November 30, 2021

Royal Ascot: Palace Pier, Oxted, Poetic Flare kick off Group 1 action

Palace Pier winning the Queen Anne S. (G1) - Photo by Ascot Racecourse/Megan Ridgwell/Racenews
Palace Pier winning the Queen Anne S. (G1) - Photo by Ascot Racecourse/Megan Ridgwell/Racenews

All hail Palace Pier, magnificent miler of the highest caliber!

The 2021 Royal Ascot meeting in England opened with its traditional bang on Tuesday. A deep field squared off over a straight mile in the Queen Anne S. (G1), with Palace Pier delivering a resounding victory worth of his 2-7 favoritism.

Victory was never seriously in doubt for the son of Kingman, who entered off eye-catching tallies in the Sandown Mile (G2) and Lockinge S. (G1). Under the guidance of Frankie Dettori, Royal Ascot’s all-time leading active jockey, Palace Pier was always prominent, tracking a slow pace set by longshot Prince Eiji and 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Order of Australia.

“I think we were very aware that there was no pace in the race,” said John Gosden, who trains Palace Pier in partnership with his son Thady. “Frankie said, ‘I’m drawn where I am so I’ll stay on the wing’ because we suspected a slow pace, which is what we got—a slow pace and a slow time—but then, don’t sit out the back when they kick, with two and a half, three to run.”

When the real running began, Palace Pier was much the best. Taking command with confidence, the bay four-year-old edged away to beat the multiple Group 1-placed Lope Y Fernandez by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:39.18. Sir Busker and Lord Glitters completed the superfecta, followed by Pogo, Top Rank, Accidental Agent, Order of Australia, Bless Him, Regal Reality, and Prince Eiji.

 “He has done it really smoothly; he has come through, won his race, and is exactly like his father [Kingman], as soon as he gets there, he has done enough,” continued Gosden. “And if I worked him at home with a very ordinary horse, he’d just stay with them—that’s his game.

“If you are odds-on like that, it would be a bit odd if you weren’t nervous, because your only thing round the corner is a banana skin, so it can happen. He had a normal blow afterwards—he has done more in his work at home than he did today. I’ve been second in this race three times—it took Thady to get me over the line!”

Gosden indicated major miles like the Sussex S. (G1) and the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) are potential targets for Palace Pier’s summer campaign, with the Juddmonte International (G1) over 1 5/16 miles an option for stretching out in trip. It remains to be seen whether the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum colorbearer will pursue a start in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar, for which the Queen Anne awarded a “Win and You’re In” berth.

The King’s Stand S.

The Queen Anne wasn’t the only important prize on opening day at Royal Ascot. The King’s Stand S. (G1) attracted 16 speedy sprinters to dash five furlongs over the straight course. The race was widely expected to go in favor of defending winner Battaash, the 11-8 favorite. But when Battaash faltered from a tracking position to finish fourth, Oxted had little difficulty rallying from off the pace to score by a clear-cut 1 3/4 lengths, hitting the wire in :59.03.

Winner of the July Cup (G1) last summer, the five-year-old gelding was ridden to victory by Cieren Fallon on behalf of trainer Roger Teal. Arecibo rallied for second place, a neck clear of the American shipper and Al Quoz Sprint (G1) winner Extravagant Kid. Keep Busy, Liberty Beach, King’s Lynn, Stone of Destiny, Winter Power, Acklam Express, Maven, Ornate, Harry’s Bar, Que Amoro, Ubettabelieveit, and Glamorous Anna came home behind Battaash to round out the order of finish.

“I got a lovely trip, they went a real solid gallop early on,” said Fallon, who was securing his first victory at Royal Ascot. “I didn’t panic, normally he’s a horse that can be quite keen, but I just gave him his head, let him get into a nice rhythm and just picked up when I needed to. He’s just shown that the July Cup isn’t a fluke. He is a proper Group 1 horse.”

Roger Teal likewise picked up his first win at the royal meeting. “It’s just unbelievable. I mean I’m speechless because we’ve dreamt about these days for so long, I mean we had it in the July Cup last year, but a Royal Ascot Group 1. I mean, come on! A yard of our size, doing this is amazing.”

St James’s Palace S.

Later in the afternoon, the remarkably durable Poetic Flare roared to a runaway triumph in the St James’s Palace S. (G1). Running for the fifth time in two months, the 2000 Guineas (G1) winner trounced Lucky Vega and Battleground by 4 1/4 lengths under jockey Kevin Manning, reiterating his status as Europe’s leading three-year-old miler. The Jim Bolger trainee negotiated one mile over the round course in 1:37.40.

“I couldn’t believe that I was traveling so well and was half sitting down rather than having to go forward,” Manning said. “He’s an unbelievable horse. He’s a very tough individual who does himself very well. He has taken his racing very well.”

Coventry S.

Rounding out the Group stakes action was the Coventry S. (G2) for two-year-olds sprinting six furlongs. Newbury debut winner Berkshire Shadow was dismissed at 11-1 in the betting, but produced a sharp rally under Oisin Murphy to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Eldrickjones and Vintage Clarets. The Andrew Balding trainee stopped the clock in 1:13.55.

“To look at, he looks big and immature,” said Murphy. “It’s only his second career start, he’s a big imposing horse who is going to improve a lot with time. He has done incredibly well.”

Racing at Royal Ascot continues on Wednesday with four more group stakes, including the Prince of Wales’s S. (G1), a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).