Big Orange had a comfortable advantage in the stretch after leading for much of Thursday’s 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (Eng-G1) on Day 3 of Royal Ascot, but had to dig deep for the victory when 5-6 favorite Order of St George came calling to his outside.
“He’s just an absolute superstar,” trainer Michael Bell said. “He gives his all and he’s got a heart as big as himself. I can’t praise his attitude enough; he wants to race and he’s a colossal racehorse. On fast ground in the middle of the summer, he’s a monster.”
Big Orange and Order of St George, who captured this race last year, hooked up in the shadow of the wire, with a short head bob seeing the former get the victory under jockey James Doyle. The six-year-old gelding stopped the clock in 4:22.40 over the good-to-firm turf.
“It’s the feature race of the meeting, an epic race taking on a very good horse (Order of St George) in a proper horse race, and I can’t tell you the pride I have got in Big Orange. Enormous pride and great satisfaction for the team at home. I’m so pleased for them, for the horse, for the owners, for me – for everybody,” Bell said.
“We knew we would probably have to do the donkey work but we were happy to do that; you can’t check his stride pattern. Quest For More went to try and make it but they just weren’t going fast enough for them (Big Orange and Doyle).
“You can’t check his stride – he’s got an enormous stride pattern and you’ve got to let him use it.”
Doyle got the mount on Big Orange after original rider Frankie Dettori was sidelined with an injury right before Royal Ascot.
“Frankie just told me not to interfere with Big Orange,” Doyle explained. “We were a little bit concerned that Roger Charlton’s horse (Quest For More) was going to go on and he led us for a couple of furlongs, but I thought I shouldn’t be doing this as I’m interfering with him, so I pulled him out and he pricked his ears nicely. He knows what speed he wants to go at and you just sit as a passenger. I had Frankie’s voice in my head, so just eased him, let him go to the front and the rest was history.
“Big Orange got a little bit lonely (in front) and I wished that something had just joined him a bit sooner and he would have won a bit more impressively. It is a long time to be in front when you make the running like that and he had plenty of time to get lonely, so I couldn’t knock him for that.
“I wasn’t sure if Order of St George was just lugging into him a little bit, but it just gave him a little wake-up call and I always knew he was going to hold him to the line. I knew he had won crossing the line, but when I saw it was a photo, I thought, ‘I hope I haven’t gone too soon!’ I only knew I was going to be on this horse a couple of mornings ago and he is the people’s horse – it was just a pleasure to ride him.”
Doyle added, “He is a real proper old-fashioned stayer who just wears his heart on his sleeve and just tries. I wish most horses I rode tried as hard as him. He feels like a bit old-fashioned sort of jump horse. He is as tough as they get.”
Big Orange now boasts eight stakes wins, including back-to-back editions (2015-16) of both the Goodwood Cup (Eng-G2) and Princess of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-G2). The Duke of Marmalade gelding entered this one off a five-length score in the May 25 Henry II Stakes (Eng-G3) at Sandown.
Following the Gold Cup top two under the line were Harbour Law, She is No Lady, Torcedor, Sheikhzayedroad, Sweet Selection, Prince of Arran, Nearly Caught, Endless Time, Harrison, Quest For More, Trip to Paris and Simple Verse.
One race before the Gold Cup, Coronet also eked out a close score when taking the Ribblesdale Stakes (Eng-G2) by a neck over 2-1 favorite Mori.
The Dubawi sophomore miss rallied strongly with Mori to her inside to run down fellow John Gosden trainee Hertford Dancer. The duo then battled it out in the final strides, with Coronet getting the best of Mori to complete 12 furlongs in 2:32.06.
“Coronet is a lovely filly,” trainer John Gosden said. “I thought the third filly (Hertford Dancer) had got it won; she’s a very game filly and was ridden well. It was a great run and I’m delighted with her.
“She’s a tough filly. She loved the uphill at Epsom (when finishing fifth in the Epsom Oaks [Eng-G1]) but not downhill. It was a good run and she deserved this success.”
Just like Doyle in the Gold Cup, jockey Olivier Peslier picked up the mount on Coronet after Dettori was forced to the sidelines.
“I could take my time on her and the race went well for her,” Peslier said. “There was a good pace, but the leader was a bit too far in front so no one wanted to follow her. The strong pace was a big help for me.”
Completing the order of finish were Rich Legacy, Apphia, Alluringly, Coconut Creme, The Sky is Blazing, Serenada, Gracious Diana, Astronomy’s Choice and Naughty Or Nice.
Sioux Nation posted a half-length victory in the Norfolk Stakes (Eng-G2) to kick off Thursday’s third day of action at Royal Ascot.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained juvenile ran on the far side of the green under jockey Ryan Moore, getting the best of 13-2 co-favorite Santry while finishing five furlongs in 1:00.88.
It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to third-placer Cardsharp in the spread-out field, while next under the wire were Frozen Angel, It Dont Come Easy, True Blue Moon, 13-2 joint favorite McErin, Koditime, Consequences, Havana Grey, Billy Dylan, Nine Below Zero, Pilkington, Viscount Loftus, Gift in Time, New Empire and Poorauldjosephine.
“He’s a massive horse, a big, powerful horse and to be doing this at this time of his career is incredible, really,” O’Brien said. “Ryan looked very comfortable and was travelling very well. I think he was trying to stall getting there but he gave the horse a marvelous ride. He paced it brilliantly – he only had three horses to follow and slowly maneuvered him into cover. To get cover like he did with only three horses was brilliant.
“He’s a horse everyone at home loved from the first time he worked, and I’m delighted really.”
Norfolk earned his second win in this spot after breaking his maiden on May 19 at Cork in his third try. The Kentucky-bred bay son of Scat Daddy tried listed company eight days later but wound up sixth in the Marble Hill Stakes on yielding to soft ground at the Curragh. He entered the Norfolk off that run.
“This horse needs good, fast ground,” Moore noted. “He has got back on that ground today and always travelled like the winner. He was a bit lonely on his own but he is a very good colt.”
Benbatl proved too tough for 10-3 favorite Orderofthegarter in the Hampton Court Stakes (Eng-G3) (formerly Tercentenary Stakes) one race later, giving jockey Oisin Murphy his first victory at Royal Ascot.
“It’s a massive monkey off my back, just delighted to get it,” Murphy said. “It’s absolute elation, I don’t normally celebrate like that, and I know it’s only a Group 3, but this meeting is very important. When watching the replay tonight, I’ll be stopping the film straight after the line, I won’t be watching the celebrations!”
Benbatl grabbed a short lead in the 10-furlong affair and dug in as Orderofthegarter ranged up to his outside. A half-length separated the pair on the wire as the sophomore son of Dubawi stopped the clock in 2:05.40.
Mirage Dancer finished third and was followed by Taj Mahal, Irishcorrespondent, Speedo Boy, Mucho Applause, Tamleek, Kings Gift, Grey Britain, Rodaini, Bay of Poets and Savile Row.
Benbatl was making his fifth career start in this spot, having ran fifth in the Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) last out on June 3 under Murphy. Prior to that, the bay colt filled the runner-up spot in the May 18 Dante Stakes (Eng-G2) with Pat Cosgrave aboard.
“It is brilliant to win at Royal Ascot. These races are hard to win but finally we find the right horse to win,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. “Today’s trip was brilliant for him. He was in a nice position and kicked really well. He is a nice horse for the future.
“When he won the first time, we thought that he was the right horse for the big races. He finished fifth in the Derby and he ran well, but he came from too far back and finished strong, so we thought that a mile and a quarter would be better for him.
“We will keep the options open. We might take him to York for the (July 29) York Stakes (Eng-G2) or the (August 23) Great Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-G2) or we could go to Goodwood for the (August 5) Gordon Stakes (Eng-G3). Then later maybe give him a break before the (October 21) Champion Stakes (Eng-G1) at Ascot.”
Bless Him just held the fast-closing Ronald R by a half-length to take the Britannia Stakes under jockey Jamie Spencer in the penultimate race on Thursday. Running near the far side, the Sea the Stars sophomore finished a mile in 1:40.59 to give trainer David Simcock his second Royal Ascot winner.
“Fantastic – I’m chuffed to bits,” Simcock said. “It hasn’t been the best of weeks so far – bit quick for old Sheikhzayedroad (sixth in the Gold Cup) and Lightning Spear didn’t run his race (in the Queen Anne Stakes [Eng-G1]) for one reason or another, so this is great – good timing, and a hard race to win.
“He’s very straightforward at home, but he’s surprised us when he’s got to the races and he hasn’t been straightforward there, to be honest. He’s behaved impeccably today, he got a bit of pace to run at and quickened up very, very well.”
“He is a horse who has always trained lovely at home, but has been aggressive in small-runner fields,” explained Spencer, whose original intended mount was a non-runner. “It was our big hope that, once we got into a race with a lot of pace on, we could isolate him from the field, get him to spit it out to halfway and he would be hard to beat.
“When I moved on him, he was very explosive because he went through a tight gap. I was there plenty early and he was idling away in front. It is a straight track and the hood helped, but it’s a team effort.”
Bless Him broke his maiden in his second try on April 1 at Chelmsford, then ran third in the Stonbury Handicap at Doncaster a month later. He entered the Britannia off a fifth-place effort in a Goodwood handicap on May 27.
It was another 1 1/2 lengths behind Ronald R to third-placer Tricorn, while completing the order of finish were Indian Dandy, Leshlaa, Senator, Afaak, Leader’s Legacy, Medieval, City of Joy, Son of the Stars, Via Serendipity, Sabador, Medahim, Executive Force, Colibri, Omran, Capezzano, Rusumaat, The Grape Escape, Sultan Baybars, Moritzburg, Lightening Fast, Horroob, Thomas Cranmer, Keyser Soze, Masham Star, Hyde Park and Maths Prize.
Atty Persse drew off under apprentice jockey Kieran Shoemark to close out Day 3 at Royal Ascot with an easy score in the King George V Stakes. Trained by Roger Charlton, the three-year-old son of Frankel completed 12 furlongs in 2:31.68 while three lengths clear of First Nation.
“Atty Persse is very easy to train. For a little horse, he has a very long stride,” Charlton said. “The jockey (Kieran Shoemark) is good. You have to have trust and faith in people and he is a good rider, I am lucky to have him.”
“He made my job easy today. He had lots of early speed. They went a level gallop the whole way and I was actually really surprised how much he quickened up with three furlongs to go,” Shoemark said. “It probably shows he will get a mile and six furlongs in time; he’s obviously by Frankel but I think he will like the staying trips in time. They gave me the early speed and he was switched on and ready to race.”
Bear Valley just missed second by a head, while it was neck farther back to fourth-placer Drochaid. Completing the order under the line were Homesman, Utah, Never Surrender, Bin Battuta, Janszoon, Shymkent, Master Singer, Good Omen, Oasis Charm, Sofia’s Rock, Twin Star, Tartini, Majoris and Reachforthestars
Atty Persse is now 4-3-1-0 after capturing his first two races and running second most recently in a May 26 handicap at Haydock.
“They went very quick and you had to think whether he would have the petrol left to keep going, but he had lots left. He stayed on really well – stamina is a strong thing with this horse,” Charlton said. “He ran well at Haydock last time but they quickened from the front that day and never really got there.
“They didn’t go much of a pace that day and clearly, what we have seen today is a horse that stays a mile and a half really well.”