Horse racing has not had the easiest year. The sport was much maligned for the death of five horses during the Cheltenham Festival, and things did not improve in April. In front of 11m viewers, the Grand National took the lives of a further two horses, including Gold Cup champion Synchronised. While deaths are not uncommon in horse racing, the fatalities were too public to be ignored and the ensuing storm of negativity threatened the very existence of not only the Grand National, but horse racing in general.
However, horse racing donned its tin hat, as it has done several times in the past, and weathered the barrage of public outrage. The reward for its loyal followers was Royal Ascot. This year’s meeting was one of the greatest in living memory. From Frankel to fashion, Royal Ascot 2012 oozed class and charisma, and provided the perfect antidote to horse racing’s struggles.
The meeting began (Tuesday 19 June) with the ceremonial royal procession and although the Queen was warmly-received, it was the King the crowd were waiting for: King Frankel. Sir Henry Cecil’s colt was looking to extend his unbeaten streak to 11 races and fans were not left disappointed. The four-year-old stormed home, winning by a remarkable 11-lengths. The 1/10 favourite proved exactly why he is the greatest racehorse in the world, much to the delight of the Ascot crowd. Frankel had opened the festival in the most spectacular and fitting fashion.
While Wednesday’s card was not blessed with three Group One clashes as the previous day’s had been, there was one race that particularly captured the imagination of racegoers: the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, and the battle between So You Think and the Queen’s horse, Carlton House. In the year of the Diamond Jubilee, Aidan O’Brien’s six-year-old obviously hadn’t read the script. With one furlong to race, Carlton House was hunting the leader down but, in the end, So You Think’s pace shone through, outstripping the Queen’s horse in the final stages. Not for the only time during the week, her Majesty was to be left disappointed.
In a week dominated by superstar names, Fame and Glory looked set for triumph in Thursday’s Gold Cup (June 21). However, in one of the week’s major upsets, Aidan O’Brien’s gelding was outrun and outclassed. What’s more, the race was won by Ascot favourite and the under-pressure Frankie Dettori on board Colour Vision. The four-year-old just held off the threat from fellow Godolphin horse, Opinion Poll (ironically the horse that Dettori was set to ride), despite contact between the two on the run-in for home. Dettori’s delight was clear to see, and he celebrated a famous victory with his jumping dismount.
After an exciting day of racing on Friday (June 22), culminating in Fallen For You’s surprise victory in the Coronation Stakes, the scene was set for a thrilling final day on Saturday (June 23), with the “Wonder from Down Under”, Black Caviar, racing in Britain for the first time. The supermare went off as the 1/6 favourite in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and was expected to destroy her opponents. However, in reality, the race was far less straightforward. In the best finish of the entire meeting, Black Caviar just managed to hold out and went on to win by a nose. It wasn’t the devastating victory that had been expected, but it was a victory nonetheless. It has since transpired that Black Caviar picked up two muscle strains in the process of her win. Through the pain, she triumphed.
From Frankel’s obliteration to Black Caviar’s narrowest of victories, Royal Ascot 2012 was stuffed with high-class, high-excitement racing. While only the major races have been summarised here, it is important to remember that many of the lower-class races were of equal, if not greater, excitement and within their cards lay potential stars of the future. Moreover, it would be wrong, in the year of the Diamond Jubilee, to ignore that fact that the Queen did indeed get a Royal Ascot winner this year, as Estimate claimed the Queen’s Vase on Friday. Fashion, royalty and pulsating racing combined to make Royal Ascot 2012 one of the very best.
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