It was the big fight that never was. Solow, the fabulous French grey, turned up fit and firing for the Queen Anne Stakes, the eagerly awaited opening showdown at Royal Ascot, but unfortunately Hong Kong’s champion Able Friend was effectively a no-show, trailing home with the also-rans without so much as laying a glove on Europe’s finest older miler.
Instead, Solow, on ground quicker than he has ever encountered, was left to battle off the late challenges of outsiders Esoterique and Cougar Mountain, and he needed to dig quite deep to do so.
Freddy Head, who also trained the mare Goldikova to win the Queen Anne in 2010, was worried how the race was developing – “a bit slow, then a sprint” he said – and Solow was indeed caught flat-footed for a few strides when the pace quickened. But by the finishing line he was back in command, with rider Maxime Guyon waving to the packed stands in celebration.
“This is the boss! I think he’s the best I’ve ridden,” said Guyon, unable to contain his excitement, and there are surely many more great days to come for this duo.
“You beat us on Sunday in the Prix de Diane [won by John Gosden’s Star Of Seville], and we come and beat you now. It’s what you call entente cordiale,” joked Head.
“Solow is a gelding, so he can run for a few more years, but we want him to last and we will choose his races carefully. Maybe the Sussex Stakes [at Goodwood next month] will be next.”
Goldikova won the Breeders’ Cup Mile three times in a row (twice at Santa Anita and once at Churchill Downs) between 2008 and 2010, but this year the US showpiece will be run at Keeneland and Head is not a fan of the track – “it’s a bit tight” – so Solow will give it a miss.
Able Friend’s capitulation is a shame; he is a superstar back home and the enterprise in sending him on such a demanding journey to enhance his reputation deserved better reward.
But it was not entirely unexpected, even though he is a winning machine at the highest level at the Hong Kong course Sha Tin. This was new territory for him and, after sweating up in the preliminaries, he not only failed to produce his trademark electric turn of foot, he failed to pick up at all.
Neither trainer John Moore nor jockey Joao Moreira could offer an explanation. “It is disappointing, to say the least,” said Moore. “He just didn’t show his usual kick.”
In contrast, everything went exactly to plan for Aidan O’Brien’s Gleneagles, who completed the 2,000 Guineas-Irish 2,000 Guineas-St James’s Palace Stakes treble with the minimum of fuss.
“He’s about the best of his generation, a horse with a very good turn of foot, and I think he’s getting better,” said jockey Ryan Moore, who went on to complete a treble on Clondaw Warrior in the Ascot Handicap (for Willie Mullins) and Washington DC in the Windsor Castle Stakes (O’Brien again).
O’Brien thinks fast ground is the key to Gleneagles producing his very best and blames easy going at the Curragh for the least convincing of his three big wins. “I don’t think we’ve had a miler as good as him,” the trainer said.
Gleneagles could take on Solow later in the year, perhaps even in the Sussex Stakes , for which both hold an entry.
Sole Power was unable to make it three straight King’s Stand Stakes victories. He performed pretty much as in the past two runnings, picking up late off a fast pace, but this time he lacked quite the same acceleration and still had four rivals in front of him hitting the line. He may have the chance to bounce back in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August, a race he has also won twice before.
Goldream, yet another fine advertisement for trainer Robert Cowell’s skill with sprinters – he also won this race in 2011 with Prohibit – edged out fellow outsider Medicean Man, whose rider Moreira received a seven-day ban for a whip infringement.
Though 20-1, he was by no means unfancied by Cowell, who, confident that the six-year-old was better than ever, backed the handicap graduate at even bigger odds before the season started.
Mark Johnston’s Buratino, a recent Godolphin purchase and improving hand over fist with each run, is the new favourite (generally 12-1) for next year’s 2,000 Guineas following a smooth-as-silk success in the Coventry Stakes, in which Godolphin’s other runner, the favourite Round Two, finished seventh.