Racing: Palace win ends agony for Aga

Royal Ascot: The opening-day card brings an overdue success in Britain for one of France's outstanding trainers
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The Independent Online
ALAIN DE ROYER DUPRE is a big name, both in his native France and on the identifying badge that pierced his lapel here. However, yesterday's was an occasion when M. de Royer Dupre became a big name on the racetrack in Britain for the first time when Sendawar gave him his debut victory within these shores in the St James's Palace Stakes. It was a nice place to start.

The man is no fool. Multiple Classic victories in France, as well as big-race successes in Italy, Germany and the United States testify to that. But Britain had provided a challenge too far until yesterday, despite salvos with the likes of Daylami and Ashkalani. To be fair to de Royer Dupre, he had hardly made it easy for himself. "When you only run in Group Ones in England it is very difficult," he said. "But I thought this was the perfect horse for this race."

Sendawar, though, was hardly textbook beforehand. As Aljabr's imperious grey form strutted around the parade ring and Killer Instinct belied his name with the aggressive look of a koala bear, the French colt was throwing about his snout and swishing his tail as if warding off imaginary insects.

If that was a suggestion of mental frailty and skittishness it was not a message that fed its way up through Gerald Mosse's ornately decorated saddle. The French jockey effectively won the race on the turn into the straight, at which point he forced his way inside the flank of Debbie's Warning and into a challenging position. Aljabr took it up at the two- furlong marker, but the favourite's shadow soon fell across him. Sendawar was swiftly sent a length and a quarter clear.

"We broke out of the gate pretty fast and then all the way we never slowed down, even to go up the hill," Mosse reported. "So I just took my time to turn well and get my horse balanced and asked him to go at the 400- metre mark.

"My ride was confident because I knew I had the best horse. I just tried to keep myself out of trouble. The way my horse was travelling, so well, I didn't have to work to come. I was sure the power was there. He has beaten everyone in France and now in England too so for sure he is a champion."

It was evocative also to see the green and red colours of the Aga Khan transported so brilliantly up the Ascot straight, just as Shergar had done in high summer 18 years ago. The Aga Khan has had a monumental wrestle with the British authorities over the Oaks disqualification of his Aliysa since then - a spat which removed his colours from our racecourses for five years - but now Group One order has been restored. He rather enjoyed the moment.

"I've missed it a great deal," he said. "You can't race in Europe and not enjoy racing in England. That's a contradiction in terms. And I don't think there is a big race we ever run in without butterflies, no matter where it is and what horse it is."

David Elsworth, too, endured something of a self-enforced sabbatical when he moved away from his old Whitsbury stamping ground, but he confirmed resurrection was complete back at the old place when Lear Spear won the Prince Of Wales's Stakes, his 11th Royal winner but first since 1990.

Elsworth's eye for a racehorse is supposedly unmatched, but the story behind Lear Spear's purchase is rather prosaic for the legend. He was bought at the Keeneland Sales just to complete a consignment. "I had a ticket booked on a plane to Gatwick and had bought a few yearlings, but I had space for another so I bought this one on spec," he said. "It had certainly not been my plan to get him and perhaps it's best when you buy them like that.

"It wasn't a total surprise today [though a 20-1 starting- price might have suggested so] even though we were asking more of him than we had ever done before. Horses are magical creatures and when they start to improve you never know when they're going to stop.

"This is an improving horse and, at the business end of the race, he found more than anyone else. They had all done their running and he had a little bit left. He is a proper racehorse."

It was a cosmopolitan afternoon for winning jockeys, as long as you were prepared to leave Britain out of the league of nations. Lear Spear's victory initiated a double for Michael Kinane, who was later successful in the Coventry Stakes with Fasliyev (who is now 16-1 with Coral for the 2000 2,000 Guineas).

Kinane's fellow Irishman Kieren Fallon triumphed for Henry Cecil, and Frankie Dettori helped another regular Royal winner, John Gosden, into the winners' enclosure. The most delirious winner, though, was the first. Gary Stevens emerged to discuss Cape Cross's win in the Queen Anne Stakes bathed in so much sweat that he appeared to have just been apple bobbing. The American seemed prepared to replace the liquid in grand Royal Ascot tradition.