Leading Light claims gold in driving finish
Win delivers record sixth Gold Cup success for Aidan O’Brien who also takes Ribblesdale
Leading Light (far right) and Joseph O’Brien beat Estimate, ridden by Ryan Moore (centre), with the game Missunited and Jim Crowley in third. Photograph: PA
Leading Light hardly won yesterday’s Ascot Gold Cup like his odds-on starting price might have suggested. But win he did, making Aidan O’Brien the most successful trainer of the long-distance championship and preventing a couple of fairy tale endings in the process.
If home hopes were carried by Estimate’s attempt to win a second successive Gold Cup for the Queen, even those among the Irish raiding party that lumped on Leading Light in the betting were likely to have had a sentimental saver on Missunited and her Co Cork trainer Mick Winters.
Any condescending thoughts that the Galway Hurdle winner could be dismissed as some curiosity on the grand stage were dismissed from the outset. Missunited forced the pace and only just failed to put flat racing’s international grandees in their place.
For much of the straight finish the Winters-trained 40 to 1 shot looked set to pull off the fairy tale. And even though Estimate and Leading Light eventually fought their way past, the winning margins of a neck and a short head illustrates how hard those narrow edges were earned.
“She’s run her heart out. There was a moment when I thought she might have given [them] the slip but it was a super run,” said Winters. All being well, we’ll head back to the Galway festival.”
If Leading Light needed Joseph O’Brien at his most tactically aware to force Ryan Moore on Estimate to abandon a switch outside of Brown Panther, only to then veer left at one stage, he still looked to be in control at the line to follow in the footsteps of the legendary four-time winner Yeats and O’Brien snr’s other 2011 winner Fame And Glory.
Earlier the O’Briens landed the Ribblesdale with the 10 to 1 Bracelet. But the reality that there are worse things for an odds-on shot to do than win narrowly had been emphasised earlier when Ballydoyle’s heavily-backed Norfolk Stakes favourite The Great War couldn’t even make the frame behind Baitha Alga.
That appeared to represent more evidence of the inconsistent form being shown by the O’Brien team overall in recent weeks and the champion trainer admitted after Bracelet’s win: “They’ve been running very ordinary. Some we thought would have done better, but we just have to be patient.”
That some of the ring’s heavy hitters still lumped on Leading Light indicated the underlying faith at Ballydoyle about last year’s Leger winner that had Joseph O’Brien summing the race up beforehand with: “If he stays, he wins.” It also underlined the strength in depth of the resources at Ballydoyle that even a pair of winners can’t prevent uneasiness about the overall picture.
“I’m in a very lucky position, to have unbelievable horses with unbelievable pedigrees,” said Aidan O’Brien.
Leading Light’s quality is such that O’Brien touted a possible quick return to Ascot next month for the King George, also an option for Wednesday’s Prince Of Wales’s runner-up Magician, while Bracelet’s bounce back to form has earned her a Group One ticket to next month’s Irish Oaks.
“Ryan [Moore] said when he rode her in the Guineas to step her up to a mile-and-a-half and we popped a hood on at home which seemed to help her,” said O’Brien. “I suppose we’ll have to look at the Irish Oaks now.”
Sir Michael Stoute sealed his position as the most successful current Royal Ascot trainer when Cannock Chase gave him a 70th winner at the festival in the Tercentenary Stakes.
Stoute considers the winner will be a Group One contender in time and jockey Ryan Moore said afterwards: “When I got to the front for some reason he lugged right. It’s just greenness because he’s a genuine horse. He’d done what we wanted and he’s at the right level for now.”
Kieren Fallon got off the mark at Royal Ascot for the first time since 2012 and secured a 30th festival winner overall. Godolphin’s Elite Army overcame a less than clear passage to comfortably beat the other joint favourite Windshear.
“We got locked up and had nowhere to go and I think this is going to be a good horse,” said Fallon while Born In Bombay secured a Britannia Stakes victory for Andrew Balding.