Aidan O'Brien always insists that the best horses in his care would be effective over any trip. As a rule, his claims of versatility are made on behalf of colts whose "natural speed" would equally qualify them to win sprints - not to mention lucrative opportunities at stud. In the remarkable case of Yeats, however, he yesterday stretched the point.
This colt is so effective over a mile and a half that he was once favourite for the Derby. Unfortunately he missed the Classic after pulling muscles in his back, but he did return the following summer and won himself a Group One prize over the same course and distance in the Coronation Cup. Yesterday, over two and a half miles, he made his first start since last autumn in a race that permits no chink in stamina or fitness, and discovered himself to be a champion.
Overnight he has refreshed a category of the sport threatened with staleness by the retirement of Westerner, who had beaten Distinction just half a length in this race at York last year. This time Distinction, foiled in a photo for second by Reefscape, trudged home more than four lengths behind the winner.
Beforehand the doubt about Yeats had been that he might not last the distance - basically, that he would be too good to win. Those who took the chance were rewarded by odds of 7-1 against the horse with the highest official rating in the field, and will have felt very smug indeed as they watched Yeats cruising just off the pace set by the outsider, High Action.
Fallon had no hesitation in launching him for home with fully two furlongs to run, and his mount strode out with corresponding conviction. "I knew I was on by far the best horse and that if he stayed he would win," the jockey said. "When I asked him to go, he was electric. It has been a great training performance to get him back for this after so long."
As usual, O'Brien deflected credit to his staff back in Co Tipperary, but there is no question that his gifts are equal to the great opportunities provided by his patrons at Coolmore Stud. They pay him to produce stallions, but Istabraq has already shown O'Brien to be every bit as versatile as any horse he might send prospecting over different distances. He may find stimulating novelty in a champion stayer, especially if encouraged to take him to Melbourne in November.
"We're lucky that his owners decided to let a horse of that quality go this route," he said. "They give everybody time and nobody is forced into doing things. We'll think about Melbourne, but he might be given too much weight now."
Reefscape may yet be sent to Australia, but there was a tragic postscript when Media Puzzle, who won the Melbourne Cup in 2002, was put down after being pulled up with a leg injury. Only pride was hurt in the case of Sergeant Cecil, despite being involved in a barging match on the home bend. According to Alan Munro, his mount "never batted an eyelid", but he could manage only fifth even so.
Munro had earlier added to his success of Araafa on the opening day by again gaining first run against a fast-finishing rival in the Norfolk Stakes. Hoh Mike would surely have gone close but for a narrow gap on the rail disappearing as Jamie Spencer tried to pierce the field from the rear. Michael Bell, his trainer, consoled himself by suggesting that he probably had "the best two-year-old seen out so far" - a claim he will test in the July Stakes at Newmarket.
None could begrudge the winner, however. His owners were devastated last week when they lost Majors Cast in an accident on the gallops, while his trainer was celebrating a first Royal Ascot winner since a period of exile in Hong Kong. "When I first came back I never thought this would happen," Peter Chapple-Hyam admitted. "But it's taken a while - this is my third season back - and last year, when the horses were sick and I was getting slated, I thought about giving it up."
Spencer had better fortune when extending a golden spell in his partnership with James Fanshawe - they had prospered the previous day with Soviet Song and Cesare - by landing a gamble on Sir Gerard in the Britannia Handicap. The colt had to weave through from the rear and looks sure to keep progressing for a trainer who deserves to make his stable one of the most prosperous in Newmarket.
Meanwhile one of the town's fading giants, Henry Cecil, proved unable to muster a 71st Royal Ascot winner when Novellara trailed home eighth in the Ribblesdale Stakes. The 25-1 success of Mont Etoile instead brought a man with an even longer Ascot CV back into the winner's enclosure.
The filly's owners include Lester Piggott, who rode 116 winners here and also trained a winner before deciding that he was better off leaving that kind of pressure to his son-in-law, William Haggas.