Closing day at Royal Ascot produced a bevy of surprising results, but none more stunning than the triumph of 73-1 longshot Khaadem in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1).
The six-furlong sprint featured many well-fancied contenders, including multiple Group 1 winners Highfield Princess and Kinross. But under a patient ride from Jamie Spencer, Khaadem produced the strongest run down the straight, following eventual runner-up Sacred before kicking on to prevail by a neck in 1:12.42.
“I felt no pressure,” said Spencer. “I followed Frankie (Dettori on Kinross) and Tom (Marquand on runner-up Sacred) and could see Tom was going well at halfway. So just like in a cycling race you let him do the work for you and, you hope that when you pull out, you have a little bit to fire.”
Whereas Khaadem and Sacred raced in a six-horse group on the far side of the course, Highfield Princess finished best of nine runners on the near side, taking home third place overall. Artorius, The Astrologist, Al Suhail, Kinross, Coeur De Pierre, Run to Freedom, Wellington, Emaraaty Ana, Art Power, Big Invasion, Sandrine, and Rohaan completed the order of finish, while Cannonball unseated his rider at the start.
“Khaadem does have his quirks but most sprinters do,” said winning trainer Charlie Hills. “It’s just amazing that we’ve got to where we have now at his age. I have always had massive faith in this horse, that’s why I’ve kept him for so long.”
The seven-year-old gelding was securing his first Group 1 triumph and his second Group success of any kind following a triumph in the King George (G2) at Goodwood last summer. After competing primarily over five furlongs since the fall of 2021, Khaadem has enjoyed stretching out over six furlongs.
“He won a Group 2 last year over five, and that’s what we were sort of doing,” said Hills. “But this year, I wanted to try and race him properly again, drop him in, and make sure we got the six furlongs well. He won the Stewards’ Cup as a three-year-old, so the trip was never a concern, but he is very fast.”
The second-biggest prize on closing day was the Hardwicke (G2) taking place over 1 1/2 miles on turf. Only seven runners faced the starter after favored Hukum scratched due to unsuitable ground, and Pyledriver was the one to capitalize, shrugging off an injury-induced 11-month layoff to parlay a pace-tracking journey into a 1 1/4-length victory.
The outcome wasn’t without drama, for Pyledriver failed to maintain a straight course in the drive and interfered with runner-up West Wind Blows and third-place finisher Changingoftheguard. But a stewards’ inquiry resulted in no change to the order of finish, so Pyledriver officially took home top honors in his first start since dominating the 2022 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) racing 1 1/2 miles at Ascot.
Deauville Legend, Free Wind, Grand Alliance, and Ardakan trailed home the William Muir and Chris Grassick trainee, who was ridden across the finish line in 2:29.60 by P.J. McDonald.
“Pyledriver is a horse that when he hits the front, he always runs around. I thought when I came on the outside he’d be okay but, when I gave him a dig one side, he’s lugged one way and then the other,” said McDonald. “It just goes to show how much ability he has that he’s not concentrating on running in a straight line. I straightened him up each time, but I think he’s a very comfortable winner and I don’t think anyone can take it away from him.
“I haven’t sat on this horse since last year’s King George—the lads just said you keep away, you’re better off not complicating things. And what a performance to get this fella back today.
“I think they had him pretty fit. Today was only ever a starting point moving forward to the King George, so to get the win under his belt is a massive bonus. We have a superstar horse, I just need to keep him in a straight line!”
Pyledriver started as the 3-1 second choice, which made him one of the shortest-priced winners on closing day. It stood in stark contrast to the outcome of the Jersey (G3), a seven-furlong sprint for three-year-olds that saw Age of Kings (33-1) lead home Zoology (34-1) and Streets of Gold (36-1). Holloway Boy, Olivia Maralda, Holguin, Flight Plan, Thunderbear, Covey, Alexander John, Enfjaar, Mysterious Night, The Antarctic, Empty Metaphor, and Quar Shamar completed the order of finish.
Age of Kings, the lesser-regarded of two Aidan O’Brien trainees, raced in second place for much of the journey before kicking on under jockey Wayne Lordan to win by one length in 1:26.93. The victory marked a sharp turnaround from his 10th-place finish in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) one month ago.
“Age Of Kings tries hard,” said O’Brien. “Wayne kept it uncomplicated and said he’d get a mile if we wanted. The Guineas was only his first run of the year, it was a very good run, and he came forward from that.”
The only other stakes contested on Saturday was the Chesham S. for two-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs, in which 13-1 shot Snellen dug deep under Gary Carroll to beat Pearls and Rubies by a head in 1:29.36. The Gavin Cromwell-trained filly is now unbeaten in two starts, having previously won her debut over the same distance at Limerick.
Rounding out Royal Ascot were three minor events. The six-furlong Wokingham saw Saint Lawrence rally boldly to win by one length at odds of 16-1, giving jockey Hollie Doyle her third win of the meet and trainer Archie Watson his third win as well. The 1 1/4-mile Golden Gate went to 20-1 longshot Burdett Road, with Neil Callan riding on behalf of Michael Bell. Lastly, the about 2 3/4-mile Queen Alexandra saw Joseph O’Brien’s Dawn Rising tenaciously turn back a bid from The Grand Visir to prevail by half a length under Ryan Moore.
The Queen Alexandra outcome gave Moore six wins at the meet, placing him atop the Royal Ascot jockey rankings for the 10th time. Frankie Dettori (four wins) and Hollie Doyle were the only others to win three or more races.
The battle for leading trainer honors came down to the wire. Aidan O’Brien and the team of John and Thady Gosden each secured four wins over five days, but a tie-breaking procedure counting runner-up finishes awarded the title to O’Brien, whose six seconds trumped the one runner-up finish recorded by the Gosdens.
The leading owner at Royal Ascot was Coolmore Partners with four wins, double the totals posted by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, AMO Racing Limited & Partners, and Wathnan Racing.