With about two inches to spare, Blue Point completed a double that had been done just once before and turned himself into the equine star of this Royal Ascot. Courageous but spent, he was clinging on to his lead in the dying strides of the Diamond Jubilee, four days after a rather more emphatic success in the King’s Stand.
So there was a scrambled quality to this encore, which lacked the imperious command of the earlier performance, but this final-day crowd appreciates a bit of drama, especially from a winning favourite. Blue Point now seems set to follow the old bit of theatrical advice and leave his audience hungry for more, as a career at stud beckons.
Only Choisir, the Australian horse who was built like a bull, had won both races in the same year and in his case the decision to attempt the double was rather less swashbuckling. If you have travelled halfway round the world for one race, why not take in another while you’re there?
Blue Point is trained just two hours from here and there are plenty of other races for him in the coming months, so there was no pressing need to turn him out again so quickly. What made the idea so tempting for his trainer, Charlie Appleby, was the horse’s evident love for this track, where he has only been beaten once.
Six days before the King’s Stand, Blue Point whizzed up the gallops with such elan that all things seemed possible. “We knew then we had him as well as we could get him,” Appleby recalled. “We said, look, if we’re lucky enough to win on the first day, we should allow this horse to take his chance.”
At daybreak on Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed called Appleby, asking for any early signs as to how the horse had taken the race. Blue Point was eating and drinking, which was all to the good. By Saturday morning, he was back to the same weight he had been before Tuesday’s race.
“If anything, he was a little more relaxed when we were saddling,” the trainer added. “I said, hopefully Tuesday’s just taken the freshness off him.” For five furlongs on Saturday, Blue Point coasted with such visible ease that the outcome was hardly in doubt. Then he found that, unlike in his previous race, the winning post was still 200 yards away. Dream Of Dreams was rocketing up from behind him and things became a shade desperate.
“I got a bit too excited too soon,” Appleby said, smiling. “I thought he’d put it to bed. That should teach me. I’ve been in the game long enough to know, don’t count your chickens until they’ve crossed over the line.”
If Blue Point were to race on, next month’s July Cup would be the natural target. But he was very disappointing as favourite in that race last year and has never won at Newmarket. Small wonder that Appleby and the Godolphin team seem minded to claim victory and depart the field.
“I think we’ll let the dust settle. Whether we decide to run him again … We’ll just enjoy this moment and let the horse have a rest. I’m not sure what there is left to do.”
Hopefully, there is a lot left to do for two others Appleby ran here. Pinatubo set a new juvenile course record in the Chesham and looks a serious Guineas contender. Masar was on his nose after a stride of his comeback run in the Hardwicke and failed to settle behind a steady pace, fading into fifth, but at least it was a start. Last year’s Derby winner will be closer to his peak when next seen, possibly in the King George back here or the York International.
Defoe won the Hardwicke, the grey’s second impressive success in a row, and earned his place in what may be a super-hot King George, alongside Enable, Crystal Ocean, Sea Of Class and Japan. It remains to be seen whether they will be joined by the Czech raider Nagano Gold, runner-up here after Masar all but took him out of the race in the first 50 yards. The initial word from connections was that they would find a German race as a prep for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but their horse ran so well here that a rethink seems in order.
Southwell 2.00 Canyouhearmenow 2.30 Fortunes Hiding 3.05 Safe Home 3.35 Jacbequick 4.10 Full Bore (nap) 4.45 Nordican Bleue 5.15 Chef De Troue (nb)
Hexham 2.10 Sense Of Urgency 2.45 Nietzsche 3.15 Morraman
3.50 Classical Milano 4.25 Boltissime 4.55 Ronava 5.30 Cockney Beau
Pontefract 2.20 Massakin 2.55 Dante’s View 3.25 Victory Chime 4.00 Bayshore Freeway 4.35 Suegioo 5.05 Bighearted 5.40 Captain Dion
So ends what has been, by various measures, a successful Royal Ascot. One issue that furrowed a few brows among officials was whip abuse, as significant bans were handed out to three jockeys during the five days; Hayley Turner and John Velazquez got nine days, Silvestre de Sousa got seven. Professional jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National meeting had managed to avoid offences at that sort of level but the British Horseracing Authority will once more reflect on whether the current rules offer a sufficient deterrent.
Velazquez is normally based in the US and simply failed to adjust to the different whip rules, though an official insists he was briefed in advance. But the other two are hugely experienced, local riders and their infractions will give more fuel to those who argue that jockeys cannot be trusted to ride within the rules when it matters most. De Sousa has been handed totting-up bans for repeated breaches of the whip rules in two of the last three years and the sport’s rulers would like to see the champion jockey leave such habits behind.