Sprinting six furlongs doesn’t leave much time to recover from a poor start, but Shaquille made it work on Friday at Royal Ascot. Despite rearing up at the start of the Commonwealth Cup (G1), Shaquille made steady progress to win the prestigious dash for three-year-olds in an 8-1 upset.
Shaquille’s talent obviously played a big part; he entered the Commonwealth Cup off four consecutive victories, including a two-length win in the Carnarvon S. at Newbury. But credit must also be given to jockey Oisin Murphy, who didn’t panic when Shaquille broke dead last. Instead, Murphy allowed his mount to gain ground gradually before threading through the pack to beat 3-5 favorite Little Big Bear by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:13.15.
Pacesetter Swingalong held on for third place, followed by Ocean Quest, Rumstar, Queen Me, Shouldvebeenaring, Mischief Magic, Noble Style, Lezoo, The X O, Marbaan, and Sakheer.
Shaquille’s victory after losing ground at the start surprised even winning trainer Julie Camacho. “I thought, ‘well that’s it, he’s blown his chance’,” said Camacho. “I’ve just watched it live and would like to go back and watch it properly—he was good, wasn’t he?
“When he started to run, I thought, ‘he’s going to be placed’ and that he would run a big race, but then I thought ‘oh my God, he’s going to win’. I am a bit speechless.”
Murphy was pleasantly surprised as well. “I thought the race was almost over. You just have to take a deep breath and then try to get onto the back of them (the other runners) smoothly. You just have to hope they’ve gone too fast and will slow down at the end.
“I got to the back of Ryan (Moore, riding Little Big Bear) quite easily without having to go for him, but I had to sustain an effort from quite a long way out. It really was a tremendous task that he managed to overcome.”
Friday’s second top-level prize, the Coronation (G1) for three-year-old fillies racing one mile over the round course, also produced its fair share of drama. Tahiyra started as the 1-5 favorite off a win in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and a second in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1), and the Dermot Weld trainee ran to expectations, gradually rallying from last place under Chris Hayes to beat Remarquee and Sounds of Heaven by one length in 1:41.69.
However, Tahiyra drifted in down the lane and interfered with Remarquee, prompting a stewards’ inquiry. Fortunately for bettors who backed the heavy favorite, the results were allowed to stand, giving Weld his second Coronation victory following Sutton Place in 1978.
“I have been very fortunate,” said Weld. “I’ve won many Group 1s around the world, I think this is my 18th Group race to win here at Royal Ascot. I have been very fortunate in life.”
The last-to-first rallying strategy wasn’t the preferred strategy for Tahiyra; Hayes was forced to adapt after Tahiyra failed to get off to an ideal start.
“Tahiyra loaded late into the stalls. She got a little agitated for a second and lost her hind-end on me,” said Hayes, who was securing his first victory at Royal Ascot. “I wanted to be closer, but she was running keen because she half frightened herself. I had to ride her nice and cool and get her to relax; it was a slow pace and she did well considering she was running at a quickening pace (in the straight). She had a little look at the stands for half a stride. I can’t wait to ride this filly in a properly run mile race to really see what she’s made of.”
“I was a little bit concerned in the early part of the race, but Chris did the right thing to take her back,” said Weld. “Plan B came into action, which was to take your time—it’s a long straight at Ascot and she has brilliant speed, and that’s what he did.”
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner Meditate faded from a pacesetting position to finish fourth, while Queen For You and Mammas Girl completed the order of finish.
The King Edward VII (G2) for three-year-olds racing 1 1/2 miles unfolded in virtually the same fashion as the Coronation, with 3-5 choice King of Steel rallying from last place to beat a small field by 1 1/4 lengths despite drifting inward and mildly bothering runner-up Continuous in the homestretch. But the outcome was never really in doubt, with King of Steel reaffirming the fine form he displayed when second in the Derby (G1) at Epsom 20 days ago.
“It is a relief! When they run so big in the Derby, you want them to back it up,” said winning trainer Roger Varian. “We were confident King of Steel would, but this is horse racing!”
Kevin Stott guided King of Steel to the finish line in 2:35.30 while Artistic Star, Dubai Mile, Arrest, and Relentless Voyager completed the order of finish.
The battle for leading jockey honors at Royal Ascot took a twist in the Albany (G3), a six-furlong sprint for two-year-old fillies. Porta Fortuna, a Donnacha O’Brien trainee coming off a victory in the Fillies Sprint (G3) at Naas, brought her record to a perfect 3-for-3 with a rallying victory under Frankie Dettori, stopping the clock in 1:13.97.
“This is a solid filly—she’s speedy, she’s got a turn of foot and she gave me an armchair ride,” said Dettori. “Well done Donnacha. At the moment this filly feels like a sprinter, but only time will tell.”
Matrika settled for second place, followed by Soprano, Persian Dreamer, Pretty Crystal, Komat, Dawn Charger, Carla’s Way, Gushing Gold, Navassa Island, Jabaara, Passionately, Do It With Style, Rating, Flaccianello, Mapmaker, and Sarakana.
Prevailing aboard Porta Fortuna gave Dettori his third win of the meet, and later in the day he nabbed the Sandringham H. aboard John and Thady Gosden’s Coppice. With four wins, Dettori is within striking range of top-ranked Ryan Moore (five wins) heading into the final day of the meet.
Moore picked up a Friday winner of his own in the Duke of Edinburgh H., guiding Okita Soushi to victory on behalf of Joseph O’Brien. The day’s final event was the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in which Hollie Doyle picked up her second win of the meet by urging Rhythm N Hooves to a neck triumph.
Among trainers, John and Thady Gosden lead the Royal Ascot rankings with four wins, followed closely by Aidan O’Brien (three wins).
Royal Ascot wraps up on Saturday with four more stakes, including the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1), a six-furlong dash in which American raider Big Invasion hopes to secure his first top-level victory.