It was an opening day like none before it at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant the enforced absence of some of the traditional elements of the meeting, but the racing on the track more than lived up to the glorious history of the event.
With the Royal Ascot enclosures sadly empty and social distancing measures in place to ensure the safety of those present, the spotlight fell solely on the horses and jockeys across the revamped seven-race card. From start to finish, viewers, dressed up and watching at home on television across the world, were treated to top class horse racing at its very best.
The day began perfectly for jockey Jim Crowley with a winning ride in the opening race aboard Motakhayyel, who stayed on powerfully to defeat 23 rivals in the Buckingham Palace Handicap for trainer Richard Hannon. For Crowley and the horse’s owner, Hamdan Al Maktoum, it would get even better over the next couple of hours.
Crowley’s highest profile ride of the day – and probably of the whole meeting – came in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes aboard the brilliant Battaash. Charles Hills’ six-year-old was attempting to win the race at the third time of asking, having finished second to Blue Point in 2018 and 2019, and to rubber-stamp his claim to the title of best sprinter in Europe.
Battaash and Crowley flew out of the starting stalls and less than a minute later the duo passed the winning post comfortably clear of stablemate Equilateral, after a stunning display of pace and power that left all who saw it no doubt of his place in the pantheon of the top sprinters of the last decade or so.
Crowley Completes Treble
Just over half an hour later Crowley completed a memorable treble in the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum by driving Nazeef to victory over Agincourt in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes. In a head-to-head battle for most of the final furlong, Nazeef just prevailed for trainer John Gosden – with the filly extending her winning streak to five.
That race was the second leg of a double for Gosden, following victory for another of his fillies, Frankly Darling, in the Ribblesdale Stakes earlier in the afternoon. On just her third run, the daughter of Frankel overcame signs of immaturity to produce a devastating turn of foot between the last two furlongs in the hands of Frankie Dettori – an exciting performance that marked her down as a filly with a bright future.
Royal Ascot Day One Highlights
Gosden and Dettori were just denied in the opening Group 1 race of the 2020 meeting, when Terebellum was edged out by Circus Maximus after a titanic tussle for the Queen Anne Stakes. Aidan O’Brien’s tough and courageous colt looked beaten 100 yards from the finish, but under a strong drive from Ryan Moore, Circus Maximus battled back to add the Queen Anne Stakes to his win in the St James’s Palace Stakes in 2019.
Circus Maximus earned a fee expenses paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland in November with his victory.
There were fairytale outcomes to the other two races on the card, adding to the sense that this way a day that would live long in the memory. Pyledriver, a horse bought for just £10,000 by connections, outclassed some rivals with loftier reputations to win the King Edward VII Stakes in fine style, setting up a potential bid for the Derby at Epsom next month.
In the final race of the day, the Ascot Stakes, Coeur De Lion was partnered to victory by German-born apprentice jockey Thore Hammer Hansen – giving the 20-year-old a first Royal Ascot winner.