So You Think silences critics with Prince of Wales's victory
Buoyed by a smooth European return when annexing the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup on May 27 at The Curragh for the second consecutive year, connections came back to Ascot full of belief that the true talent of the High Chaparral six-year-old could be unlocked.
"Before we got him, everyone was of the opinion that he was all speed, but I started off on the wrong leg with him and tried to make him stay a mile and a half," O'Brien said. "I worked him too long and too often, but we knew we only had a few runs left -- today and Sandown -- to get him back, and the lads were confident it was going to come."
Unlike last year, when the stable pacemaker missed the break and the early stages proved a mess, this time Robin Hood was out fast to set the necessary fractions for So You Think. Settled in third early by a confident Joseph O'Brien, he was placed wide and out of trouble traveling easily behind his rabbit and the U.S. challenger Big Blue Kitten and was left in pole position as that duo started to retreat at the top of the stretch.
Attacked passing the quarter-pole by Carlton House, who had quickened through a gap towards the inner, the favorite produced another surge to shake off The Queen's colt and settle the result with a furlong remaining. So You Think was stretching away as the Royal runner's stamina ebbed away, recording an authoritative 2 1/4-length success.
"It will be the boys' decision when he goes to stud, but (the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes on July 7 at) Sandown was in our head as a cut-off point," O'Brien said. "We'll be pleading hard now, but it's a business decision. We're just delighted to get him back to where Bart had him, and all I can say is I'm sorry it took me so long to get him back to where everyone in Australia said he was. If he wasn't such a great horse, I'd have made a right mess of him."
"He relaxed lovely and quickened up very well when Ryan (Moore on Carlton House) got the split on the inside," Joseph O'Brien added. "Once he could see the other horse on his inside, he was never going to be beaten. I just wanted to get him into a rhythm and let him relax, as he has loads of class and can quicken and, when things work out, he's an exceptional horse."
Carlton House's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, told PA Sport, "He couldn't get enough cover as he was a bit off the fence, but he was second best, it's as simple as that. Ryan gave him a great ride; he had every chance, but he just found one too good."
Godolphin's Farhh, who was just a half-length behind in his stakes debut, ran an eye-catching race as he reared in the stalls -- he had been injured when doing the same in a conditions race won by Frankel two years ago -- and lost ground before being hampered in his run in the home straight.
"We are delighted with him, he had been physically weak, which is why he hasn't had many runs, but he's much stronger this year and, when he won easily at Thirsk, we thought he would be up to running in Group 1 races," trainer Saeed bin Suroor remarked. "He has shown today he is good enough for those races between 10 and 12 furlongs. We might look at the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes for him (on July 21)."
O'Brien recorded a double on Wednesday as he also saddled Ishvana, bred and owned by his wife, Anne Marie, to a one-length decision in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes.
The Holy Roman Emperor filly started out over five furlongs at two and immediately showed a smart level of ability when off the mark on Dundalk's Polytrack in April. Fourth in the Group 3 Anglesey Stakes over an extended six furlongs at The Curragh in July, the bay miss was stepped up to this trip for her next five outings and returned after a break to fill fourth spot in the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown in October.
Returning with a solid second in a handicap back at The Curragh on March 25, Ishvana finished in the rear in the Group 3 Leopardstown One Thousand Guineas Trial on April 15 before getting back to her winning ways on the Polytrack in a May 2 Dundalk conditions event. Not in love with the testing ground when a well-beaten third in the Group 3 Athasi Stakes at The Curragh on May 7, she showed that a mile was within her compass by nearly causing an upset when 1 1/2-lengths second to Samitar in the May 27 Group 1 Irish One Thousand Guineas back at that venue.
Ishvana created another landmark in the remarkable family story of the O'Briens here, quickly recovering from a bump exiting the stalls to race in midpack before being moved up steadily out wide. Committed before the quarter-pole by Seamie Heffernan, she hung tough in the clear as Sentaril and the favorite Aljamaaheer emerged from the pack.
"It's absolutely incredible and I'd like to thank my dad who bought her at the sales for us," Anne-Marie O'Brien said. "She was very impressive and showed a great turn of foot. There are lots of races to run all our fillies in and they all want slightly different trips -- I think seven furlongs suited her perfectly today."
For Ballydoyle stalwart Heffernan, the win represented a landmark of his own as it was a first at the Royal meeting.
"It was extremely straightforward," he said. "It takes her a while to loosen up, but once I got to the outside, she wanted to go. Aidan's can get better -- I don't know what he does to them. They can be no good and then start improving. I'm getting experienced now, so I take everything in my stride but it's nice to have that (Royal Ascot win) on the CV."
Trainer William Haggas was satisfied with the effort of the runner-up, who covered herself in glory after being settled far off the pace.
"She ran very well, Johnny (Murtagh) thought they didn't go fast enough early so they didn't fan out as much as he'd have liked," Haggas told PA Sport. "She didn't get the clearest run from the two pole, but it was still a good run. I'm not sure what's next, she's had a hard race, but I suspect she'll stay in training next year if the owners allow me."
Also on Wednesday's Royal Ascot program, Princess Haya of Jordan's Joviality stepped up from her previous form to record a neck success over the Sir Henry Cecil-trained Chachamaidee in a pulsating finish to the Group 2 Windsor Forest Stakes. Sent off at 11-1 on the back of a second in the Group 3 Princess Elizabeth Stakes going nine furlongs at Epsom on June 1, the bay daughter of Cape Cross was sent to the front with 1 1/2 furlongs remaining and, despite being headed for a stride by the eventual runner-up, refused to buckle and re-asserted in the final 150 yards.
"The mile is probably a little short for her, but she's got a lot of tenacity," trainer John Gosden said. "I really respect Henry's filly, who is very fast, but I thought if we can be in the right place and she has to come to us, we might outstay her. It was a thrilling performance.
"We had to wait for her to come right in June and she didn't handle Epsom," Gosden added. "She wants a mile to a mile and a quarter, so there are some nice races for her like the Group 1 Nassau Stakes (at Goodwood on August 4) and the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera de Longchamp (on October 7), but that is the elite end."
Cecil told PA Sport of Chachamaidee, "She ran a great race. The last two times she has dwelt a bit in the stalls, but the hood settles her down. She came there to win her race and has faltered in the last few yards. I think the dip at Newmarket will help, and she'll go for the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes (on July 13)."
Khalid Abdullah's Emulous was sent off the 11-4 favorite in the Windsor Forest, but after traveling strongly throughout the early stages could fare no better than seventh.
Andrew Black's homebred Ceiling Kitty put her black-type experience to maximum use to win despite an errant passage in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. Racing among the far-side group under Richard Kingscote, the May 18 listed Marygate Fillies' Stakes winner was in front of that pack with a quarter-mile remaining. Drifting left from there, the 20-1 shot ended up toward the stand's side, but held on to beat Hoyam by a length and nearly break the track record in the process.
"It's great for Andrew Black, who bred her as well," trainer Tom Dascombe said of the Red Clubs filly. "Richard Kingscote was pretty confident, as she had experience and is as hard as nails. This is what it's all about."
Ceiling Kitty's owner/breeder, who was the co-founder of Betfair, was thrilled afterward.
"This is my first proper homebred -- I claimed the mother for £17,000 -- and I knew she was good, so I put half of her up on Betfair for a year as part of a competition," Black explained. "I guess when I put her up for it, I didn't know she was as good as she was, but I feel quite good about it now. We've had an amazing experience."
Rounding out the Royal Ascot action on Wednesday was Duntle, who posted a half-length score in the Sandringham Handicap. The Danehill Dancer sophomore, sixth in a November 6 Leopardstown maiden in her only juvenile go, opened her account in emphatic fashion when slamming the opposition by 18 lengths in the colors of Sonia Rogers in an April 18 Dundalk maiden, then ran fourth in the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud One Thousand Guineas Trial back at Leopardstown racing in the Niarchos silks for the first time on May 13.
The chestnut, who holds an entry in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh on July 1, raced down in the ranks of the main stands' side group through the early strides on Wednesday before moving smoothly upsides long-time leader Arsaadi inside the quarter-pole. Edging in front soon after, Duntle had to dig deep for Wayne Lordan as that rival refused to give best in the run to the line.
"She won her maiden by 18 lengths and it takes a fair filly to do that," trainer David Wachman said. "She's a very smart filly, she's always shown us plenty and was only toying with them today. We were going to run her in the Irish One Thousand Guineas, but she'd had two quick runs, so we decided to come here instead. She has a few Group 1 entries and we'll take our time before deciding where to go next. I'll have to talk with (racing manager) Alan Cooper, but I imagine she'll probably end up finishing her career in America."
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