Royal Ascot 2014: Leading Light denies Estimate a Gold Cup repeat

Joseph O’Brien enjoys perfect ride on notoriously lazy St Leger winner

Joseph O’Brien described Leading Light’s first try at two and a half miles in today’s Ascot Gold Cup as a journey “into the unknown.” Well, now we know. He stayed the trip all right and needed to as the Queen’s Estimate and a marvellous, previously unheralded front-running mare from Co Cork called Missunited pressed hard all the way to the winning post.

Four were in line entering the last of the 20 furlongs as Brown Panther joined issue for the final lung-burst. And though most had thought it was maybe asking a bit much of Estimate to repeat her famous victory of 12 months ago after an interrupted preparation this time, she only just failed.

For the trainer Aidan O’Brien, it was a record sixth Gold Cup triumph (four by Yeats), but this was 21-year-old Joseph’s first and he will have gained huge satisfaction from what seemed the perfect ride on the notoriously lazy St Leger winner, although the dozen or so cracks with the whip he administered in the home straight did not impress the stewards.

Some of the punts this week have been quite mind-boggling and none bigger than the £100,000-plus in bets on Leading Light. And it was yet another walloping for the bookmakers, although their spirits must have soared when O’Brien was one of the first to go for the stick turning for home.

But, as the rider said later, this horse is as “tough as nails” and, though it looked for all the world as if the sweeter-travelling Estimate would have his measure on the run to the line, Leading Light kept on pulling out what was necessary to win by a neck and a short-head.

The start of a new era? William Hill go 3-1 Leading Light imitates Yeats and wins the Gold Cup next year. But a better prepared Estimate does not need to find much to turn the tables next year and anyway, O’Brien Snr is contemplating bringing the four-year-old back in distance for major races at a mile and a half, perhaps even the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next month if he has recovered from this epic scrap.

The runes had not looked promising for Leading Light coming into this third day and Ballydoyle brows furrowed further when The Great War, odds-on for the opening Norfolk Stakes, could finish only fifth behind Baitha Alga. Australia’s Derby win aside, O’Brien has not been having a great time of it this month with several favourites running poorly in the lead-up to Royal Ascot, where fortunes had not improved over the first two days.

So there were relieved smiles all round when Bracelet, wearing a hood for the first time after underwhelming in the 1,000 Guineas, stuck her neck out to win the Ribblesdale Stakes.

The market here was dominated by classy French raider Vazira and Oaks fourth Inchila, but the former effectively blew her chance at the start, while the latter was pulled up abruptly in the home straight with an injury behind the saddle.

Bracelet is clearly a serious force at a mile and a half, but a stiffer task awaits if she takes on the impressive Oaks winner Taghrooda in the Irish version at the Curragh next month.

The furious pace up front in the Norfolk Stakes was unsustainable and Frankie Dettori was able to pick off the leaders inside the last furlong to record his 49th Royal Ascot winner (behind only Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Willie Carson), an occasion which prompted a return of his crowd-pleasing flying  dismount.

Baitha Alga, previously successful in the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom on Derby Day, may well now have a crack at the Group One Prix Morny at Deauville in August.

The only flag the bookies felt like waving was a white one after Cannock Chase became yet another hotpot to oblige in the Tercentenary Stakes for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Liverpool Cricket Club. Her opponent was Jodie Burrage, from Surrey. Bartoli was losing 7-5, 3-2 when she pulled out with a shoulder problem.