Going down 2-1 is not necessarily the end of the world, but even so, Kingman beat Night Of Thunder so comprehensively in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot that it is almost impossible to imagine a way back for the gallant runner-up.
Kingman, beaten by Night Of Thunder in the 2,000 Guineas after thumping him in the Greenham Stakes in April, emerged from this latest encounter as the undisputed top dog, his wonderful turn of foot proving utterly decisive.
With the incomparable Frankel filling the stands in 2011 and the Queen shouting home Estimate in the Gold Cup at Ascot last year, this week’s meeting had plenty to live up to and this headline showdown did not disappoint.
Richard Hughes, reunited with Night Of Thunder after discarding him in the Newmarket classic, expertly dictated the race from the front.
A lesser horse than Kingman, held up in the rear, would have been caught flat-footed when the pace inevitably quickened in the home straight, but his rider, James Doyle, knew what he had underneath him and when he pressed the button, the response was electric.
Pulling up, Doyle placed his finger to his lips as a signal to critics who had blamed him for the Guineas defeat, but regretted the gesture immediately and was instead eager to concentrate on singing the praises of Kingman: “Awesome. They just can’t go fast enough for him.”
Winning trainer John Gosden has much to look forward to with a colt who carries the Frankel colours, if not the same aura of invincibility. He plans to give Kingman a holiday following his four races before the midway point of the season, but there are big autumn targets on the agenda, including the QE2 Stakes back at Ascot.
Night Of Thunder, though not quite in the same league as Kingman on this showing, remains a class act and will always be remembered as the winner of one of the best 2,000 Guineas of recent times.
This was, anyway, a red-letter day for Night Of Thunder’s trainer, Richard Hannon, who won the opening Queen Anne Stakes with hot favourite, Toronado, his first Royal Ascot runner after taking over the license from his father (also Richard), who chalked up an impressive 33 winners at the meeting.
The £60,000 bet laid on him perhaps had more to do with extreme wealth than extreme confidence, for although a comfortable winner in the end, Toronado needed his first run of the season and “blew up”, according to Hughes.
There are more exciting things still in store for this top-class miler – including, most likely, a date with Kingman somewhere down the line.
Toronado runs in the increasingly familiar colours of Qatar’s Sheikh Joaan al Thani, owner of today’s star turn, Treve, and also of the Coventry Stakes winner, The Wow Signal.
The Coventry has been a stepping stone for champions such as Mill Reef and Dawn Approach in past years and The Wow Signal was impressive enough from an unfavourable draw to earn a 25-1 quote for next year’s 2,000 Guineas.
Frankie Dettori looked the happiest man in the world, never mind in Berkshire, to be back in the Ascot limelight and riding his 48th career winner at the Royal meeting, although a sore foot ruled out his trademark flying dismount from The Wow Signal.
The King’s Stand Stakes was meant to mark the changing of the guard in the sprinting division; when the seven-year-old Sole Power, winner of the race last summer, was meant to give way to the new guy, Hot Streak, who looked a champion in the making when winning the Temple Stakes at Haydock last month.
But no. Hughes again, ice in his veins, played his hand outrageously late and to devastating effect, the jockey grinning broadly as he crossed the line. And if Sole Power could talk, he might just have glanced over at Hot Streak and said what Edward G Robinson said to Steve McQueen at the end of The Cincinnati Kid: “You’re just not ready for me yet.”
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