It’s safe to say there was plenty of drama to go around on Day 4 of racing at Royal Ascot.
First, heavy rainfall nearly prompted the postponement of the card, leaving horsemen and horseplayers to wonder whether there would be any racing at all. Then, once the go-ahead was given, the pre-race drama was rapidly overshadowed by a heart-pounding renewal of the Commonwealth Cup (G1).
The six-furlong sprint for three-year-olds drew a field of 15, but two runners proved a cut above the rest. American filly Campanelle, victorious in the Queen Mary S. (G2) at Royal Ascot last year, employed bold front-running tactics under jockey Frankie Dettori. Dragon Symbol, a four-time winner guided by Oisin Murphy, was never far behind and soon took up serious pursuit.
With less than a quarter-mile remaining, Dragon Symbol pounced to a short lead, but Campanelle quickly battled back to regain even terms. Locking horns, the two speedy sprinters rocketed clear of the rivals, with Dragon Symbol drifting toward the far side and carrying Campanelle with him. Along the way, Dragon Symbol bumped the Wesley Ward-trained filly on a couple of occasions.
In the final strides, Dragon Symbol managed to thrust his head in front of Campanelle, but the finish was tight, and the outcome was far from definite. Following a prolonged stewards’ inquiry, the decision was made to disqualify Dragon Symbol to second place, leaving Campanelle as a two-time Royal Ascot winner.
“We are elated. Both horses ran fantastic, they dug down deep and there were only inches apart,” Ward said. “I think it was a validated result—in the United States terms, he has taken her across the track. Archie Watson [trainer of Dragon Symbol] shook my hand after the inquiry, a true gentleman.”
“It is never nice winning a race in the stewards’ room. I feel sorry for Dragon Symbol’s connections that I took it off them,” Dettori said. “But in these conditions, when you are taken across about eight lanes, I got nudged three times, lost my momentum and got beaten a head, so the stewards felt they gave me the benefit of the doubt.”
Measure of Magic finished third, five lengths behind the top pair, followed by Dandalla, Law of Indices, Mooneista, The Lir Jet, Suesa, Isabella Giles, Happy Romance, A Case Of You, Jumby, Mighty Gurkha, Lipizzaner, and Fivethousandtoone.
Campanelle’s success represented a masterful training job by Ward, who prepared the daughter of Kodiac for a peak effort in her first start since November.
“This was Campanelle’s first run since the Breeders’ Cup. It was a gritty performance on heavy ground and, to come back from that, it is a true testament of how good this filly is,” Ward said. “I actually thought the ground boded well for her chances. We weren’t sure about heavy ground, but we knew she liked soft ground.”
Ward indicated the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) at Deauville in August could be the next target for Campanelle. “I have run horses in the Prix Maurice De Gheest in the past and I think she’ll do well whatever ground comes on the day. I think it would suit.”
Oisin Murphy might have come out on the losing end of the Commonwealth Cup disqualification, but the star jockey quickly turned things around in the Coronation S. (G1). The second Group 1 of the day saw Murphy guide Alcohol Free from a mid-pack position to win the one-mile test for sophomore fillies by 1 1/2 lengths.
Snow Lantern, Mother Earth, and Novemba finished less than a length apart in second, third, and fourth place, followed more distantly by Pretty Gorgeous, Fev Rover, Flirting Bridge, Empress Josephine, Potapova, Shale, and Lullaby Moon.
Winner of the Chevely Park S. (G1) as a juvenile, Alcohol Free bounced back to peak form quite nicely in the Coronation. The Andrew Balding trainee had previously come home fifth as the joint favorite in the 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, beaten two lengths by Mother Earth.
“Alcohol Free is very classy. We had heavy hearts after Newmarket because it isn’t often you go into a Classic expecting to win it,” Balding said. “For whatever reason it didn’t pan out that day and she was below-par, but she was back to her best today, and she looked pretty good.
“We were a bit concerned when all the rain came, because her stamina wasn’t guaranteed, but full credit to Oisin—it’s the measure of the man to have the disappointment he had five minutes before they go in the stalls, and to give her such a good ride takes some doing.”
King Edward VII S.
Earlier in the afternoon, half a dozen sophomores faced the starter in the King Edward VII S. (G2) over 1 1/2 miles. The heavy going proved favorable to stretch-running 13-8 favorite Alenquer, who came rolling past Tasman Bay to score by 1 1/2 lengths under jockey Tom Marquand.
The William Haggas trainee entered off a win in the Classic Trial (G3) at Sandown, where he defeated future Epsom Derby (G1) hero Adayar. Minor issues prompted Alenquer to skip the Derby, but with a 4-3-1-0 resume under his belt, the son of Adlerflug looks like an up-and-coming prospect with a bright future.
“Alenquer is turning into a really nice horse,” said Maureen Haggas, William’s wife and assistant. “He didn’t do much wrong last year, but he was probably a bit immature still. He surprised us a little bit at Sandown—the manner in which he won—but he’s more grown up this year. He’s a bit of a boy at home, but at the races this year he’s been really professional and focused, and he’s definitely going the right way…He could easily be a St Leger (G1) horse, but it’s hard to know really. He wasn’t stopping here, so I think we will just see how it goes.”
Also of note was the six-furlong Albany S. (G3) for juvenile fillies, which saw Sandrine claim top honors for trainer Andrew Balding and jockey David Probert. A debut winner over the all-weather course at Kempton, Sandrine was dismissed at 16-1 in the Albany betting, but forged clear in the final sixteenth of a mile to beat Hello You by 1 1/2 lengths.
A daughter of Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Bobby’s Kitten, Sandrine clearly appreciated the heavy ground at Ascot.
“Going to the start, I didn’t think many would go in these conditions, but Sandrine is super-fit and very hardy,” Probert said. “I think she has a great attribute—she relaxes very well and gets into a good rhythm. She’s not very green for an inexperienced filly, and she’s taken me past the two [-furlong pole] almost filling herself up again, so when I did ask her, she really was relentless and galloped really nicely to the line.”
Saturday marks the final day of racing at Royal Ascot. Three more group stakes are on the agenda, so the meet promises to end with a bang. The highlight from a prestige standpoint is the Diamond Jubilee (G1), a six-furlong “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).