It may have started with more of a whimper than a bang, but there was no stopping Flat racing’s most fearsome force of Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore and Coolmore dominating events at Royal Ascot once again.
Having drawn a blank on the opening day, the powerhouse operation slowly but surely started to fire in the winners, starting with victory for Kew Gardens in the Queen’s Vase on Wednesday.
One winner soon became three with Magic Wand taking the Ribblesdale and Hunting Horn in the Hampton Court 24 hours later, before a last-gasp victory for Australian import Merchant Navy in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes sealed the trio’s respective top trainer, owner and jockey titles on the final day.
O’Brien, celebrating a ninth leading trainer prize, this time on countback from John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute, said: “We take it one day at a time and one race at a time.
“We had a few winners and a lot of placed horses and a few horses ran disappointing races, but it is tough, competitive racing. I didn’t expect anything else.
“I’m delighted to be here and privileged we were here at the end.”
Asked for highlights, O’Brien said: “I suppose it is hard to get away from the win for Merchant Navy. He is a three-year-old carrying a four-year-old weight.
“He only came just before the Curragh. His coat was changing and he didn’t know if it was winter or summer.
“He was going through a lot of changes himself and in all fairness to him he was healthy enough and sound enough to cope with the changes, and to produce that run was unbelievable.
“When you are in racing you are always grateful to have a winner and you never take anything for granted.
“Really, I’m surprised you win more times than you don’t as there are so many variables you can’t change and the competition is so tough here.
“It is great, the competition, as that is what makes sport great. John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute are great trainers and really we feel privileged that the lads have horses we can come over and compete with.
“That is what makes the whole week unbelievable. The track was immaculate, the facilities and the atmosphere, it is all unbelievable.
“It is a privilege and a pleasure for me and all the lads and everyone that is involved, as it is a big team effort. I think everyone gets a great kick out of it.”
Four winners may have been enough for O’Brien and Coolmore, but for Moore he required a piece of help from loyal ally Stoute to master Frankie Dettori at the top of the jockeys’ standings, which Crystal Ocean duly provided in the Hardwicke Stakes.
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby said it had been an easy decision to saddle Wild Illusion with a Royal Ascot engagement in Thursday’s G2 Ribblesdale Stakes only 20 days after the most taxing run of the filly’s career.
The three-year-old daughter of Dubawi finished second to Forever Together in the G1 Investec Oaks at Epsom on Friday, 1 June.
She was beaten four and a half lengths on soft ground, fighting on gamely to the finish.
But Appleby said Wild Illusion had bounced out of the Classic very well.
“She’s in great order. She looks fantastic and she’s training well,” the trainer said.
Wild Illusion chasing Ribblesdale honours for Charlie Appleby - https://t.co/N2pJnZRY2F #horseracing #racingnews #WildIllusion #RibblesdaleStakes #RoyalAscot #CharlieAppleby pic.twitter.com/vUp56D3nGD— GG (@ggcouk) June 20, 2018
“Was it a difficult decision to back her up quickly after Epsom? No, not at all. She’s come out of the race well, and if she can repeat her Oaks performance she will be very hard to beat in the Ribblesdale,” he pointed out.
Wild Illusion is required to carry a G1 penalty of 3lb for her fine victory in the G1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly as a two-year-old.
Her race record is impressive. She has won twice and never been out of the first four in five starts.
She finished a solid fourth to Billesdon Brook on quick ground in the G1 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket last month.
Appleby does not believe the fast ground is an issue for the filly. “If you go on her fourth in the Guineas at Newmarket, it won’t be a worry. I asked James (Doyle), who rode her that day, and he said she did not feel the ground at all,” he said.
A field of 10 fillies have been declared for the Ribblesdale, first run in 1919 and sometimes referred to as the Ascot Oaks.
Oaks second Wild Illusion confirmed for the Ribblesdale alongside 11 others. These include Perfect Clarity and five from the Aidan O'Brien stable (Sizzling, Sarrocchi, Magic Wand, Broadway & Athena)— Racing Post (@RacingPost) June 15, 2018
The Charlie Appleby-trained Shamardal colt, third in the six-furlong G1 Commonwealth Cup at the same meeting in 2017, showed good early speed from the gates and soon raced behind the leaders in a close fourth as Battaash set a searching pace at the head of the 14-strong field.
Blue Point moved up to go second under William Buick with a furlong and a half left and reeled in Battaash just inside the final half-furlong before running on strongly to prevail by a length and three-quarters in a fast 58.14s on good to firm ground.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin’s founder and driving force, said: “Blue Point was following the fast pace and was travelling very well. He hit the rise and gave more. I think that he is a very good horse.
“We raced him in Dubai and he was sweating very much but today he was very, very good. Charlie has been with us for a long time and he knows what we want – we always talk to each other about things. William is a very good jockey. They are two very good people.
“After Masar and the Derby, we are taking it very easy. We are enjoying ourselves and at Royal Ascot – whoever wins, we will clap for them. We are relaxing now, but we have some ammunition for the rest of the week.”
A brilliant season for Charlie Appleby, William Buick and @godolphin continues as Blue Point wins the King's Stand Stakes, his third win from four starts @Ascot. #RoyalAscot— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) June 19, 2018
Results ➡️ https://t.co/7iJOPsvjqx pic.twitter.com/Gr3cTnntFp
Charlie Appleby, celebrating his first G1 winner at Royal Ascot, declared: “Full credit has to go to the team at home who have done a fantastic job with Blue Point and getting him back to where he is.
“I couldn’t have been happier with his preparation in the last two weeks and I felt he was back at a level where he could compete after he did a great piece of work the other week.
“To have a Derby winner and then have a G1 winner at Royal Ascot is great and I don’t think I could have had Blue Point in any better nick. Sheikh Mohammed is a great man and coming into today, there was no pressure on us following Epsom as he just wanted to enjoy the week.
“I think the stiff five furlongs and strong pace has suited Blue Point here. I have always thought a lot of this horse and he ran really well in the Commonwealth Cup last year. For whatever reason, he brings his A game here.
“I was delighted with him at the start of the year in Dubai and, whilst things didn’t materialise on Dubai World Cup night, we went on to learn a lot in Hong Kong which taught us a few matters. The horse had a torrid time on his way back from Hong Kong, but we gave him a nice break after that and I’m delighted with him.
“Good horses sometimes need to be beaten to appreciate winning and, as a team, we felt Blue Point was one of the best juveniles we had ever seen in respect to his natural pace. He has got stronger from three to four and is built for speed.”
William Buick added: “This means a lot to Charlie, Sheikh Mohammed and the whole team at home at Moulton Paddocks.
“Everyone stuck their neck out about Blue Point as a two-year-old. Things have not gone his way in a lot of races, whereas today everything fell right today and to make him a G1 winner is very satisfying.
“I am pleased for the horse most of all because he deserves it more than anyone. Last time out [at Sha Tin], we got it wrong and it was a race we had to put a line through – there was no point judging him on that and he’s been in great form since.
“He is a very quick horse, and I was always very comfortable where I was and I knew he would see the race out better than Battaash because he’s proven at six furlongs. It was just a case of whether I would be close enough where it mattered.
“Things are going very well at the moment, I’m enjoying it and I’m not going to hide that. Everyone is working very hard, but it is important to look forward and there are a lot more important races to come this week for important horses.
“No one puts more pressure on me than myself, because I want to do well and win races. We are led by Sheikh Mohammed who has got to where he is by setting very high standards, and he expects that from everyone around him.”