Hand Of God wins at Royal Ascot 38 years to the day after Maradona’s goal against England

Hand of God on his way to winning the Golden Gate Stakes at Royal Ascot
William Buick ridding Hand of God to victory at Royal Ascot for trainer Harry Charlton - PA/John Walton

Hand of God was always going to be a topical runner in yesterday’s Golden Gates Stakes during a football tournament but the 9-4 favourite winning at Royal Ascot 38 years to the day after Diego Maradona dashed England’s World Cup hopes by punching the ball past Peter Shilton into the net in Argentina’s 2-1 quarter final victory in Mexico was almost spooky.

Back in 1986 there was no such thing as VAR and the referee, whose view of the incident was obscured, allowed it to stand. Maradona initially claimed it was ‘a little bit the head of Maradona, a little bit the hand of God’ but later admitted that he had handballed it. Coming four years after the Falklands War, he also claimed later it was symbolic revenge for Argentina’s defeat.

While the phrase will forever be regarded with a shudder by English football fans, Harry Charlton, who took over from his father Roger at the historic Beckhampton Stables near Marlborough, will not forget it in a hurry; Hand of God the horse gave him his first Royal Ascot winner as a trainer in his own right though he shared one with his dad two years ago when they were joint licence holders.

The three-year-old was named by his owner, Mohammed Jaber. “It is an amazing coincidence,” said Charlton. “His owner named him because he is big into his football. I expect quite a few people backed him because the Euros are on..”

Charlton, whose King’s Gambit was an unlucky loser in the same silks earlier in the week, added: “Hand Of God didn’t have a great trip again, but he had a clear run at least this time. He picked up very quick from the three to the one and William Buick said he almost got there too soon. He is probably due to step up in class now.”

Callum Shepherd lights up Royal Ascot to prove doubters wrong

If a vintage Royal Ascot had lacked anything this week it was a great story and an outstanding equine athlete but its fifth and final day produced both when Callum Shepherd rode Isle of Jura to an emotional victory in the Hardwicke Stakes and Bedtime Story won the Chesham Stakes by an astounding nine and a half lengths.

Like a lot of jockeys in their mid-to-late 20s Shepherd, a capable but journeyman jockey until recently, has benefitted from the accumulation of experience and has taken his riding to a completely different level in the last 12 months.

But that momentum was stopped in its tracks when, for no obvious good reason, he was jocked off the Derby second favourite Ambiente Friendly by the owners 10 days before the race despite having won a key trial on the colt.

On that day at Epsom Ambient Friendly finished second under Rab Havlin and instead of his first Derby ride Shepherd, who kept his counsel about the snub like a true professional, went to Lingfield.

Redemption, though, came just three weeks on when Isle of Jura, a Godolphin throw-out who spent his winter cleaning up in Bahrain, came home a comfortable three and a half length winner of the Group Two to give trainer George Scott, a trainer coming out of a tricky few years himself, his first Royal Ascot winner.

Crossing the line in front, however, was the trigger for all of Shepherd’s pent-up emotion to come flowing out.

Callum Shepherd crossing the winning line on board Isle of Jura
Callum Shepherd crossing the winning line on board Isle of Jura - Telegraph/Debbie Burt

“Off the backdrop of what had been a really productive six to nine months, everything was going pretty swimmingly but then it was well documented what happened,” explained Shepherd, one of the few public school educated Flat jockeys and whose brother, Laird, is a professional golfer. “It was tough. Obviously it is tough losing your seat on a horse – and a very good one at that.

“I would have hated the narrative of my year being me jocked off a horse. It needs to be about the horses that I am riding. He is just wonderful. He’s earned his ticket to the top table and we are going to have some fun running in those top races.

“You are either going to get beaten up by this sport or you put a brave face on. People don’t want to see you going around sulking and moaning. You put your life and soul into this sport. Stefano Cherchi (who died after a fall in Australia this spring), my friend, literally gave his life for this sport. How silly would it be if I was moaning about not riding a horse after what his family have had to go through? You can’t just dwell in a pit of despair. But sometimes… days like these mean everything.

“I tried to soak everything I could up in the last 50 yards, I looked up at the stands to try and take it all in. I really enjoy riding this horse. What a buzz.”

Scott, who assisted Michael Bell and then the late Sir Henry Cecil, started training with great fanfare in 2015. But it is only in the last couple of years that he has begun to build proper momentum.

“He was a lot of money (£150,000) for a horse who had only finished mid-div in a Wolverhampyton maiden,” explained Scott. “But two of his brothers were Group One winners. The finish was a moment I will never forget, everything stopped for a minute and I could enjoy the last half-furlong. Most best-laid plans go to pot, but this has been a long-term plan.

All roads lead to the King George, 100 percent.”

Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore’s sixth winner of the meeting, Bedtime Story, turned the Chesham into procession. “We thought she might be a Group One filly but we hadn’t looked and thinking is one thing, doing another,” said O’Brien who was taken aback by her superiority. “This was the first time she’s been asked to stretch. Ryan didn’t even give her a slap.”