June 25, 2012
If it is possible to construct a racing festival more perfectly than the British did at Royal Ascot, there are few things one might change. Weatherwise it worked out well and the horses performed as brilliantly as one could only hope.
At the head of all the activity were the races which bookended the festival at Royal Ascot, the Queen Anne Stakes, won by Frankel by 11 lengths, and the narrow win by the undefeated star, Black Caviar, in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
My personal thanks to those responsible for making the Royal Ascot races viewable in the United States over the TVG network. What we saw was the ultimate in racing, as racing becomes more of an international sport. I’m convinced that getting more of an international look to racing in America will be important to improving our status as a sport of relevance. At least the action from Royal Ascot looked that way.
Oddly the only item listed as down at Royal Ascot was attendance. There may have been some good explanations for that factor. There was no mention of mutuel handle being off or crowds at all disappointed for what they saw.
The most heralded persona at the Royal Ascot festival were the Queen herself and the most popular young couple in the world these days, Prince William and Princess Kate. As a matter of fact the most joyful picture I saw of the festival was one of the Queen and the Princess sharing a good laugh during the races one afternoon. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a picture of the Queen laughing and it took me by surprise.
The other great photo image of the week was the Queen petting the head of the brilliant Black Caviar following the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday. Of course the Diamond Jubilee was named in honor of the Queen and there is no more popular horse in the world than Black Caviar.
I felt the Black Caviar experience at Royal Ascot was quite similar to the Zenyatta experience at Oaklawn in 2010. The big exception was the race. Black Caviar is a sprinter only and was at her maximum distance of six furlongs for the Saturday feature. Thousands of her fans from Australia laid out nearly $10,000 to be on hand to see their national heroine travel out of her own hemisphere for the first time ever and to win her 22nd race in a row. A rather dramatic finish in the Diamond Jubilee became something for the history books when jockey Luke Nolen (remember that name for trivia contests at a later date) put his stick away as he and his mount approached the finish line. Nolen had obviously been clocking the competition on his right and ignoring the other side.
Driving up on the inside were Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent (two names also helpful in trivia contests in the future) and that pair came within a whisker of changing the results and the great feelings which followed the race.
For those of you attached to colors, the colors of the day were pink-and-black, the silks of Black Caviar, and may in the crowd of over 77,000 wore those colors in anticipation of the continuance of Black Caviar’s perfect record. As Nolen prepared to cruise to victory in the Diamond Jubilee, he set himself for one of the most infamous moments in racing history. Still the mare did win and afterwards there was the revelation that she had suffered some soft tissue injuries, which will keep her sidelined until November. Unlike here in the states, there was not an immediate commitment to retiring her. But she is six years old and not likely to improve much. It would appear that the intention is to return her to her home in Australia and race her in November. She’s entitled to a fitting finale in her homeland and that is possibly what a November race might be. She is the most heralded horse from Australia since Phar Lap, nearly 80 years ago, and thus far her story has a more glorious finish than that of Phar Lap. It is the subject of a likely movie at some point.
The action of closing day at Royal Ascot nearly eclipsed the brilliance of Frankel in his Tuesday win. He is easily the top-rated horse in training and, unfortunately for Americans, being pointed for his finale in late October at British Champions Day. That day will capture many of the horses which might otherwise have traveled to Breeders’ Cup. But it will be a great ending to a wonderful season in Europe and the British Isles. There is one more superstar, Camelot, to race in Europe this summer and he may very well share in the honors which were taken by Frankel and Black Caviar at Royal Ascot.
While we are rightfully proud of the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn, we have yet to enjoy a festival with the impact of Royal Ascot this year. There was so much to enjoy from England during those five days and it was all the better because we were able to see racing live and prospering, even though it was elsewhere. The success and popularity of thoroughbred racing can only improve with such a spectacular. It requires the product. We can’t achieve that by hurrying our horses off to the breeding shed with even the slightest injuries.
But we do need to spend more time in recruiting horses from other parts of the world to race in America. Perhaps some of the leading trainers elsewhere, with lots of horses, could be lured by the American Triple Crown. It would help if they were here and generating interest for our races around the globe.
I was very impressed with what I saw unfold in England last week. Their dreams had to be fulfilled, although the dramatic sequence of unfolding events could not have been predicted – even by the Queen, who also won a race during the week with one of her horses.
Our Breeders’ Cup concept may be impaired by the development of British Champions Day over the long run, but the more imaginative management of the major American tracks would do well to plan to get more of the top horses from other continents to participate on a regular basis in the United States. That would be my dream fulfilled.