A ground-breaking juvenile juggernaut and the single-most important and influential horse in the history of Godolphin are among the Wednesday award winners in our Royal Ascot Roll of Honour.
HAMPTON COURT STAKES: WHITE MUZZLE (1993)
A race that struggled for identity for a long time, but the reason there were only three runners in 1993 – when known as the Churchill Stakes and run over 1½m on the non-Royal Saturday - was because White Muzzle scared them all off.
It was merely a maintenance race for White Muzzle, in between winning the Italian Derby and finishing second in the King George, the first of a few near-misses for a horse tall on talent but who majored in misfortune. With White Muzzle, it was a game of give and take: Peter Chapple-Hyam would give him an assignment, and Yutake Take would let him down, costing him one or both of the following year’s King George and Arc, left with a positional mountain to climb at Longchamp. ‘When you ride a bike, you have to pedal,’ said Chapple-Hyam.
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KING GEORGE V HANDICAP: MIDNIGHT LEGEND (1994)
The King George V Handicap comes an hour or so after the Gold Cup, but how can you connect the race with the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and some 23 years after the renewal in question? When Sizing John galloped his way to Cheltenham’s showpiece in 2017, he called on the spirit and stamina of his sire, Midnight Legend, whose distinguished dual-purpose career was kickstarted by Royal Ascot.
Patiently handled by Luca Cumani prior to the day, and positively ridden by Jason Weaver on the day, Midnight Legend exploded in the King George V and beat the favourite (and subsequent Group 2 winner) Red Route by 3 lengths. In the spring of 1997 he had a change of stable and change of direction, getting a new lease of life as a hurdler with David Nicholson, without being gelded, because one eye was already on making him into a stallion, and he ended his racing days by finishing third to Istabraq and French Holly in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle.
Midnight Legened, who died in 2016, was still having representatives at the latest Cheltenham Festival, and for an imprint on the sport of such depth and width, he’s something of a legend in name and in legacy.
PRINCE OF WALES’S STAKES: DUBAI MILLENNIUM (2000)
The whole balance of power between Coolmore and Godolphin in the early part of this century might have tipped the other way but for Dubai Millennium’s untimely death, not an overstatement considering his one and only crop included Dubawi, who has almost single-handedly redressed the balance in recent years, as a stallion to square up to Galileo.
His only defeat in a cosmic career came in the Derby (too much, too far, too soon), and by the end he was producing Frankelesque performances, firstly in the Dubai World Cup – the race he was named to win – and then in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Royal Ascot was the best he ever looked, in the flesh and in full flight, about as dominant as it gets in a Group 1, leaving a classy field in his wake and still full of running as he past the post 8 lengths clear, ridden by Jerry Bailey that day as Dettori was recovering from the plane crash. And perhaps the most remarkable point about that 2000 Prince of Wales’s Stakes is that he wasn’t even favourite. Sendawar, from France, was supposed to be his equal, but the act of even chasing Dubai Millennium drained him so much that he faded into fourth.
A fractured leg ended his career and grass sickness ended his life, painfully premature in both instances, the ‘what if’ factor off the scale with him, but what Dubai Millennium gave us in brilliance and bloodline will resonate in racing for decades to come.
ROYAL HUNT CUP HANDICAP: YEAST (1996)
Back to handicaps, therefore back to personal preference, and a case of whatever drifts into your mind when recollecting the Hunt Cup, but, for me, for over 20 years, it has always been Yeast.
Where you go might connect to your age, and there was something about Yeast that captured the zeitgeist of the mid-90s: Fallon was in his pomp, Haggas had just won the Derby, and Yeast was a well-backed favourite who had a grip on the 31-runner race from start to finish, up the stand-side rail.
It was a lesson in simplicity, for a complex equation, because a very difficult task was made to look very easy, thanks to the plan, the pilot and the profile, Yeast unraced at 2 and minded at 3 before he flourished at 4, a prototype for profit ever since.
WINDSOR CASTLE STAKES: STRIKE THE TIGER (2009)
The transatlantic trendsetter.
Without him, Lady Aurelia and co might never have lit up this most majestic of meetings, because he was the original American drag racer, who dragged racing at Royal Ascot into a new dimension, kicking down an ornate door and ushering in the age of the juvenile juggernauts, at the time untoward, thanks unto Ward.
Back then, an American assault on Ascot was seen as a gimmick, hence Strike The Tiger’s starting price in the Windsor Castle, unconsidered at 33/1, but in 61 seconds he had sparked a flame and changed the game for good, the harbinger of a new breed of speed.
When Lady Aurelia followed his trailblazing lead – not once but twice – at Royal Ascot, she travelled with a squad, but when she came for the Nunthorpe, a solo mission in 2017, she was kept company by her best friend from home, the stable pony, none other than Strike The Tiger. ‘He’s just a real gentle soul,’ said Ward, ‘only I can’t let him take her behind the gate because when he goes near the stalls he remembers his old days as a war horse.’