There is a myth in racing that Frankie Dettori is not quite as brilliant in the wet as he is the dry. But Royal Ascot is Royal Ascot regardless of the elements and, certainly in the gloomy first half of the afternoon when the rain swayed between light and torrential, the jockey’s flying dismounts were the only things shining in the sky.
“I know,” he joked after winning the day’s feature race, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Crystal Ocean, “I have had two rides and changed three times. I don’t like the rain.”
But, come rain or shine, it is a pretty good formula for any Ascot; take a trainer with a good track record at the meeting, stick Dettori on board and, hey presto.
Sir Michael Stoute, whose patience and persistence with the five-year-old Crystal Ocean was finally rewarded with the horse’s first Group One victory, is the meeting’s leading living trainer, this being his 80th success.
With his stable jockey Ryan Moore claimed by Aidan O’Brien to ride the favourite Magical, he turned to Dettori and was not disappointed.
In the softened ground and Crystal Ocean being a proven stayer, having finished second in a St Leger, Dettori kicked early, stole a couple of lengths on Magical and though she hounded him hard, she never looked like getting there before being beaten 1¼ lengths.
There were 3¼ lengths back to Waldgeist in third, while Sea of Class, having her first start of the season, ran on well to take fifth in conditions which would not have favoured her.
“Crystal Ocean is a high-class horse and I am delighted to have won a Group One with him,” said Stoute. “He’s just a very admirable racehorse. I thought he ran well in the Champion Stakes last year and better than it appeared. He may be better over a mile and a half, but I felt he was pretty good over a mile and a quarter and he proved that”
Like Stoute, Mark Johnston rarely leaves the Berkshire course at the end of this week without a winner or three and Dettori was equally brilliant on his Raffle Prize, an 18-1 shot, in the Queen Mary, stalking Wesley Ward’s front-running Kimari before beating the American filly by a head to give the trainer a 44th Royal success.
Johnston waxed lyrical about Dettori, recalling that they went back 26 years to Dettori’s win in the Royal Lodge on the trainer’s subsequent 2,000 Guineas winner Mister Baileys. He compared him very favourably with Lester Piggott, whose career 116 Royal Ascot winners (it was a four-day meeting for most of his career) is still almost double Dettori’s 62.
“I was at a dinner where Oli Bell introduced Frankie saying he was the greatest jockey ever – with the exception of Lester Piggott. No disrespect to Piggott, he is a superhero, but is Frankie Dettori not just the greatest jockey?
“He gave the horse a fantastic ride and looked so relaxed and confident. We could not have been in a better position and you know you have the best man on board for the last 100 yards, too.”
“I’ve had some great days with Mark since Mister Bailey’s,” said Dettori. “I rode his record [4,194th] winner at York last year, so I know I’m on the wall in his downstairs toilet. He always brings his horses to Ascot in top shape, but as for being better than Lester – give me another 50 years!”
A Dettori treble looked on the cards when Rawdaa went to the front in the final furlong of the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, but overcoming the tenacious I Can Fly left her with little in the tank when Move Swiftly, ridden by the week’s unexpected star Danny Tudhope, arrived to win by a neck.
Following a first-day double on Lord Glitters and Addeybb, it was the jockey’s third winner – his second for William Haggas – and after Ryan Moore took the Windsor Castle on Southern Hills, the two lead the jockeys’ list with three apiece.
For Charlie Hills the opening day, when saddling the favourites for two of the three Groups Ones, did not quite pan as he might have dreamt. But a bit more under the radar was Afaak, having his first start of the year and his first since being gelded. Runner-up in the Royal Hunt Cup a year ago, Afaak may have been the forgotten horse this time but he just hung on from Clon Coulis to go one better at 20-1 for the trainer.
When Oisin Murphy had a little hiccup at Salisbury on Sunday by failing the breathalyser, the trainer most inconvenienced was Andrew Balding, who had booked him on a number of horses that day. However, Murphy more than repaid him on Wednesday with a superb ride on Dashing Willoughby in the Queen’s Vase.
One day Murphy might become the go-to jockey for the big races at this meeting but, in the meantime, even on a day when the sun casts no shade, he and his weighing-room colleagues must sit in Dettori’s shadow.