Racing: Brave Azamour lays claim to mile crown

They came in search of clarity to Royal Ascot yesterday, to find the finest miler in all of Europe. There was indeed definition, in the shape of Azamour's warrior victory in the St James's Palace Stakes and the Queen Anne Stakes redemption of Refuse To Bend.

They came in search of clarity to Royal Ascot yesterday, to find the finest miler in all of Europe. There was indeed definition, in the shape of Azamour's warrior victory in the St James's Palace Stakes and the Queen Anne Stakes redemption of Refuse To Bend.

Yet the identity of the true eight-furlong champion in these parts remains a mystery. There were further puzzles rather than a single answer, as Six Perfections performed woefully among the older generation, while Haafhd and Bachelor Duke, the respective winners of the English and Irish Guineas, both failed to reproduce their Classic level.

Azamour, who was placed at both Newmarket and the Curragh, chose a hot day with a merciful breeze to announce he had attained full racing maturity. John Oxx's colt was purposefully ridden by Michael Kinane, unleashed down the outside and a momentarily vulnerable centrepiece to the challenging bookends of France's Diamond Green on the inside and the Irish horse Antonius Pius. His fibre, though, was the strongest.

"He is very tough and with a great temperament," the trainer confirmed. "He stays well and runs all the way to the line. He is a real athlete, courageous and genuine. In fact, he is a horse who has everything."

It was a sixth success in the race for Kinane and almost certainly the sweetest, as he repelled Antonius Pius, the Coolmore property of his previous employers.

"Michael was holding a bit in reserve for the last few strides and I know he is a master at that," Oxx added. "I've been getting beat by him for 15 years at home in Ireland, getting done over the last six strides. Today he did it for us. Anybody who is watching Michael Kinane day in and day out knows there is still no better jockey riding. He is phenomenal." Azamour is now likely to step up in distance and the International Stakes at York followed by Leopardstown's Irish Champion Stakes looks the likely route. That means he will move out of the orbit of fourth-placed Haafhd, who, on this occasion, failed to produce the sudden surge which propelled him to celebrity over the Rowley Mile. The Sussex Stakes now seems his preference.

"He had a lovely run through the race and when I expected him to pick up two lengths he didn't," Barry Hills, the trainer, said. "He wasn't the horse that he was in the 2000 Guineas. But horses are not machines and I would like to get him into a nice rhythm of races."

Refuse To Bend had apparently become an impotent figure since his 2,000 Guineas success last season, but yesterday he was back as a contender, moving majestically and responding generously to the multiple whip strokes of Frankie Dettori which earned the jockey a one-day ban. They were probably required, however, as it was only close home that the Godolphin colt overhauled Soviet Song.

It may not have been Refuse To Bend's last chance, but the clock was ticking down. "Obviously he is a high-profile horse, a Sadler's Wells colt who is a Guineas winner," Simon Crisford, the Dubai team's racing manager, said. "It would have been pointless persevering with him for too long if he hadn't shown any spark."

More than anything, connections were comforted that Refuse To Bend was finally reproducing his scorching gallops work. "Today he travelled well the whole way and even when he was boxed in he was going well," Dettori reported. "When a horse is going forward he gets you out of trouble. The Group Ones are the ones that count at this meeting and it's a relief to get the first one in the bag."

Dettori's day began less auspiciously when he and Council Member were cut down in the closing stages of the Coventry Stakes. The Italian would not have heard the winner creeping up on him, because Kieren Fallon is one of the quieter jockeys in the weighing room, not a man given to whistling and screaming encouragement to his mounts. Dettori knew soon enough though that the champion jockey and Iceman cometh.

The most enchanting win of the card though was provided by Milton Bradley, the bargain basement trainer registering his first win at the Royal meeting. The Monmouthshire dairy farmer has always been used to also milking applause on the racetracks down the years, but here, at the age of 69, came his greatest moment, as The Tatling, the horse he once claimed at Catterick, scooted down the centre of the course to pass Cape Of Good Hope and collect the King's Stand Stakes.

"He showed a lot of magic as a two-year-old, but he's had loads of problems," Bradley said. "He's got nuts and bolts in his knees and I thought if I could mend them then I would have a racehorse. I've always felt the best way to deal with horses is not to do it your way but theirs and meet them at half-way. We've had a lot of success with horses with problems. Just think what we could do with straight horses."

The Royal meeting is not a natural lair for John Milton Bradley and he did not indulge in the sartorial funny stuff. "Royal Ascot is something that I can't really believe, it's magic," he added. "But I didn't wear a morning suit because I didn't think I'd be standing in here to be honest."

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Camp Commander

(Royal Ascot 4.20)

NB: Crimson Palace

(Royal Ascot 3.05)

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