HOT favourite Leading Light narrowly denied the Queen’s defending champion Estimate in a pulsating climax to the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Last year’s Queen’s Vase and St Leger hero, Leading Light, was all the rage for the two-and-a-half-mile Group One, backed down to 10-11 favourite having made a winning return to action in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan last month.
The four-year-old was under the pump from the home turn in the hands of Joseph O’Brien, son of trainer Aidan, but stuck to his guns admirably to fend off Estimate by a neck, with the front-running 40-1 shot Missunited a gallant third.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Estimate brought the house down at the Berkshire track when prevailing 12 months ago, the first winner of the Royal Ascot feature to be owned by a reigning monarch in the history of the great race. The five-year-old travelled powerfully for a long way and appeared to have most of her rivals covered on the home turn but, crucially, she was kept in by Leading Light and had to go for a run up the inside. When the gap came, Estimate fought on bravely, but O’Brien’s runner was just too strong.
Winning jockey O’Brien said: “When you win it is always a good ride, there’s no such thing as a bad winning ride. I kept a straight line, Ryan [Moore, on Estimate] was looking for a bit of room but I was entitled to keep a straight line. He had a little look when he got to the front and then went a bit to his left, he’s a big, lazy horse but I think he’s better at a mile and six.
“I was rowing away on him but I had loads left, I was trying to hold off asking for everything for as long as I could. Ryan gave me a bit of help by coming up my inside as he pushed me along a bit – this fellow is as tough as nails.”
Aidan O’Brien, winning the race for the sixth time, said: “He’s idle, but he was in a lovely position and settled well. He was very lazy when he got there. Joseph was trying to keep him with company.”
Bracelet could head for the Darley Irish Oaks after sparkling for O’Brien in the Ribblesdale Stakes.
The filly had not raced since running poorly in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas but her handler’s patience was duly rewarded with a notable success.
O’Brien decided to discount the Irish equivalent as well as the Investec Oaks to give her more time and it paid off as she bounced back to form when stepped up to a mile and a half. Fitted with a hood on the track for the first time, Bracelet (10-1) looked a class act as she powered to victory by half a length from Lustrous after O’Brien’s other runner Terrific had made the running.
Criteria was just a head away in third, with French-trained favourite Vazira staying on for fourth. O’Brien said: “After the Guineas we could have gone for the Irish Guineas and then the Epsom Oaks, but we decided to give her more time and Ryan [Moore] said after Newmarket that a mile-and-a-quarter and a mile-and-a-half would suit her well. We thought we’d come here and we’re delighted.”
Today’s main event is the Coronation Stakes and Olly Stevens is confident dual Classic runner-up Lightning Thunder remains at the top of her game ahead of her bid for a deserved top-level victory.
The Dutch Art filly ran a fantastic race when narrowly denied by Miss France in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May and proved that effort was no fluke when runner-up in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh three and a half weeks ago. Stevens only began training at the start of last season, but enjoyed a Royal Ascot winner in his debut year with Windsor Castle Stakes scorer Extortionist and now wants to add a first Group 1 winner to his CV.
Stevens said: “She’s in really good form and has done well since Ireland. She doesn’t look like a filly who has run in two Classics and seems fresh and well. The Coronation has always been her aim – she had a complication during the winter and was not supposed to even make the Guineas.
“Fast ground and not hitting the front too soon are her ideal conditions and I think the round course at Ascot should suit her perfectly.”