Top 10 takeaways from Royal Ascot 2024

June 24th, 2024

How do you distill five fantastic days of racing, at a sun-baked Royal Ascot? Very subjectively!

Here are my main impressions from the week:

1. Hail the bravery of Kyprios

As Kyprios put away a valiant Trawlerman to regain his Gold Cup (G1) title, it meant so much more than just an historic rarity of winning in non-consecutive years. We can hail his ironclad determination on the racecourse, but it pales in comparison to his bravery as a veterinary patient who had an awfully long road to make it – let alone to make it back to the Gold Cup podium.

Master horseman Aidan O’Brien, who extended his grip on the record book with a 13th training title at the Royal meeting, sums it up best:

“I’d say it is millions to one. It was really impossible to come back from what he came back from. At one stage we weren’t sure he would live. This horse has got back to the very top level, which is just incredible. 

“He got an infection in his joint, and it got into the joint capsule. Usually what happens is that they lose the movement in the joint – and for a while he did, but it came back! It’s from the care that they all took to get him back. It’s incredible.

“At one stage, it didn’t look like he was going to live. Then it was getting him to stand, and then to walk, then to trot, then teaching him how to canter again, because he had to move all his body in different ways again. It was incredible, it’s unbelievable really. He always had the most incredible mind, that was always his power probably, was his mind.”

2. ‘Fairy’ magic and putting a race to ‘Bed’

Two O’Brien juveniles delivered scintillating performances that will live long in the memory, for different reasons. Fairy Godmother looked up against it amid the Albany (G3) traffic, but once leading jockey Ryan Moore maneuvered across several lanes to find daylight, her gear changes were instantaneous.

Surely she would be the two-year-old star of the week? That idea didn’t last 24 hours, as stablemate Bedtime Story came out and obliterated the Chesham S. The daughter of Frankel and Mecca’s Angel telegraphed the result a long way out, clearly traveling better than the boys before she drew off by 9 1/2 lengths.

For such innocent, sweet-sounding names, these fillies have a killer instinct. Now the question is, how long must we wait for them to clash?

3. O’Brien clan taking on dynastic proportions

O’Brien racked up his 400th career Group 1 trophy when Auguste Rodin was once again the rebound artist in the Prince of Wales’s (G1). Relishing the fast pace and quick ground, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero booked his ticket to Del Mar. Yet O’Brien remains fascinated at the thought of trying him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), which he’s also mentioned for star sophomore City of Troy.

The other two winners from Ballydoyle were more prosaic. Port Fairy was a gutsy winner of the Ribblesdale (G2), while Illinois just kept finding in the Queen’s Vase (G2) to highlight his St Leger (G1) potential.

But O’Brien sired a couple of winners of his own, as sons Donnacha and Joseph likewise celebrated Royal Ascot victories as trainers. Donnacha’s admirably consistent Porta Fortuna edged his father’s Opera Singer in the Coronation (G1), and Joseph’s promising stayer Uxmal brought the curtain down in the Queen Alexandra S. 

4. Opera Singer the next Found?

Although Opera Singer couldn’t hold off Porta Fortuna, she’s reminding me of a past Ballydoyle celebrity who was barely warming up at this stage – Found. 

Like Opera Singer, Found won the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) at two and kept placing in the spring of her sophomore season, including the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation. Found later stepped up in trip and delivered her best by the end of the campaign, famously toppling Golden Horn in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Found added the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) to her resume as well. 

Note that last fall, Moore was already earmarking Opera Singer for the Arc, as soon as she was in the winner’s circle after the Boussac. 

5. Rosallion the mile star

Just as he did in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1), Rosallion went into overdrive in the St James’s Palace (G1) to nail a high-class rival with a tactical advantage.

At the Curragh, he denied fellow Richard Hannon trainee Haatem (who gave him yet another compliment by winning Saturday’s Jersey [G3]). At Ascot, Rosallion extricated himself and reeled in O’Brien’s Henry Longfellow, despite that colt’s getting the jump off a moderate pace. Perhaps especially gratifying for Rosallion’s camp, he was avenging his earlier loss in Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1) to Notable Speech, who failed to land a blow in their rematch here.

Indeed, the sectional data reveal what a torrid finish it was. Henry Longfellow was accelerating himself, but Rosallion still cut him down with an even more monstrous turn of foot. That’s what makes him such an exciting prospect to tackle the older milers. The much-improved four-year-old Charyn was decisive in his Group 1 breakthrough in the Queen Anne (G1), but the division overall looks ripe for an up-and-comer.

Rosallion’s rider, Sean Levey, believes there’s a lot more to come with the right set-up:

“I just really hope that one day they go a really good gallop so that we get to see him really show his true potential.”

6. Asfoora, Big Evs rematch in Breeders’ Cup?

Australian sprinter Asfoora might not be a star attraction at home, but she had too much firepower for her Northern Hemisphere rivals in the King Charles III (G1). Saving her energy for a late burst, she swamped front-running favorite Big Evs, who wound up a close third in his first try versus elders.

“We got a bit of stick from home for bringing her over because she wasn't seen as one of our better sprinters,” trainer Henry Dwyer said, “but we were just so confident that she was really textbook wheelhouse five furlongs, and she's proven that today.”

You have to wonder how many Aussies will turn up next year. While there were reasons for the lack of participation, some might be second-guessing themselves for missing the opportunity that Dwyer seized so shrewdly. 

From a U.S. viewpoint, most tantalizing of all was that Asfoora could take up her “Win and You’re In” perk for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Dwyer had already planned to campaign her through the British summer, and Del Mar should fit her to a tee. 

Big Evs, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) winner, has the Turf Sprint on his agenda already. While he’s likely to get a rematch with Asfoora down another straightaway in Britain, the Breeders’ Cup would offer the different dynamics of a turning five furlongs. That configuration suits them both well, so let’s hope for a Turf Sprint showdown.

7. Inisherin the six-furlong sprint star

While Big Evs came up just short against the five-furlong veterans, fellow three-year-old Inisherin signaled that he could be poised to take over the six-furlong set. A close maternal relative of Rosallion, Inisherin dominated his contemporaries in the Commonwealth Cup (G1). 

Compare that to a rather lackluster Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee (G1) over the same distance. Credit to Khaadem for becoming the first repeat winner in more than half a century, but this is the only race that he’s able to win these days. With the older British sprinters still shaping up as an indifferent bunch, Inisherin can assert himself. 

8. What if Calandagan hadn’t been gelded?

The French invasion was mostly repelled, but Calandagan ensured that they didn’t leave empty-handed. The Aga Khan homebred produced a stunning display in the King Edward VII (G2), leaving jockey Stephane Pasquier regretting that the son of Gleneagles is a gelding.

If Calandagan were still a colt, he would have been in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1). Chantilly’s loss was Ascot’s gain, underscoring suspicions that the best French sophomore might not have been in their classic. (Unbeaten Delius, who just won the Prix du Lys [G3], is another contender in that category.)

A few compatriots are worth mentioning. Zarakem and Horizon Dore ran well to take the minor awards behind Auguste Rodin in the Prince of Wales’s. Ramatuelle’s third in the Coronation establishes that she needs a cutback in trip, or an easier track to see out the mile.

9. Changing balance of power in the Gulf?

The Emir of Qatar’s Wathnan Racing celebrated four winners, dividends of a methodical acquisition strategy. Aside from the aforementioned Haatem, fellow private purchase English Oak captured the Buckingham Palace H. in the manner of a Group horse in embryo. Trainer Ed Walker is looking toward a series of seven-furlong majors, culminating in the Prix de la Foret (G1).

Two of Wathnan’s recent breeze-up graduates captured juvenile events. Trainer Karl Burke turned a double with Leovanni in the Queen Mary (G2) and Shareholder in the “Win and You’re In” Norfolk (G2). 

Hopefully Shareholder, a Kentucky-bred son of Not This Time, will take up his free berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. That should also be the aim for Jose D’Angelo’s hard-trying Gabaldon, who nearly wired the Windsor Castle S., but just got caught by Ain’t Nobody

Wathnan was the flashiest, but not the only, Gulf power to succeed at Royal Ascot. Another Qatari entity, Al Shaqab Racing, won the Kensington Palace H. with Doha. As you might guess from her name that honors the capital, Doha has a high-profile pedigree: she’s by Sea the Stars and out of Al Shaqab’s two-time Arc queen, Treve. 

Bahrain’s Victorious Racing also made quite a splash. Isle of Jura, a relentless improver ever since wintering in the Gulf nation, upset the Hardwicke (G2) like a horse still on the upswing. Earlier in the meeting, Victorious colorbearer Pledgeofallegiance gave Sir Mark Prescott his first Royal Ascot winner in 28 years when taking the Ascot S. 

The traditional Dubai powerhouses, on the other hand, had a more muted week. Godolphin’s lone winner, Royal Hunt Cup hero Wild Tiger, represented trainer emeritus Saeed bin Suroor rather than Charlie Appleby. Shadwell took the Wolferton S. with blueblood Israr, a son of Muhaarar and champion Taghrooda. 

10. Loughnane shines on big stage

“The world is his oyster as far as the horse business is concerned.”

So said trainer Brian Meehan of wunderkind Billy Loughnane, who guided his Rashabar to an 80-1 shocker in the Coventry (G2). Last year’s champion apprentice jockey has been impressing observers as a natural in the saddle, but Royal Ascot was the big stage to reveal him to a wider audience.

“I haven’t even been riding two years yet,” Loughnane said. “I had my 200th career winner last (Monday) night at Windsor, and I came here this week just praying I would manage to get on the board with one. To do it so early is a massive relief.”

Nor was “Billy the Kid” done yet. He racked up a second winner with a well-timed run aboard Soprano in the Sandringham H. for George Boughey.

Moore is the kingpin now, as the 11-time leading jockey at Royal Ascot who just eclipsed Frankie Dettori with a total of 85 winners at the meeting. Only the late legend Lester Piggott has won more (116). 

Keep an eye on Loughnane, a generational talent with the potential to record gaudy numbers over the passage of time.