It took a lengthy stewards’ enquiry to settle the matter but Dawn Approach ricocheted back from his Derby flop to deny Toronado by a short-head in a thrilling finish to the St James’s Palace Stakes on the opening day of Royal Ascot.
The 2,000 Guineas hero’s comeback was the third leg of an Irish clean sweep of Tuesday’s four Group races, with Aidan O’Brien winning the Queen Anne Stakes with Declaration of War and Coventry Stakes courtesy of War Command, a double for the exciting young Claiborne stallion War Front. Edward Lynam’s admirable sprinter Sole Power saw off South African challenger Shea Shea in the King’s Stand Stakes.
Animal Kingdom’s appearance in the Queen Anne Stakes had been widely anticipated to be the high point of the first day of racing at Ascot and there was a collective groan from the stands as the commentator announced that the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup hero was in trouble even before halfway. He ultimately trailed home eleventh of the 13 runners, and trainer Graham Motion apologised for his performance, saying, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out – it is disappointing for everyone. There was such a good reception for him and it would have been great to see him do his stuff but he clearly didn’t today.”
He added, “I don’t want to offer too many excuses. We’re deflated. Everyone was predicting he’d win but they have to run the race.”
Motion’s loss was O’Brien’s gain, with Declaration Of War prevailing by three-quarters of a length over the Roger Varian-trained Aljamaaheer. Breeder Joseph Allen, who still owns the colt in partnership with the Coolmore team, said, “I’m in bliss! It’s my first win at Ascot and it’s wonderful day. My wife’s here, I couldn’t be happier.”
Allen’s joy would turn into rapture later in the day when the Danzig stallion War Front, whom he also bred, was responsible for sensational Coventry Stakes winner War Command, who races in Allen’s colours but is again part-owned by the Coolmore triumvirate of Sue Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. The once-raced Leopardstown maiden winner routed his opponents, including hotly-fancied stable-mate Stubbs, by six lengths, with the Richard Fahey-trained Parbold second and another O’Brien representative, Sir John Hawkins, taking third.
Hailing Johnny Murtagh as “the best trainer riding”, Sole Power’s handler Edward Lynam believed that Shea Shea was the one to beat in the first major sprint contest of the Royal Meeting, and so it proved, with his tough six-year-old getting the upper hand by just a neck to claim his second Group 1 victory.
Murtagh said, “Eddie knows how to get Sole Power spot on for these big days. He has run a lot of good races but when you are a 100/1 winner of a Group 1 [the Nunthorpe Stakes, 2010] you are kind of put in a pigeon hole. He’s showed what he can do today.”
Jim Bolger, who bred and now co-owns Dawn Approach with Sheikh Mohammed, has sent Godolphin’s racing manager Simon Crisford a text message last week which said, “Be prepared for a shock”.
That shock was the colt’s entry in the St James’s Palace Stakes just 18 days after Dawn Approach’s shocking run in the Derby, for which he had started favourite. Such is the racing public’s faith in Bolger’s training skills that the son of New Approach, who won the Coventry Stakes on the corresponding day of last year’s meeting, was once again well backed, this time for a recovery mission.
Bolger will have left Ascot on Tuesday with a smile on his face that said, ‘mission accomplished’. Despite some argy-bargy mid-race, in which Dawn Approach received a sideways shunt, in turn interfering with Toronado, the bobbing finish which saw Bolger’s charge have his nose down where it mattered, was allowed to stand.
“Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking any risk,” said Sheikh Mohammed post-race. Indeed it is.