The photo opportunity this week will not feature a three-year-old boy doffing his top hat to the Queen. In the regal setting of Royal Ascot, as opposed to the Epsom Downs, where the nipper’s deference was captured, the bin men clear the rubbish in tails.
If the Derby is still the race to win, the royal meeting at Ascot is the festival to be at, a quintessential coming together of horse and high society, where the plebs can, for a day or two at least, be a part of the show for the cost of a ticket and the hire of a morning suit.
Like the Cheltenham Festival in March the occasion melds connoisseur and day tripper. It is a crucible for both the racing aficionado and City boys and belles on a jolly, a congress of classes converging on a bucolic corner of Berkshire abutting Her Majesty’s preferred palazzo, Windsor Castle.
Edward Lynam has a big hand to play on the opening day with a chance of making history when Sole Power takes off in the King’s Stand Stakes, attempting an unprecedented hat-trick in the five-furlong sprint. Yet he is looking forward to the wider spectacle as much as the pursuit of personal gain, particularly the coming together of Messi and Ronaldo over the mile, the French flyer Solow versus the Hong Kong superstar Able Friend.
“You have Classic days and champions days, the Arc weekend, and so on but from a European point of view this is the biggest week of the year, a Cheltenham on the Flat, if you like, our Olympics. Everybody wants to be here. All the best horses compete against each other,” Lynam said. “Racing has changed dramatically since I came into it, and not always for the better, but on the big days like Ascot there is still nothing like it.
“The first day you have the Queen Anne [Stakes], the best European miler taking on the best Hong Kong miler. That’s real heavyweight stuff, real big time. You have the St James’s Palace, where you have all the Guineas horses taking each other on, Gleneagles against André Fabre’s horse Make Believe. The King’s Stand, blink and you miss it. The Coventry Stakes for the babies producing next year’s champions. Trust me, if Carlsberg did horseracing they would do Royal Ascot. This is as good as it gets.”
Though Duff was Lynam’s breakthrough horse, winning the Group Two Park Stakes at Doncaster six years ago, Sole Power is his great champion, the horse above all others in his Co Meath yard that gets him up before the alarm goes every morning. “He has won me five Group Ones, won a Group One in Dubai in March, won my first Group One at 100-1, the King’s Stand twice. He’s part of your life now, here six years training. You get attached. You wouldn’t be flesh and blood if you didn’t.
“I took out a trainer’s licence at 21. I was the foolish one. I won Group races in the Eighties, Nineties and the early 2000s. Duff was a very good horse, but the really big one was Sole Power. He had already created a bit of history but he is trying to create big-time history this year. He is going for a third win in a row. No horse has ever done it. Obviously, history is against him but he is in good form and if he produces as he did last year and the year before he is going to have a chance.”
Should the mighty eight-year-old suffer a power cut in the King’s Stand, Lynam has a second, wild-card entry on which to fall back, Moviesta, part-owned by one Harry Redknapp, who is entered in the week’s other established big sprint, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.
“A lad called Richie, part of the syndicate that owns it, contacted me in April and asked me if I would be interested in training the horse,” Lynam said. “They were going to move him on. He is a proper Group horse. Whether he is a Group One horse remains to be seen but when a horse like that is offered to you, you have to take it. He has trained well but not had a prep race, which is a huge disadvantage, but there is only one Royal Ascot so we are going to have a go.”
It is gatherings like this that reconnect the racegoer with the past and remind the bloodstock community of the primacy of race over stud. While Lynam points out you would be a mug not to accept a deal that divvies up £25k a pop for covering a mare, there is value too in seeing a horse return for a crack year after year.
Here’s Lynam again on the enduring appeal of the Flat and its centrality to the sporting summer: “Last week at Epsom we saw arguably Europe’s greatest trainer [John Gosden] bring the first two home [in the Derby]. This week we have Ascot, next week in Ireland they will be on about the Irish Derby weekend, and as soon as that is over we will move on to Sandown, where the three-year-olds take on the older horses. We have a great sport and most of it is fabulous.”
Hats off to that.
The meeting opens with a bang as the Hong Kong champion Able Friend takes on brilliant French grey Solow in the Queen Anne Stakes over a mile.
Now America’s finest takes centre stage: the 2014 US Horse of the Year California Chrome lines up for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
It’s Ladies’ Day and the Irish stayer Forgotten Rules puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Ascot Gold Cup.
Limato, Tiggy Wiggy and other potential champion sprinters meet in the inaugural running of the Group One Commonwealth Cup for three-year-olds.
The Australian speedball Brazen Beau, yet another international star turn, is the final-day headline act in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Royal Ascot runs from Tuesday to Saturday and features eight QIPCO British Champions Series Races. For tickets go to www. britishchampionsseries.comReuse content