Racing: Treble lifts Stoute's Knight-life

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The Independent Online
QUITE a lot has happened to Walter Swinburn since his last Royal Ascot in 1995. After a fall at Sha Tin in early 1996, he did not so much flirt with death as cancel the wedding when the invitations were already in the post. Twelve months ago, he was in the middle of a "sabbatical" to overcome weight problems which many assumed to be permanent.

Yet Swinburn was born with a racing brain and blessed with natural luck in running, and both have survived the challenges of recent years. In the Coronation Stakes here yesterday, he needed a touch of good fortune to find a run for Exclusive as they turned into the straight tight against the rail. Once the running room had appeared, however, no further luck was required, as Swinburn delivered a typically composed challenge to beat Zalaiyka, the 5-4 favourite, by a length and a half.

This was Sir Michael Stoute's first winner since we all had to start calling him "Sir" last weekend, so this latest Group One success seemed only fitting given his newly elevated status. It was also his third Coronation Stakes, following the victories of Sonic Lady and Milligram in the 1980s, and after a somewhat slow start this year, Exclusive could yet prove to be the equal of either.

"She came back a bit flat after the Nell Gwyn Stakes, and then ran really well in the 1,000 Guineas, which came plenty quick enough for her," Stoute said. "I felt after the Guineas mile that she would stay a mile and a quarter and she has plenty of big entries over both those distances, including the Eclipse."

The double-edged compliment which attached itself to Swinburn long ago was that he was the best big-race jockey in the business, and his ride on Exclusive yesterday was faultless.

"In the final furlong I knew I had the race won, whereas when I rode her before in the Guineas, she felt like a big, raw, weak filly," he said. "Royal Ascot really is a special occasion, the highlight of the year, and every race is like a Group One."

This may explain why Swinburn continued to ride with immense determination throughout the afternoon, eventually completing a treble for Stoute with wins on Maridpour (Queen's Vase) and Greek Palace (Bessborough Handicap).

Maridpour was a particularly convenient winner for the trainer, given that Zalaiyka, the French-trained runner-up to Exclusive, was attempting to give the Aga Khan his first Royal Ascot winner for 12 years. Thanks to Maridpour, this was a privilege which Stoute kept for himself.

Stoute's record at the Royal meeting now includes 33 winners. That of James Eustace extends no further than one, but it arrived in the Royal Hunt Cup yesterday and the trainer was duly overwhelmed with delight.

Refuse To Lose, who led on the stands side from the opening strides, beat off every challenge, although that of Fly To The Stars, the 6-1 favourite who was giving him two stone, proved particularly stern, for which the top weight deserves enormous credit.

"It's wonderful for a small yard like ours with just 23 horses," Eustace said. "I thought he might be the sort of horse for the Hunt Cup when he was running so well on the all-weather back in February, but 10 days ago I did not even think he would get into the race, it needed about 15 horses above him in the weights to come out."

Victory for Fly To The Stars would have completed an excellent day for punters, although on account of his name alone, Refuse To Lose was surely popular with the once-a-year racegoers.

There were winning favourites in the first two races, however, as Bint Allayl took the Queen Mary for Mick Channon - "this is just like football really, you have to be able to do it on the day" - and Diktat the Jersey Stakes for David Loder.

Diktat's path to better things is mapped out every bit as clearly as the straight seven furlongs he travelled to win the Jersey. The Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville are the options which David Loder has in mind, with the latter a narrow favourite.

Loder will be based in France full-time from next year, when he takes charge of the Godolphin operations two-year-olds. It may be that he will want to give the locals an early idea of what they are up against.