June 15, 2021

Royal Ascot recap: O’Brien, Moore strike on opening day

Circus Maximus winning the 2019 St James's Palace (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

by J. Keeler Johnson

The first day of racing at Royal Ascot had a little something for everyone — winning favorites, upset victories, impressive performances and surprising defeats.

From the highs to the lows, here’s what stood out on opening day of the royal meeting:

The Highs

The star of the day was Blue Point, Godolphin’s talented sprinter. For the second straight year, the son of Shamardal out-battled Battaash to win the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes (G1), bringing his lifetime record to 10 wins from 19 starts. Now five years old, Blue Point is in career-best form this season with four victories from four starts, including a triumph in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on March 30 in Dubai. His King’s Stand victory was particularly impressive, as he readily turned back the challenge of Battaash to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths.

Also shining on opening day was Lord Glitters, a hard-trying veteran who picked up his first Group 1 score in the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) going a straight mile. Lord Glitters had to work hard, rallying from behind to edge Beat the Bank in a thrilling finish, and his narrow victory avenged the half-length defeat he suffered in the 2018 Queen Anne. He secured a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and it won’t be surprising to see Lord Glitters make the trip to North America this fall. His trainer, David O’Meara, has campaigned several runners on this side of the pond and actually sent Lord Glitters to contest the 2018 Woodbine Mile (G1) in Canada.

The Lows

The disappointments of the day were Phoenix of Spain and Too Darn Hot, the 1-2 finishers in the Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1). They were the favorites in the St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1), with Too Darn Hot the shortest price based off his sensational juvenile form, but both came up short when the real running began. Phoenix of Spain never seriously threatened and Too Darn Hot flattened out after making a bold bid down the straight, which allowed Circus Maximus — cutting back in distance off a sixth-place finish in the Epsom Derby (G1) — to steal the show at 10-1.

For Too Darn Hot, the St. James’s Palace Stakes marked his third straight defeat following an unbeaten two-year-old campaign. Perhaps he lacks the stamina to carry his class a mile or farther. Maybe the early-season setback that forced him to miss the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (G1) is still affecting his form. Trainer John Gosden, for one, believes the distance may have tripped up the favorite.

“It is just stamina,” Gosden said. “It wasn’t for him today. It is a stiff mile here and it just caught him out. He is a very powerfully built horse — he looks like a sprinter/miler… He needs seven furlongs or an easy mile. The Group 1 Sussex Stakes (one mile at Goodwood on July 31) will be next for him.”

How’s the Going?

As expected, rainfall caused course conditions to deteriorate throughout the afternoon. Said clerk of the course Chris Stickels, “We had five millimeters (up to 5.15pm) of rain today, which changed the going from ‘good’ on the straight course and ‘good, good to soft in places’ on the round course, to ‘soft’ all round after race five.”

The changing conditions made it impossible to draw conclusions regarding path biases on the straight course, but it’s safe to say handicappers should expect soft going — or worse — for the Wednesday card. “We are forecast further showers this evening, tonight and tomorrow morning,” added Stickels. “It is difficult to predict how much, but anything between four millimeters and eight millimeters.”

Fast Starts for O’Brien, Moore

Not surprisingly, Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore enjoyed plenty of success on opening day. They lead the trainer and jockey standings at the 2018 Royal Ascot meet, kicking off this year’s meet by scoring major stakes wins with Circus Maximums in the St. James’s Palace Stakes and Arizona in the Coventry Stakes (G2).

O’Brien was the only trainer to nab a double on opening day, but among jockeys, Daniel Tudhope replicated Moore in the win column by scoring aboard Lord Glitters in the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) and Addeybb in the Wolferton Stakes.

Jockey Wins

Ryan Moore – 2
Daniel Tudhope – 2
Richard Kingscote – 1
James Doyle – 1

Trainer Wins

Aidan O’Brien – 2
Charlie Appleby – 1
William Haggas – 1
David O’Meara – 1
Ian Williams – 1

Day two of Royal Ascot will be highlighted by the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1), with the Group 1-winning fillies Magical and Sea of Class vying for favoritism. Deirdre, seeking to become the first Japan-based runner to win at Royal Ascot, adds further intrigue to the deep and competitive field.

Enjoy the racing!