Agent reaches royal standard for Classic role
Monday 23 June 2008
Last week's Royal Ascot meeting produced at least two results of which virtually everyone on the racecourse approved. One was the third Gold Cup for the magnificent Yeats, the other a winner for the owner-breeder who shares her soubriquet with the occasion. And if The Queen's reaction to Free Agent's success in the Chesham Stakes hardly matched the memorably uninhibited joy expressed by John Best as Kingsgate Native came good in the Golden Jubilee Stakes an hour later, a slightly clenched fist and a bright-eyed grin is far more than a meeting with, say, Gordon Brown would ever provoke.
Horses, and racehorses in particular, are The Queen's first love, even if the fortunes of her breeding empire have been out in the cold. Free Agent, a bay colt by Dr Fong, was her 20th Royal Ascot winner in a sequence started by Choir Boy in the 1953 Royal Hunt Cup, but her first for nine years.
And it is 51 years since her only other Royal Ascot success with a two-year-old, Pall Mall in the New Stakes. Whether it is an omen or not, that colt went on the win the 2,000 Guineas. Within seconds of Richard Hughes pulling up on Saturday, bookmakers, never backward in spotting a promotional opportunity, were pencilling in Classic quotes for Free Agent.
The significance of a potentially high-class juvenile in her colours was not lost on The Queen. "She turned to me and said 'I've done it' as he passed the post," said the royal bloodstock advisor John Warren. "And we have some others in this year's crop as nice, if not nicer, so the graph is upwards."
Despite being the wealthiest woman in England, The Queen has a limited racing budget and in the world of bloodstock can be considered only a small-time operator, with perhaps 15 foals a year produced at her stud based at her Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
Though she has been investing in new blood at broodmare auctions in the past few years, Free Agent is from one of her long-term families. She acquired the colt's four-greats grand-dam, Amicable, as a yearling at the Newmarket sales in 1961. The line of descent, though, was so very nearly broken at one point; Amicable's daughter Example, winner of a Park Hill Stakes, died giving birth to her first and only foal, the Nijinsky filly Pas De Deux, Free Agent's great-great grand-dam. Amicable was, incidentally, the dam of another of The Queen's Royal Ascot winners, 1979 Ribblesdale Stakes heroine Expansive.
The participation at Ascot of Richard Hannon-trained Free Agent, an immature type who had won on his debut three weeks ago at Leicester a few days after his second birthday, was a marginal decision and the colt will now be given a break until the autumn.
"He was a late foal and very backward, and the worry was that racing him so soon might set him back mentally," said Warren. "But he won nicely so we decided to risk coming to Ascot, and he took it all in his stride. Mission accomplished, it was a great thrill for all concerned, but that will be it for the moment."
Union Jacks, distributed in the toffs' enclosures for the finale to the day, the rather self-conscious community singing round the bandstand, were to the fore for the Royal victory, and could have been produced (but weren't) after Kingsgate Native became the only British-trained Group One winner of the week.
The Mujadil colt, due to stand alongside top sire Pivotal at Cheveley Park Stud next year, emerged from his stirring defeat of War Artist, Sir Gerry and Australian legend Takeover Target in fine fettle and has the next round on the elite sprinting circuit, the July Cup at Newmarket, in his sights. "He has come out of the race extremely well," said John Best, his trainer, yesterday. "The plan is the July Cup and then the Nunthorpe."
War Artist, trained by James Eustace in Newmarket, will renew rivalry on his local track next month. "He's had an hour on the walker and a pick of grass and he's fine," said Eustace. "He ran a blinder, and we'll have another go."
The presence of War Artist, a Grade One winner in South Africa, in Eustace's small string is entirely serendipitous. The Australian-bred five-year-old was one of three from South Africa to board with him en route to the States last November and after he spotted the hurdling potential of one, Rippling Ring, and triggered his sale to Paul Nicholls, the decision was made to keep War Artist in Britain too. "It was a fluke I've got him," said Eustace, "but he's about the best I've trained."
All The Queen's Horses Her Majesty's Royal Ascot winners
1953 Choir Boy (Royal Hunt Cup)
1954 Landau (Rous Memorial)
Aureole (Hardwicke Stakes)
1955 Jardiniere (King George VI Stakes)
1956 Alexander (Royal Hunt Cup)
1957 Almeria (Ribblesdale Stakes)
Pall Mall (New Stakes)
1958 Restoration (King Edward VII Stakes)
Snow Cat (Rous Memorial Stakes)
1959 Above Suspicion (St James's Palace Stakes)
Pindari (King Edward VII Stakes)
1961 Aiming High (Coronation Stakes)
1968 Hopeful Venture (Hardwicke Stakes)
1970 Magna Carta (Ascot Stakes)
1979 Expansive (Ribblesdale Stakes)
Buttress (Queen's Vase)
1992 Colour Sergeant (Royal Hunt Cup)
1995 Phantom Gold (Ribblesdale Stakes)
1999 Blueprint (Duke of Edinburgh Stakes)
2008 Free Agent (Chesham Stakes)
Nap: Cheshire Rose(Wolverhampton 4.30)
NB: Red Rossini (Lingfield 2.15)
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