Just when it seemed to have exhausted every last vestige of public goodwill, the British Turf contrived an afternoon to redeem its iniquities and even to assuage its grief. Having been lost in shadows of scandal and bereavement, its path was suddenly illuminated by converging beams of brilliance from two fillies. One, carrying the silks of the sovereign, enriched many of her subjects in the most venerable race of the week; while the other showed how this patch of heath in the royal forest had actually become a shared dominion.
For all those who toasted the longevity of the Queen, after Estimate won the Gold Cup, the success of Riposte in the Ribblesdale Stakes had caused as many to lament afresh the premature loss of a man she had knighted two years previously. Nine days after the death of Sir Henry Cecil, his widow chewed her lips and groped bravely for words to describe the fealty not only of his professional community, but also of thousands who had never even met the most prolific trainer in Royal Ascot history.
Had Riposte's fortunes happened to turn on some apparently random consideration – luck in running, say, or the nod in a photo finish – fate would surely have been shamed into some miniature gesture of remorse for the cruel abbreviation of his life. As it was, Riposte seemed herself to ride a swelling tide of goodwill as she coasted through the race and hurtled clear, Tom Queally slapping her neck in delight. "It has been a tough, tough week and I know a lot of people are struggling," the jockey said, as he pulled up. "I am sure Henry is looking down, helping us."
Finally, then, catharsis for those who had begun the meeting on Tuesday by sharing a choked minute's silence, broken only by the squeaking wheels of the royal carriages as they were led away in token of the unyielding cycles of life and death. Lady Cecil composed herself admirably to attest to the significance of a moment fittingly shared with the stable's most faithful patron, Khaled Abdulla.
"I don't really have the words to say what I am feeling right now," she stammered. "I think people will probably have a good idea. Henry was just adored by so many people. People who had never met him just loved him. I'm sorry, my head is in a complete spin. Tuesday was very hard. Henry adored Ascot, he was so looking forward to it. He had been planning for it, from last year and definitely from the spring. We are just carrying on what he wanted. Keeping busy is what is keeping us all going. If we had nothing to do, then I think we would all fall to bits."
While she was nominally credited as trainer, this unmistakably felt like a 76th Ascot success for a man who brought his horses to a summer bloom here as reliably as his own dandy raiment.
His great rival, Sir Michael Stoute, had described Cecil as perhaps the best trainer in history and certainly the most loved. His own career has reached something of a plateau of late, but he enjoyed one of its finest moments when Estimate held Simenon by a neck to land a public gamble – and become a first winner owned by the monarch in the Gold Cup's 206-year history. The Queen, herself scheduled to present the trophy, deputed that task to her son, the Duke of York.
"This win is very high on my list," Stoute said. "Because it's for a lady who, never mind being the Queen, loves racing and is so good for [our sport]. She has such a love for her breeding programme. That's why it will have been a bigger thrill to win with a filly, rather than a colt."
For patriots, some such celebration was overdue. There had been yet another overseas winner in the opener, No Nay Never scorching over the firm ground to give the enterprising American trainer, Wesley Ward, a third juvenile success here to add to his double in 2009. His rider, Joel Rosario, had already won a Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup this year, but this became a day when the hosts could once again propose a degree of parity for the jewels of their own sport.