Cityscape and Rio de La Plata. The field of seven was closely bunched throughout most of the race, with only a few lengths from front to back.
With two furlongs left to run, Goldikova cruised to the lead as the pacesetters began to fade. Rio de La Plata joined the champion mare, and the pair matched strides briefly until Goldikova once again spurted away. Canford Cliffs had made up several lengths at this point, moving from last to just off Goldikova.
As expected, it became a two-horse race in the final furlong, with Goldikova and Canford Cliffs grinding it out to the wire. Canford Cliffs began to gain a slight advantage in the final yards; Goldikova valiantly fought back but could not match the muscular colt, as Canford Cliffs edged away in the final strides.
The winning margin was one length, with Cityscape making a late move to take third, another 1 3/4-lengths further back. The final time for the eight furlongs was 1:38.38 over the good to soft going.
Trainer Richard Hannon, who stated before the race that Canford Cliffs was the best horse he had ever trained, was ebullient in his praise for the colt, saying afterwards, “He’s very special to us; these sorts of horses don’t come around everyday.”
Hughes, who rode Paco Boy to a second-place finish in last year’s Queen Anne, was complimentary of Peslier’s ride aboard Goldikova, saying, “Olivier rode a brilliant race. He played a classic game of cat and mouse. He didn’t kick and we couldn’t kick until he did. We quickened several time in the last furlong.”
Peslier was fined ₤650 by the stewards after the race, for changing equipment before he weighed out. Prior to the race, Peslier weighed in at two pounds over; the jockey weighed out at only one pound over. Apparently, Peslier changed his riding boots immediately after the race.
Freddie Head, who trains Goldikova for the Wertheimer brothers, was gracious in defeat. “There are no excuses,” Head said. “We had the perfect run and were just beaten by a better horse on the day. The Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) is still the end-of-season target.”
Richard Hannon, Jr., the trainer’s son and assistant, mentioned after the race that future targets for Canford Cliffs might include the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) and the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Bred by S and S Hubbard Rodwell, Canford Cliffs is by the French group I winner, Tagula, and out of the Marju mare, Mrs. Marsh. He is owned by the partnership of the Heffer Syndicate, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.