On to the racing and, apart from the Gold Cup – the showpiece event and premier staying horse race, the third day also included two Group 2’s and a Group 3 race, as well as the Britannia Stakes and the King George V Stakes.
The first two races were masterclasses by Frankie Dettori who literally raises the bar to another level at Ascot. In the first race, A’Ali, a Simon Crisford-trained two year old by Society Rock, got his head in front in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes to get the Frankie accumulators off to a perfect start.
The second race, the Hampton Court Stakes, was won in comfortable fashion by the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Sangarius. Beautifully ridden, Sangarius, a son from the first crop of Kingman, ran on strongly from the Andrew Balding-trained favourite, Fox Chairman, to win going away.
The third race was the Ribblesdale, a race for fillies over one mile and four furlongs. This was the race that had bookies running for cover. Frankie riding John Gosden’s Star Catcher, a very likeable Sea The Stars filly, won from the Aidan O’Brien trained favourite, Fleeting. Both fillies look very capable of going on to bigger and better things and a Group 1 should be within the winner’s grasp at some point.
The Frankie Dettori treble from the first three races had the crowd buzzing for the main event, the Gold Cup. Frankie was of course on board Stradivarius. Last year’s winner was seeking to become the first horse since the immortal Yeats in 2009 to win back-to-back runnings of the race. Stradivarius had gone on from last year’s epic battle to win a further four races, three of which were in 2018 (Goodwood’s Qatar Goodwood Cup, York’s Wetherby’s Hamilton Lonsdale Cup and QIPCO’s British Champions Long Distance Cup back at Ascot) and made up the rest of the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million bonus scheme.
Having completed that glittering collection of trophies and starting the season with a workmanlike victory in the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup Stakes, Stradivarius was even money to see off the Mark Johnston-trained young pretender Dee Ex Bee. Having shown promise as a stayer in his three year old career, Dee Ex Bee came into the Ascot race on the back of a Group 3 staying race victory at Sandown. The soft going was expected to play into the challenger’s hands despite Stradivarius winning on the soft at Ascot last autumn.
Another strong contender was the Charlie Appleby-trained Cross Counter who had made a big impact when winning the famous Melbourne Cup at Flemington, Australia, in November of last year.
As it turned out, the result was never really in doubt. Despite getting hemmed in early in the home straight, Frankie kept his cool and in another show of why he is probably the best jockey riding on the big stage at the moment, he kept calm and extracted Stradivarius to deliver his challenge and was in command inside the furlong pole.
Dee Ex Bee ran a game race and having ceded second place in the closing stages, got up on the line to snatch second back from the Joseph O’Brien trained Master Of Reality, who ran a stormer to finish third at 66/1.
There was a rapturous applause for Frankie and the gallant Stradivarius. The walk back to the hallowed winner’s circle is a long one at Ascot and gives the crowd time to gather round to welcome the victorious duo. Not only were the racing purists cheering but also all the punters, Frankie completing an amazing 449/1 four-timer.
“He is a phenomenon,” John Gosden, the trainer of Stradivarius, said. “Frankie is like a player who gets to the final of Wimbledon and then raises it to another level.” John Gosden also went on to say, “The horse is very classy, it’s not his favoured ground, he’s much better on top of the ground, but he’s shown his class”; and “Full marks to a remarkable horse and the sometimes mercurial, remarkable jockey – but I think it’s all down to the horse, even though Frankie keeps saying it’s him!”
With the main event over, there were still two valuable handicaps to run, with the bookies fearing a Frankie massacre, but it was not to be. Biometric, a 28/1 outsider trained by Ralph Beckett and ridden by Harry Bentley, saw off Frankie’s mount Turgenev and was well in command at the finish for the Britannia Stakes.
The final race was the King George V Stakes and on a day dominated by Frankie Dettori, the master trainer Aidan O’Brien took the honours, reminding us that he is never far away from his next winner. South Pacific, ridden by Seamie Heffernan, the Derby winning jockey, grabbed the lead and held off Constantinople to win at the odds of 22/1, quite the price for an O’Brien trained runner.
So ended a day when Ascot came into its own after a very wet start to the week. You can’t keep a good sporting occasion down no matter what the weather.
Further racing scenes from our photographer Rachel Groom: