The first day of Royal Ascot was nothing short of amazing, with all the glory invoked by the regal name of the festival, Joe Clay writes in the second installment of his blog.
One’s eyes are totally dazzled by the horses, the splendidly attired ladies in their “wow” hats and, of course, Her Majesty the Queen’s procession of carriages bringing the Royal Party from Windsor Castle straight down the racecourse in front of the stands then dropping the VIP passengers at the winner’s enclosure. All this with the Royal Guards Band playing “God Save the Queen” on a sunny day; the scene can elicit tears from anyone in love with this sport.
What a day it was, with Kingman, by Invincible Spirit, winning the St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1) over a mile. His sire is one we admire as Runnymede bred and races With Your Spirit, a three-year-old filly by Invincible Spirit and a half sister to Group 1 winner Palace Episode out of our mare Palace Weekend. With Your Spirit is a multiple winner and we are hoping for more from her.
The big news of the day for America was Hootenanny—trained by American Wesley Ward and ridden by California Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza—who galloped off with the listed Windsor Castle Stakes at five furlongs. Not only was Hootenanny the first stakes winner for his American freshman sire Quality Road, who stands at Lane’s End Farm, but he showed yet again that American horses can win in Europe without medication.
Among the racegoers on hand to see Hootenanny was Quality Road’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, who trains American-based runners for Qatari Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani. Sheikh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing swept the first two events on the Royal Ascot program, taking the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) with top miler Toronado and the Coventry Stakes (G2) with promising juvenile The Wow Signal.
After the day’s competitions are complete, all the serious racing people head to Carpark 2, joining owners and trainers for tailgate parties that end at the sensible hour of 8:30 (ish). It was there that I caught up with Runnymede’s key connection in Europe, Simon Marsh, general manager of Watership Down Stud, which has top mare The Fugue in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1). Simon was in jolly form and it is always amusing as well as informative to catch up with him. This year, Runnymede has an extremely promising yearling colt being raised by Simon at Watership Down: the big bay is by champion and rising sire Sea The Stars and is a half brother to Group 2 winner and multiple Group 1-placed Laughing Lashes.
Not much time to rest up for day two, but so much still to come on the course.