by J. Keeler Johnson
As expected, the penultimate day of racing at Royal Ascot yielded no shortage of exciting moments and thrilling performances, though not always from the expected sources.
Arguably the best news of the day involved the condition of the course, which has been drying out after receiving plenty of rain during the first two days of the meet.
Let’s look back on the highs, lows, and noteworthy developments on Day 4 of Royal Ascot:
The most visually impressive performance of the afternoon was turned in by Japan, who annihilated seven rivals in the 1 1/2-mile King Edward VII Stakes (G2). Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, the Epsom Derby (G1) third-place finisher was reserved near the back of the pack early on, but came roaring past his rivals in the straight, powering clear with authority to score by 4 1/2 lengths.
“This is a high-class colt and he put the race to bed very easily there,” Moore said. “We went a pretty good pace. I was happy where I was rounding the home turn, as I was on the best horse.”
The King Edward VII often serves as a steppingstone toward the 1 13/16-mile St. Leger Stakes (G1), the third leg of the British Triple Crown, but Moore is confident Japan could be a major player in shorter and more prestigious races. “He is more than a St Leger horse, no disrespect to the race. This is a good horse and he will be a very effective mile and-a-half horse going forward.”
Frankie Dettori also booted home another big winner on Day 4, guiding Advertise up the far side of the straight course to upset the Commonwealth Cup (G1). It was Dettori’s third top-level victory of the meet, and for Advertise – winner of the Phoenix Stakes (G1) as a two-year-old – it marked a sharp rebound from his disappointing fifteenth-place finish in the 2,000 Guineas (G1) last month.
“He was pretty special over six furlongs last year,” said winning trainer Martyn Meade, “but the problem was I had trained him to run the mile and getting him switched off we thought how do we jazz him up again so maybe put the blinds (blinkers) on, just so he knows he has to sprint. Luckily, it did the job as he jumped and went. Clearly that demonstrates that this is his distance, if we can step him up a bit then clearly we will.”
The most noteworthy victory by a jockey on Day 4 was undoubtedly the triumph of Hayley Turner aboard Thanks Be in the Sandringham Handicap. By guiding the longshot filly to a narrow victory, Turner became only the second female jockey in history to win a race at Royal Ascot, and the first since Gay Kelleway achieved success at the royal meeting 32 years ago.
Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore teamed up with the heavy favorites Ten Sovereigns and Hermosa in the Commonwealth Cup (G1) and the Coronation Stakes (G1), but when push came to shove, these accomplished three-year-olds fell short of expectations. Ten Sovereigns came up empty when the real running began in the Commonwealth, struggling home fourth across the finish line, while Hermosa failed to out-kick longshot Watch Me in the Coronation and had to settle for second place.
The defeat of Ten Sovereigns wasn’t necessarily a huge shock since he had been clearly beaten in the 2,000 Guineas (G1), his 2019 debut, but Hermosa’s defeat was thoroughly unexpected. Having prevailed in the 1,000 Guineas (G1) and the Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1), Hermosa was favored at even-money to complete a hat trick of one-mile Group 1 tests, but she never really looked like a winner and failed to threaten Watch Me down the lane.
Notably, Watch Me was shipping in from France off an unplaced effort in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) (G1). In this meeting of French and British sophomore form, Watch Me’s rather decisive triumph over Hermosa brings into question the caliber of competition Hermosa defeated in her two Guineas victories.
It was also a disappointing day for American trainer Wesley Ward, whose two runners in the Albany Stakes (G3) – Chili Petin and Nayibeth – both finished unplaced. There has been at least one American winner at Royal Ascot every year since 2013, but if the streak is to continue, we’ll have to hope that one of Ward’s two runners on Saturday – longshots Joker on Jack in the Chesham Stakes and Bound for Nowhere in the Diamond Jubilee (G1) – can outrun expectations and nab a surprise victory.
How’s the Going?
After starting out “good to soft,” the course condition was upgraded to “good” halfway through the card, and the results reflected the impact of the quicker ground. The bias toward speed horses, so prominent on Day 2 but fading on Day 3, seemed to dissipate entirely on Day 4.
The victory by Japan in the King Edward VII Stakes (G2) was a clear example. Sweeping rallies from off the pace were a rarity over the soft going on Wednesday, but Japan had no difficulty utilizing a sharp turn-of-foot to roll past his rivals and win going away.
With more dry weather in the forecast for Saturday, expect a similarly fair track to prevail on the final day of the meet. But running styles aside, it should be noted that near-side runners still seem to hold an advantage over the straight course.
Moore Closes Ground on Dettori
With a double on Day 4, Ryan Moore managed to close a bit of ground against Frankie Dettori in the jockey standings, though since Dettori had a winner of his own, Moore remains the trailer by two wins with just six races left in the meet.
Dettori had a chance to essentially seal the deal in the Day 4 finale, but his mount Ben Vrackie fell just short of catching Moore’s Baghdad, so Dettori will enter the last day of racing leading Moore 7-5 rather than 8-4.
Among trainers, Aidan O’Brien picked up one more win to bring his total to five, three more than his closest pursuers. At this point, O’Brien is all but assured of claiming a second consecutive leading trainer title at the royal meeting.
Frankie Dettori – 7
Ryan Moore – 5
Daniel Tudhope – 3
Harry Bentley – 1
Pierre-Charles Boudot – 1
Jim Crowley – 1
James Doyle – 1
David Egan – 1
Seamie Heffernan – 1
Richard Kingscote – 1
Oisin Murphy – 1
Hayley Turner – 1
Aidan O’Brien – 5
John Gosden – 2
William Haggas – 2
Mark Johnston – 2
Sir Michael Stoute – 2
Charlie Appleby – 1
Andrew Balding – 1
Ralph Beckett – 1
Simon Crisford – 1
Charlie Fellowes – 1
Francis-Henri Graffard – 1
Charles Hills – 1
Martyn Meade – 1
David O’Meara – 1
Roger Varian – 1
Ian Williams – 1
The final day of racing at Royal Ascot will bring three more group stakes races, including the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1), in which Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes (G1) winner Blue Point will wheel back on short rest in search of a remarkable double.
Enjoy the racing!