Jim Bolger’s Dawn Approach crowned king in St James’s Palace thriller
Ireland reign supreme on opening day of Royal Ascot with four winners, including the three Group Ones
There was irony in a JP McManus-owned horse putting a halt to the greatest streak of success ever enjoyed by Irish horses at Royal Ascot yesterday as the famously chic and world-renowned flat extravaganza briefly seemed to take on a hint of Cheltenham.
A clean-sweep of the opening three Group One races, with Dawn Approach’s dramatic St James’s Palace Stakes victory backed up by Sole Power in the Kings Stand and Declaration Of War in the Queen Anne, was followed by a brilliant Coventry Stakes win by Aidan O’Brien’s 20/1 third-string War Command so that hopes of a barely-imaginable clean-sweep of the six-races by Irish raiders looked tantalisingly on.
The first six of the seven races on day two of Cheltenham in 2011 were famously won by Irish horses, and after this year’s record tally of 14 winners at jump racing’s greatest meeting, it came as an almost eerie jolt back to reality to see McManus’s familiar green-and-yellow silks coming out on top in the Ascot Stakes on board Well Sharp .
The fact Well Sharp was ridden by Irish jockey Fran Berry and trained by Cork native Jonjo O’Neill meant it could have been regarded as cold comfort for a home team that also claimed the Windsor Castle winner Extortionist who just happened by to be the second leg of a 152/1 double for Johnny Murtagh.
And there was no disguising the green hue to day one of a week that may not yield 14 winners but which correspondingly has a world-wide reach that the more localised charms of Cheltenham cannot hope to match.
With a Kentucky Derby winner in Animal Kingdom reduced to the role of also-ran behind Declaration Of War in the Queen Anne, Sole Power edging out South Africa’s champion sprinter Shea Shea, and Dawn Approach steeling the resolve of Sheikh Mohammed’s beleaguered global Godolphin operation, yesterday’s reverberations will ripple much further than the pubs and card-schools of the South West of England.
Was all class
None will resonate more than Dawn Approach’s remarkable bounce back to form which was all class but also contained the sort of grit any die-hard National Hunt fan could appreciate.
As he gets older, Dawn Approach looks to be becoming more and more like his sire, New Approach, in the way he does so much wrong in a race and yet still manages to pull victory out of the fire.
New Approach famously pulled desperately hard in the 2008 Derby but still managed to win. Although his son’s antics at Epsom were even worse, and impossible to overcome, back at a mile yesterday Dawn Approach’s raw class allowed him to overcome another display of impulsiveness, and a series of collisions that would have stymied most other horses.
At the line he just edged out Toronado who was also hampered by mid-straight dodgems initiated by Glory Awaits’ waywardness. But considering how much he did wrong, and that he pulled out a first-rate Group One performance just 17 days after an experience that would have blown many other three-year-old minds, Dawn Approach was exceptional.
“He’s very tough and hard. He was fortunate to survive the bump but I knew he wouldn’t let me down,” said Jim Bolger whose decision to pull the horse out again so soon after Epsom was richly vindicated.
“You take chances, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
“I always had faith in the horse and I knew whatever happened at Epsom was a one-off.”
Sole Power’s fast-finishing running style means a similar recourse to fortune often has to be made but everything went right for the Eddie Lynam-trained sprinter yesterday and he got the better of his old rival Shea Shea.
Owned by the Power family of Paddy Power bookmakers renown, Sole Power came through under the stands rail for Johnny Murtagh to secure a first Irish win in the famous sprint for 26 years. Murtagh later brought his Royal Ascot tally to 41 aboard Extortionist but it was obvious Sole Power’s win meant a lot to the rider.
“This is where you want to be performing – to ride good horses for great people,” Murtagh said. “I get on well with him and I know what he likes. He’s got a great turn of foot and is very willing.”
The same comment could also apply to both Aidan O’Brien winners. With Animal Kingdom running well below form, Declaration Of War sliced through the Queen Anne field after briefly looking to be denied a run.
But it was War Command’s electric Coventry Stakes victory, that shot him to favouritism for next year’s Classics, which stood out possibly even more.
Séamus Heffernan brought the 20/1 outsider from last-to first to win by six lengths and complete a notable double for American breeder Joe Allen who also produced Declaration Of War.
It was Royal Ascot win number 39 for O’Brien who said: “He’s another Danzig type, all speed and fast ground. He can be trained for the Heinz, any of those races.”