Godolphin Power back to life with Royal Ascot hat-trick

Thomas Hobson is sole Irish winner on day one as Churchill flops in St James’s Palace Stakes

Barney Roy ridden by jockey James Doyle (right) on his way to winning the St James’s Palace Stakes during day one of Royal Ascot. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

What has appeared at times this year to be a Godolphin soap-opera resolved into an epic Day One denouement at Royal Ascot through a superb top-flight double for Ribchester and Barney Roy with Sound And Silence completing a landmark hat-trick for 'The Boys In Blue' in the last.

Forty years to the day after his first ever winner, the competitive drive fired by Hatta at lowly Brighton in 1977 saw Sheikh Mohammed savour vindication of a sort on racing’s grandest stage which must have seemed unlikely even a few weeks ago.

As ruler of Dubai the Sheikh’s headaches extend far beyond sport’s make-believe world to real political headaches in the Gulf at present.

Yet within racing's environs the chain of events that saw his long-time racing advisor John Ferguson resign recently after a public falling out with one of the Sheikh's trainers, Saeed Bin Suroor, was a self-inflicted migraine made more painful by the realisation that sympathy was in short supply.


In fact such wrangling contributed even more to a sense of a colossal bloodstock operation richer in cash than strategy with colossal global investment seemingly useless against a decade’s worth of dominance by their great Irish rivals, Coolmore.

That John Magnier & Co emerged from Tuesday having failed to win at all is likely to have the Godolphin new feel-good factor even sweeter. In fact Irish success on Tuesday was confined to the jumps maestro Willie Mullins who won the Ascot Stakes with the well-backed 4-1 favourite, Thomas Hobson.

If Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville only filled general expectations by finishing an honourable third to Ribchester – an 11-10 favourite as hot the weather – in the Queen Anne Stakes then Churchill’s odds-on flop behind Barney Roy in the St James’s Palace Stakes was a resounding blow to Coolmore.

The 1-2 favourite struggled in fourth, unable even to launch a blow at his stable companion Lancaster Bomber who stayed on well to run Barney Roy to a length. As if to reinforce the Godolphin-Coolmore theme even the Sheikh’s second-string, Thunder Snow, beat Churchill to third.

The Sheikh's publicly impassive mask rarely slips but the same couldn't be said of Barney Roy's jockey James Doyle who understandably savoured the victory.

Bin Suroor’s refusal to employ Doyle on his horses long preceded the Ferguson dispute going public and led at one stage to one of Godolphin’s retained riders getting parked on emergency duty in Australia.

Slipped saddle

Barney Roy’s trainer Richard Hannon has always been happy to use the Englishman and there was acrobatic evidence of Doyle’s talents as he overcame a slipped saddle to win the prestigious three year old contest for a second time.

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that!” he said. “It’s been an up and down season. This is why I joined the team, to ride big winners like this. So to ride one when he [Sheikh Mohammed] is here today makes me very proud.”

Aidan O’Brien had no immediate explanation for Churchill running below par and said: “His form with Lancaster changed a bit. It’s a very hot day and maybe the heat and change didn’t help. He didn’t pick up for some reason.”

The conditions made no difference to Ribchester who broke the course record with a dominant Queen Anne display for his Co Louth-born trainer Richard Fahey.

O’Brien supporters plunged on Declarationofpeace in the concluding Windsor Castle Stakes but the Irish colt was out of the places behind the 16-1 Sound And Silence.

Playing the long bloodstock game has proved difficult for the Sheikh’s oft-beleaguered team in the past. And it’s a long week ahead, never mind in terms of the rest of the season. But this was a hat-trick that looks at the very least to have bolstered any flagging interest in playing it.

If the lightening-quick US filly Lady Aurelia blitzed her King’s Stand opposition it was the long game in every sense as Thomas Hobson got Irish interest off the mark.

Willie Mullins’s Melbourne Cup luck was dramatically absent when Max Dynamite finished runner-up in Australia’s greatest race two years ago but he’s keen to go back with Thomas Hobson in November.

"Melbourne is the end game," said the champion National Hunt trainer who won the Ascot Stakes for a third time, all ridden of them ridden by Ryan Moore. "We'll see if he runs on Saturday again. I'm a bit worried about the ground."

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column