Four memorable stories from Royal Ascot 2018
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Accidental Agent lights the touchpaper When Accidental Agent equalled the record as the longest-priced winner of the Queen Anne Stakes in the opening race of last year’s meeting it was a moment that warmed the soul and left an indelible grin of satisfaction. In a week regularly dominated by the training prowess of John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’brien, Royal Ascot had started with something refreshingly different – this was not your average Group 1 result by a long chalk. Instead, it was a breakthrough at the top level for trainer Eve Johnson Houghton and rider Charlie Bishop, and unlikely heroes evidently come in threes, considering Accidental Agent was overlooked as a yearling at the sales. Fortunately for Johnson Houghton, Accidental Agent’s breeder was her mother, Gaie, meaning training responsibility for the unwanted bay – fantastically named after Eve’s grandfather and World War II hero John Goldsmith – passed to her daughter. The rest is history. Ascot’s famous winner’s circle was a heady mix of tears and cheers after the win, with Accidental Agent returning one of the stories of the week after just one race. Poet’s Word silences Cracksman The shocks kept coming on day two with Prince of Wales’s Stakes banker Cracksman silenced by Poet’s Word, who provided Sir Michael Stoute with a landmark success. Victory promoted Stoute to all-time leading trainer at Royal Ascot, one clear of the late Sir Henry Cecil and later the same day he added a 77th victory when Expert Eye returned to form in the Jersey Stakes. Poet’s Word enjoyed a dream journey under James Doyle, travelling like a superior model as Cracksman failed to find his rhythm under Frankie Dettori. Cracksman did pick up in the straight to momentarily lead but he had no answer as Poet’s Word came thundering past on his outer. The winner went on to prove himself among the best middle-distance performers in Europe by winning the King George at the same course, while Cracksman was back to his sublime best when signing off his career with a memorable Ascot victory on Champions Day. Stradivarius pulls the strings in Gold Cup A day after Stoute’s landmark, Frankie Dettori rode his 60th Royal Ascot winner in a barnstorming Gold Cup, where Stradivarius (right) outfought French raider Vazirabad in a titanic finish that did justice to the feature race of the week. Stradivarius, the new kid on the block in the staying division, travelled with exuberance for Dettori and had Torcedor and 2016 winner Order Of St George well within range turning in. Asked to go and win his race inside the final two furlongs, Stradivarius accepted with an enthusiasm that has since become his trademark, only to be joined by the menacing presence of French star Vazirabad. The duo locked eyes for several seconds, but Stradivarius was never going to blink first, bowing his head and digging deeper still to land a three-quarterlength victory in a race that fully lived up to its billing. Alpha shines brightest of all Alpha Centauri, the filly named after the closest star system to our own, was out of this world in the Coronation Stakes, dazzling her rivals with a six-length success that lowered the track record by more than a second. Not only the performance of the week, this was arguably the performance of the season from the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, who loomed into a challenging position with two furlongs to go and had the race put to bed less than a furlong later. The final 200 yards were merely a procession that sent Ascot into raptures. Her victory was a first at Royal Ascot for Jessica Harrington, adding to the trainer’s big-race haul that includes Classics on the Flat and a Cheltenham Gold Cup over jumps. Harrington may have thought she had seen it all before but rarely are Group 1s secured with the authority and panache Alpha Centauri showed. Simply breathtaking.