Aidan O’Brien couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to the five-day Royal Ascot meet, as he captured a pair of group I stakes on opening day, June 17, first winning the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes with Haradasun and then showcasing his superstar miler Henrythenavigator, who scored an impressive victory in the St. James’s Palace Stakes at odds of 4-7.
Henrythenavigator, whom O’Brien called “probably the best miler I’ve ever trained,” was coming off victories over eventual English Derby (Eng-I) winner New Approach in both the English (Eng-I) and Irish (Ire-I) Two Thousand Guineas. Over the firm ground he likes, the son of Kingmambo rallied from next-to-last in the eight-horse field to defeat the 7-1 Raven’s Pass by three quarters in 1:38.70, the fastest mile run at Ascot since the track was rebuilt.
The horse most everyone felt would be Henrythenavigator’s biggest threat was French Two Thousand Guineas (Fr-I) winner Falco, who won handily at Longchamp on the front end. This time, with Henrythenanvigator’s pacesetter, Minneapolis, setting a strong pace, Falco was forced to come from off the pace. He did strike the front turning into the stretch, but by now, Henry was rolling. Johnny Murtagh tried to come through a small opening, but when that closed up he steered his colt out and found a more inviting hole. Once through, Henry charged past Twice Over, who had wrested command from Falco. He quickly burst clear and then held off the spirited challenge of Raven’s Pass, who finished 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Twice Over.
Henrythenavigator, owned by Mrs. John Magnier and bred in Kentucky by Western Bloodstock, had captured the Coventry Stakes (Eng-II) at last year’s Royal Ascot meeting, and is now five-for-five on good-to-firm ground, with his only two defeats coming on soft going.
In the Queen Anne, run on a straightaway, O’Brien pulled off a masterful bit of strategy, by having his pacesetter, Honoured Guest, go to the lead from post 9 and then cut across the entire field to get to the inside rail. That threw off several of the jockeys on the leading contenders, who were expecting to tuck in behind the leader in the middle of the course. When Honoured Guest headed for the rail, Haradasun and Murtagh followed them across the course from post 10 and took up a position right on the rail, behind their pacesetter.
When the real running began, the fillies Darjina and Finsceal Beo, the 9-2 favorite, quickened beautifully, and it looked as if the race would be between the two of them. In the final two furlongs, Finsceal Beo began drifting in under right-handed whipping. Murtagh finally got the 5-1 Haradasun going late and he was able to stick his head in front of Darjina right on the wire, with Finsceal Beo right there in the three-horse blanket finish.
Haradasun, an Austalian-bred son of Fusaichi Pegasus , had not won since April 2007 and was making only his second start outside Australia, having finished sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Juddmonte Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) on May 17 in his most recent start.
In the other Group I stakes on opening day, the Spanish-trained and French-bred Equiano upset the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes at odds of 22-1.
In an oddly run race, the four horses drawn to the outside, all became separated from the main body of the field and raced together on the far rail. They included the speedy National Colour and the highly regarded Godolphin colt Dandy Man. By having the main speed on the opposite rail, Equiano was able to set an easy, uncontested pace and had just enough left to defeat the gutsy Australian 9-year-old Takeover Target by a half-length, with the favored Fleeting Spirit and Dandy Man a neck and a head farther back.
Ridden by Olivier Peslier, Equiano was making only his fifth career start for trainer M. Delcher-Sanchez, and was coming off a neck defeat in the Prix du Gros-Chene (Fra-II) at Chantilly.
In the Group II Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds, the Irish-bred Art Connoisseur came through with an explosive late run to blow by the leaders in a flash and go on to a 2 1/4-length victory over U.S.-breds Intense Focus and Lord Shanakill.