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Pearl divinely bright in Coronation

Royal Ascot: The Irish take the biggest prize but lend an air of Cheltenham exuberance to the Flat's more staid premier Festival; GREG WOOD reports from Ascot
For a few exhilarating minutes yesterday, Ascot was in Gloucestershire. Ridgewood Pearl had won the Coronation Stakes for Ireland, and the winner's enclosure was seized by a delight rarely seen outside Cheltenham, an exuberance so strong that even Sean Coughlan's tightly-buttoned waistcoat could not contain it.

Coughlan, Ridgewood Pearl's owner and breeder, has now brought a horse to the Royal meeting four times and left as a winner on every occasion, so it was little surprise to find joy bubbling out of him so rapidly that no one else could keep up.

"I'm the luckiest man on earth," Coughlan said with little danger of contradiction, "and I'm very lucky to be mixed up with John Oxx [the filly's trainer]. He said this morning that the going was perfect for us, and she's proved that by beating the course record."

The going was the reason that Ridgewood Pearl started at 9-2, despite her convincing defeat of Harayir, the 15-8 favourite yesterday, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on a soft surface at The Curragh last month. From the off, though, both Ridgewood Pearl and her rider, John Murtagh, were clearly as satisfied with the fast going as the rest of her connections, and the race was over the instant Murtagh kicked on two furlongs out. Smolensk ran on into second, with Harayir a forlorn and well-beaten third.

Next it was cue Coughlan, and he did not disappoint. There was the story of his yellow and white silks, chosen to match the colours of the Pope, and of his arrival in Britain 38 years ago without even the money to buy a beer. There was fulsome praise, too, for John Oxx, and gratitude to an even higher influence.

"I always talk to God," Coughlan said. "Before I get up I talk to God, when I'm in bed I talk to God and in the middle of the night I talk to God. It has always worked very well for me."

On a more secular note, Cilldara Golf Club, near The Curragh, is the only place to be this weekend. "On Sunday we'll be having the biggest party there ever was," Coughlan said, and you felt sure that the whole world was invited.

Oxx was saddling his first winner at the Royal meeting, and he was not alone. David Loder, too, was enjoying the moment after Blue Duster's success in the Queen Mary Stakes, and the relaxed manner of her victory suggested that we will see few better juveniles fillies this season, even if the quotes of 14-1 for the 1996 1,000 Guineas are a little extreme.

Loder's strike-rate with two-year-olds this year is now 12 winners from 16 runners, but the trainer seemed sure that Blue Duster is the best of his juveniles. "There's one or two nice ones to come, but for me this filly has always been the star," he said. "She's just so laid-back and you don't know how much is in the tank."

The ease of Michael Kinane's victory on Blue Duster was matched only, surprisingly, by his later success on Realities in the Royal Hunt Cup. After following Chickawicka's lead down the far side, Michael Kinane sent Realities past Darnay, the top weight, with a minimum of fuss to win easing up by a length and a quarter.

Kinane had to work much harder on Stelvio in the Queen's Vase, but he eventually coaxed (some might say forced) Henry Cecil's runner past Double Eclipse in the final strides, having looked a lost cause three out. The treble left Kinane the hot favourite to be the meeting's leading rider, with four winners to his credit already, ahead of Willie Carson on two, and half a dozen with a single success.

One of that number is Richard Hughes, who steered Sergeyev to victory in the Jersey Stakes and started a sequence which saw an Irish jockey aboard every one of the afternoon's winners. Ireland dominated the Royal meeting in every way yesterday, and Ascot was immeasurably the better for it.

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