Royal Ascot is traditionally a genteel affair: picnics in the car parks, Pimms on the lawns and carriages lazily transporting the House of Windsor down the home straight. Then the racing starts.
The predicted tempest yesterday arrived not from the heavens but on the turf during a turbulent running of the St James's Palace Stakes. It was a compellingly ugly race.
Posterity will learn that Zafeen won the Group One contest, but will not fully appreciate the manner of victory. For while Mick Channon's huge colt turned in a career-best effort he succeeded largely because he was the only horse to enjoy an unhindered passage. For him it was a perfect storm.
The violence to come could not be imagined as the 11 runners quietly circled the monarchy in Ascot's verdant paddock. The ashen Clodovil was there, transporting the co-ordinating grey colours of Christophe Soumillon, Kalaman, the favourite, swished his tail, and awe was created by the ample dimensions of Indian Haven and Zafeen.
The race itself boiled over just after the 11-strong field wheeled into the straight. Two furlongs out all the tables were tipped up and, like plenty of mass brawls, it was difficult to identify the perpetrator. There were plenty of contributions to the roughhouse. Indian Haven dropped back in the centre, as did France on the rail. Clodovil bounced off him towards the centre of the course and Monsieur Bond started edging in from the stands side. The walls were closing in. Zafeen, meanwhile, had been in the toilets.
By the time he emerged down the outside, the squabble was having a terminal effect on the prospects of Kalaman, who was stopped dead twice. By the time Johnny Murtagh extricated his mount and restored equilibrium Zafeen had gone. Kalaman got back to within a length and was almost certainly the moral winner, the sort you don't get paid out on.
The official interpretation of events was that Monsieur Bond had been the sole miscreant. His jockey, Paul Scallan, in black and yellow silks and probably skin to match in the coming days, received the additional sting of a three-day suspension. It was deemed he had caused interference through careless riding, firstly to Indian Haven and then Kalaman. There was an argument though that Monsieur Bond had been intimidated towards the inside by Zafeen.
Nevertheless, Channon's horse survived. When Zafeen returned he was breathing barely more heavily than his trainer. "When he kicked I knew it would take a bloody good horse to beat him," a hyperventilating Channon said. "I love winning anywhere but this is a bit special. This means a lot to Mick Channon and all the people at West Ilsley."
The pain in the afternoon's other Group One race, the Queen Anne Stakes, was felt more communally as Hawk Wing buried any notion that he could be a modern monster of the track. The beast of the Lockinge was an emasculated creature in Berkshire, eventually dragging himself home in seventh place. He was lame.
For Ballydoyle, it was another puncture in what has been a spasmodic season. Whether Hawk Wing can be repaired once again must itself be a sore point. "He obviously wasn't a shadow of the horse on that [Newbury] day," Aidan O'Brien, the trainer, said.
Hawk Wing, the 8-13 favourite, was one off the rail, just in behind, during the early stages. Kinane filtered his mount to the outside to get a clear run, but distress was already evident. Hawk Wing's head started going up in the air.
Frankie Dettori, on Dubai Destination, looked across and liked what he saw. The Italian shot to the front on what was not a fully compliant partner. Every time Dubai Destination was struck with the whip he responded with a swish of his tail.
Even so, this four-length victory for Godolphin was evidence that horses can complete rehabilitations and Dubai Destination looked back to the prowess which had seen off Rock Of Gibraltar as a juvenile. The road for Dubai Destination now looks long and glittering with Goodwood's Sussex Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita along the way.
* Trainer Paul Perry's decision to bring Choisir from Newcastle, 100 miles from Sydney, rewrote the history books as the 25-1 chance became the first Australian-based horse to win on British soil in the King's Stand Stakes. Perry said: "Horses from this side of the world have won two Melbourne Cups so they will love this back home and it will square things up."
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