Royal Ascot 2004 will above all be remembered for Attraction's latest thrilling front-running performance and the tremendous form of the Godolphin/Saeed bin Suroor/Frankie Dettori team.
But with six group I races and many other great contests during the five-day meeting, there were many subplots.Attraction is a phenomenal filly and the question after she convincingly won the mile Coronation Stakes (Eng -I), by dominating from start to finish, was how good is she?The 3-year-old Efisio filly is now unbeaten in eight starts since her career was launched on April 29, 2003, at England's modest Nottingham. Her last three successes have all been at group I level -- two classics in England and Ireland and the Coronation Stakes.She is clearly a filly of exceptional quality and there is every reason to feel that there may be more to come.Her next target is likely to be the Falmouth Stakes, newly promoted to group I status, at Newmarket's July meeting and there she will take on older fillies and mares for the first time. Her trainer, Mark Johnston, immediately after the 2 1/2-length Royal Ascot success, outlined the rest of the plan. "Then, we will have to take on the colts, and long-term I would love to have a crack at the Breeders' Cup Mile. Success on the international stage would really ice the cake."However, Attraction was not nominated for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships program and therefore there would be an entry fee of $135,000 to pay for the privilege of turning up in the $1.5 million NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Lone Star on Oct. 30.Typically Johnston came out fighting after revealing that the fee would be a major disincentive. "I don't agree with these restricted races...People want to see the best against the best...It would be a great loss for everyone if she could not run in the Breeders' Cup but there are so many other races she could run in."The Yorkshire-based trainer, who has enjoyed plenty of top-level success, says Attraction "is the best horse I have trained."Her jockey, Kevin Darley, was convinced too that he had experienced something special. "So many good horses can be complicated in one way or another, but she is so easy and is a simply unbelievable filly. Jamie Spencer (aboard Royal Tigress in the Coronation) tried to take me on early, but he didn't have the pace and, though she was a bit keen for the first furlong and a half, she soon settled into her routine and was relaxed, lobbing along happily. She switched leads crossing the road and once into the straight she lengthened and they never got near me." Attraction has overcome physical problems--her confirmation is far from perfect and due to an injury she did not run between July last year and May this year--and a seemingly modest pedigree.Her ability to set a fast pace and then quicken again before the end demoralizes opponents. This was a first attempt at a race with a bend in it and there were no problems.She only just failed--by 0.03 of a second--to beat the course record set by Russian Rhythm last year in the same race and may meet that filly in the Falmouth Stakes.The ground at Ascot started the week on Tuesday, June 15, as good to firm, with the turf being watered each night, except on Friday when rain threatened, and ended up as fast as many trainers and jockeys could ever remember on Saturday, June 19.Therefore, it was not a great surprise perhaps that Doyen, the sixth and final Godolphin triumph of the meeting, should break the course record in the Hardwicke Stakes (Eng-II) over 12 furlongs on the final day.But, just like Attraction, it was the manner of his victory which was so impressive. With stable companion Songlark making the running and the Johnston-trained Systematic trying to wrestle the lead off him, Dettori was happy sit towards the rear of the six-strong field that had two late defections because of the firm ground.Doyen cruised up to the leaders in the straight and in a blink it was all over, as the 4-year-old Sadler's Wells colt shot clear and won with his jockey easing down. The victor still managed to shave 0.37 seconds off the 12-furlong record set by Stanerra in the 1983 Hardwicke, with a time of 2:26.53s.No wonder Dettori--Godolphin's retained jockey--was ecstatic, performing his trademark flying dismount which he normally reserves for group I races."I am really speechless--what a performance, it just took my breath away. It is smashing to break the course record at Ascot which is not done every day. I followed in Systematic's slipstream and, passing the two-furlong marker, I was in third gear, then just picked him up and he took off. He is a special horse. I like him and he reminds me of the good old days of Swain and Daylami."Since Swain and Daylami won three King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes between them, then the assessment appears a good omen for the group I international contest staged at Ascot on July 24.Doyen immediately jumped to the front of bookmakersSÿ ante-post markets for the King George, which is the only English race in the World Series Championship.Godolphin has an embarrassment of riches for the great contest, with Sulamani, Papineau and Rule Of Law also among the top five in the current betting.Saeed bin Suroor, the Godolphin trainer, made the following assessment: "It is very difficult to choose between Doyen, Papineau and Sulamani. We will see which are working best and decide with Sheikh Mohammed which horses will run in that race and which Frankie (Dettori) will ride. It will be very difficult for Frankie this time."Sulamani and Papineau ran earlier in the week at Royal Ascot, with the former being one of the few Godolphin disappointments, finishing fourth in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Eng-I) over 10 furlongs on the second day.The 5-year-old, winner of two grade Is in America last year, did have some excuses for his failure to sparkle when beaten four lengths by Rakti as he was running for the first time this year, prefers easier ground and perhaps his best distance is 12 furlongs.Rakti started his racing in Italy but has come of age under the tuition of the very experienced Michael Jarvis, who trains at Newmarket.The 5-year-old Polish Precedent horse, also having his first start of 2004, won decisively by two lengths from the Irish raider Powerscourt.He could now go for the £1-million bonus put up by the British Horseracing Board for the Summer Triple Crown which can be achieved by winning both the Coral Eclipse at Sandown on July 3 and the Juddmonte International at York on August 17.Jarvis, 65, who also had two other victories during the week, commented: "I'm lucky enough to have had some good horses but he's the best I0-furlong horse I've ever trained and I think he'd be good over a mile."Papineau looked to have a bit in hand when remaining unbeaten this year in the Gold Cup (Eng-I) on the Thursday, Ladies Day, which normally attracts the biggest crowd of the week. Officially 69,928 attended, down nearly 5,000 on last year's crowd but the reduction was explained by the closure of Ascot Heath -- the infield area -- because of the work that has started on Ascot's £185-million redevelopment that will result in the Royal course being closed for 20 months beginning Oct. 1. The Friday crowd, for the first time ever, topped it, coming in at 70,753. Papineau has made considerable progress this year, starting out in a conditions race over 12 furlongs at Goodwood and then winning a group II at Sandown over two miles. The 4-year-old Singspiel colt was given a terrific ride by Dettori to see out the 2 1/2 miles of the Gold Cup and now the plan is to bring him back to 12 furlongs.Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, summed up the situation: "The King George is definitely a race within his compass. It is certainly a possibility. We have always believed that he is much more of a mile and a half horse and we were taking a big risk running here. He's in lots of races over a mile and a half including the Arc. This is absolutely fabulous and all credit must go to Frankie for a great ride. The stamina issue was always at the back of our minds but the horse had so much ability and class and traveled supremely well throughout that there was only going to be one winner turning into the straight." The French challenger Westerner, owned by Ecurie Wildenstein, ran well in second, with the Johnston-trained Darasim plugging on in third, while the other 10 runners were well beaten, headed by dual Gold Cup scorer Royal Rebel, then last year's St Leger winner Bryan Boru and 2003 Gold Cup victor Mr Dinos in sixth. Ingrandire, the first Japanese runner, led until the straight.Alec Wildenstein seems to court controversy in Britain, verbally attacking his now former jockey Dominique Boeuf for the ride on Vallee Enchantee in the Coronation Cup (Eng-I) at Epsom on June 4.This time, among other things, it was horse earplugs. Westerner wears them and in France jockeys are allowed to pull them out during a race whereas the British rules demand they stay in.Gerald Mosse removed the earplugs a furlong and a half out and it was the third time this year that Wildenstein has instructed a jockey to do so on British soil. Mosse, who had flown in from Hong Kong to take the ride, was fined £1,000 by the stewards but Johnston would have liked the horse to have been disqualified.The trainer of the third and fourth said: "I think it's diabolical that the Jockey Club can't enforce its own rules, especially when they knew it was going to happen in advance. With some horses it makes a vast differenceÛby removing the earplugs you give a huge adrenalin rush. It's ridiculous that on two previous occasions they've fined the man and all they do is fine him £1,000--it's not enough."
The British Jockey Club has since told Wildenstein that he faces more serious sanctions over flying earplugs in future, with the ultimate punishment being to refuse entries for his horses.Godolphin started the meeting well when Refuse To Bend, who had disappointed on his two starts for Sheikh Mohammed's operation earlier in the year, bounced back to his best form in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) by showing a good turn of foot to deny Soviet Song by a neck over Ascot's straight mile.The other group I race on the Tuesday--the St James's Palace Stakes--went to Azamour, who reversed English and Irish Guineas form, when beating the French challenger, partnered by Gary Stevens, by the same margin. The week did not begin too well for John Magnier, the Coolmore boss, but he was back smiling after three victories, the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-III) with Damson, trained by his son-in-law David Wachman while Aidan O'Brien sent out Moscow Ballet to win the listed Hampton Court Stakes and Five Dynasties to collect the King Edward VII Stakes (Eng-II) in which Rule Of Law was a non-runner.Magnier and Sheikh Mohammed may be rivals in trying to win the top prizes but they agree on one thing--Royal Ascot is the pinnacle of all meetings.While Magnier commented: "Ascot is Ascot. It doesn't come any better than this," Sheikh Mohammed observed: "This is the best meeting with great races at a great racecourse."Ascot Bits and PiecesFormer claimer The Tatling gave 69-year-old Milton Bradley his first Royal Meeting victory in the five-furlong King's Stand Stakes (Eng-II) when beating Hong Kong raider Cape Of Good Hope, who went on to finish a close third four days later over a furlong further in the Golden Jubilee Stakes (Eng-I) won by Fayr JagÛCalifornian- trained Lydgate was ninth in the King's Stand Stakes for Eoin HartyÛGary Stevens'mount Chic was nearly brought down in the first running of Windsor Forest Stakes (Eng-II)ÛVodafone Oaks (Eng-I) third Punctilious gained consolation in the Ribblesdale Stakes (Eng-II)ÛTwo syndicate-owned horses won big handicaps, with Lafi taking the Wokingham to give former jockey "Dandy" Nicholls his first Royal Ascot winner as a trainer while Admiral was victorious in the King George V, the third time that a Highclere Thoroughbred Racing-organized group has won the race.