It has been a treasure which Alec Wildenstein has coveted for three decades and the Ascot Gold Cup, the centrepiece of the Royal meeting, was finally delivered to the French art dealer owner yesterday by Westerner.
The six-year-old won by a neck from Distinction, but that was an unreliable statistic which did not fully explain the superiority of the horse expertly guided by Olivier Peslier. For the jockey it was a comfortable journey. The same cannot be said for the Wildensteins as they have pursued the oldest surviving contest at this meeting.
That perhaps added to the exhilaration of Wildenstein, who learned of the legend of this race at his father's knee. "My family have waited a long time for this day," he said. "Father used to tell me about the Gold Cup when I was a little boy and this is one of the races we have wanted to win most."
The Wildensteins have never suffered experts, never mind fools, gladly. That family trait surfaced after the 1978 Gold Cup, in which Buckskin, the 11-8 favourite, was fourth under Pat Eddery. As a consequence of the ride, Papa Wildenstein removed all his horses from Peter Walwyn to Henry Cecil. They were soon on their travels again when exception was taken to Lester Piggott's effort on Vacarme one day at Goodwood. It could be considered a little picky to so swiftly discard those two particular jockeys.
It was, however, no nationalistic thing. The Wildenstein string have briefly visited the yard of France's most celebrated trainer, André Fabre, and also had a spell under the guidance of a French champion jockey in Dominique Boeuf. That was until Boeuf rode Vallee Enchantee in last year's Coronation Cup, when, according to Alec Wildenstein, he was less than great. The owner insisted his jockey was an "asshole".
This then was the backdrop for Peslier's turn in the hot saddle and it was the jockey's greatest skill that he never appeared fazed by the pressures of guiding the 7-4 favourite.
Small explosions detonated across the Knavesmire after the stalls opened and a field of 17, a joint record in Gold Cup history, thundered over the sanded terrain. Papineau, the winner last year, was up front, prancing along like a car-bonnet statuette, then Jardines Lookout did his turn at the front of the peloton. Most compelling, though, was Westerner, clamped confidently on to the rail and travelling beautifully. It was as if his jockey had already seen a video of the race.
The pace diminished, but there was no similar effect on Peslier's faith. As the field ran off the final bend and across to the stands side, the rider began to play 10 little indians, picking off his rivals one by one until only the massive frame of Distinction remained. The biggest horse was then also cut down. "He felt always confident as he was passing horses," Peslier reported. "He finishes well. That is his best quality."
The assurance was not confined to the horse. Peslier was asked how he had prepared for the Group One race. "I put a bottle of champagne in the fridge," he said.
Throughout the mission Westerner wore earplugs, a rather unnecessary embellishment considering the reaction of the crowd as he stole to victory. Because of what has gone before the air was not exactly black with top hats. Racegoers may have remembered Wildenstein's reaction last season when Papineau beat Westerner in this race. "The dope-testing machine must be broken," he said.
The audience response was a little unfortunate considering the stylishly quick kill Westerner had effected in becoming the first French Gold Cup winner since Sagaro completed his hat-trick in 1977. His acceleration so giddied Wildenstein that he talked about dropping back to 12 furlongs for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
The day's numbers game was dominated by another veteran of the turf, John Dunlop. The Arundel trainer won the Ribblesdale Stakes with Thakafaat and saddled Jedburgh to success in the Buckingham Palace Stakes. They were sent off at 22-1 and 8-1, and were not the only long-priced winners to emerge from his stables. Dunlop also had a treble at Newbury and anyone who linked the five was rewarded by odds of 295,595-1. One Brighton-based punter did just that and is now £156,815 richer.Reuse content