A week that had orchestrated the full range of emotions yesterday produced the cruellest of codas as the four-year-old colt Thomas Chippendale collapsed and died from a heart attack shortly after his stirring, victorious battle for the Hardwicke Stakes. The loss of a horse in action is always to be regretted but that this one had just been cheered home as a second Royal Ascot winner for the stable of the late Sir Henry Cecil made his sudden demise the more poignant.
Thomas Chippendale, now under the care of Cecil's widow Jane, led his rivals from halfway along the home straight, repelling first his own stablemate, Noble Mission, and finally Dandino, to take the Group 2 prize by a length. As he eased down to a trot after the finish, his rider Johnny Murtagh realised something was amiss and jumped off. "I felt him do a little shimmy," he said. "He won so well, and I'm devastated the way it has finished."
The funeral of Cecil, who trained a record 75 winners at this meeting and who died 12 days ago, is tomorrow in Newmarket. A harrowing time for those at Warren Place was briefly lightened by success for the filly Riposte in the Ribblesdale Stakes on Wednesday, but fate is no respecter of feelings.
"The horse was doing what he enjoyed," said Lady Cecil, visibly shaken by the turn of events, "and would not have won so bravely like that if he was not. But it's heartbreaking, going from one emotional extreme to another."
The man who will feel the loss of Thomas Chippendale more than any is groom Luis Villarroel, who looked after him at home day by day. And much as he loved his charge, who was a smart, honest performer but not a superstar, he put the animal's death in perspective. "Things like this happen in this sport," he said, "and it is hard when it does, to a lovely honest horse like him. But not as hard as the past weeks have been. We are strong, though, and we will keep working, keep fighting and do our best for the team."
Before the shocking aftermath, the mile-and-a-half race had already provided drama as the favourite Ektihaam, galloping strongly in the lead, slipped on the first bend and threw rider Paul Hanagan over the running rail as he struggled to keep his feet. The horse was unscathed; Hanagan walked away from his crashing fall but, sore and shaken, missed the rest of his day's rides.
The day's centrepiece, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, provided a well overdue first Group 1 win for one of the weighing room's most talented grafters, Adam Kirby. According to the table for the jockeys' championship, which is based rather arbitrarily on the late March to early November turf season, Kirby is 14th. But since the start of the year, which includes the less-than-glamorous winter all-weather circuit shunned by some of the star names, only Ryan Moore has ridden more domestic winners than the 24-year-old from Norwich.
In the £500,000 six-furlong dash, Kirby gave 11-1 chance Lethal Force a masterful, if not entirely intentional, front-running ride, in complete control through the last quarter mile. The four-year-old won by two lengths with his ears pricked, vainly chased by old rival Society Rock, the 2011 winner and 4-1 favourite yesterday. The best of the overseas raiders was third-placed 25-1 shot Krypton Factor, from Bahrain, who eclipsed higher-profile challengers from Australia and the States.
Lethal Force, who had been beaten a head by Society Rock when the pair made their seasonal debuts at York last month, is a welcome upwardly mobile young presence on the sprinting scene. "I had thought I might drop him behind rivals early on," said Kirby, "but he hit the gates spot on and right from then was doing it all so easily. He has such a high cruising speed and is getting better. Last year he was just a frame but he is so much more solid now."
The next top-level sprint on the circuit is next month's July Cup at Newmarket, but the grey, a €8,500 (£7,250) auction bargain as a yearling for owner Alan Craddock, may miss the rematch there with Society Rock. "I'm not sure that track would suit him," his trainer, Clive Cox, said, "but we'll think about it after we see how he comes out of today."
Four winners earlier in the week gave Aidan O'Brien the meeting's trainers' title. The top jockey was Murtagh, who notched his clinching fourth on the ill-fated Thomas Chippendale, and is the first rider who also holds a trainer's licence to win at the meeting since the 19th century figure Tom Cannon.