December 1, 2023

Royal Ascot: Courage Mon Ami gives Dettori ninth Gold Cup win, Valiant Force stuns in Norfolk

Frankie Dettori aboard his ninth Gold Cup winner, Courage Mon Ami (Photo by Megan Ridgwell/Ascot)

In his final season of riding at Royal Ascot, legendary jockey Frankie Dettori picked up a ninth victory in Thursday’s 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (G1), guiding the lightly raced Courage Mon Ami to an 8-1 upset.

Courage Mon Ami entered the Gold Cup unbeaten in three starts, but the four-year-old gelded son of Frankel had never contested a Group stakes or a race longer than 1 3/4 miles. Nevertheless, the John and Thady Gosden trainee rallied resolutely when called upon by Dettori, wearing down favored Coltrane to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Coltrane, under Oisin Murphy, spent much of the race in midpack before taking command in the homestretch. He had every chance to claim top honors, but couldn’t quite keep pace with Courage Mon Ami in the final drive, finishing second by 3 3/4 lengths over the rest of the pack.

The winning time was 4:20.23. Pacesetting Subjectivist, winner of the 2021 Gold Cup, held for third place by a head over the filly Emily Dickinson. Nate the Great finished fifth, followed by 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Yibir, Eldar Eldarov, Echoes In Rain, Lone Eagle, Broome, Big Call, and Wise Eagle.

Dettori has now won four of the last six editions of the Gold Cup, having guided John Gosden’s Stradivarius to three consecutive victories from 2018-2020. Dettori also rode Stradivarius in 2021 and 2022, finishing fourth and third.

“I didn’t expect it,” said Dettori of his triumph aboard Courage Mon Ami. “The last five years I’ve had Stradivarius, so the pressure was on. This one I thought was a bit of a chancer coming from handicaps, but John was confident. I rode him cold and it just happened—I got the splits when I wanted to and he showed a turn of foot. The last half a furlong, I couldn’t give in to Oisin, I thought: ‘no, we’ve got this far, please keep going’.

“It’s unbelievable, on my last year winning the Gold Cup. Myself, The King and Queen Camilla had a talk beforehand about his win and my relationship with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, then the next race I go on and win the Gold Cup and he presents the trophy. It’s amazing, really amazing.”

Another important event on Thursday was the Norfolk (G2) for two-year-olds. The five-furlong grass dash serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1), and U.S. raider American Rascal was a popular choice among the 14 entries.

Unfortunately, American Rascal failed to fire his best shot, fading to finish 13th as 119-1 longshot Valiant Force kicked away to spring a staggering upset in :59.75. The Adrian Murray trainee was always forwardly placed on the far side under jockey Rossa Ryan and edged clear in the final two furlongs to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Malc and 8-5 favorite Elite Status.

His Majesty, Devious, Reveiller, and Mon Na Slieve were next in line, while No Nay Mets—the second U.S. hopeful—finished ninth. The Fixer, Toca Madera, Shayekh, American Rascal, and Noche Magica trailed the field.

“I can’t believe it,” said Murray. “I fell into racing by accident. A friend of mine got me involved in the Flat. It’s magic. We were third here on Tuesday (in the Coventry [G2]) and I wondered if that would ever happen again.

“We knew Valiant Force was a nice horse and I couldn’t believe the price—he was only beaten less than a length by His Majesty first time out and was 150-1 (in the British market) today. It didn’t make sense—I knew he was much better than that. It’s the stuff of dreams. It’s great for the small man. I’m based in Mullingar and have had some right nice jumpers in the past. I love it, love racing.”

Regarding the disappointment of American Rascal, jockey Joel Rosario explained, “He broke real well out of there and they kind of got away a little bit from me. It was his first time here and it was all a little different for him. We will go on to the next one.”

Group stakes action continued with the Ribblesdale (G2), a 1 1/2-mile contest for three-year-old fillies. Al Asifah was favored at 1-2 after opening her career with a pair of blowout victories against easier competition, but when the dust settled it was Warm Heart who took first prize at 8-1, overcoming a wide trip to dominate by 2 1/2 lengths over Lumiere Rock and Bluestocking.

Crown Princesse, Sea of Roses, Al Asifah, Climate Friendly, Lmay, Ghara, Village Voice, Perfect Prophet, Understated, Midnight Mile, Rocha Do Leao, Red Riding Hood, Ferrari Queen, and Maman Joon completed the order of finish. The final time was 2:30.41.

Warm Heart was ridden to victory by Ryan Moore on behalf of trainer Aidan O’Brien, which marked their third time teaming up to win at Royal Ascot this meet. With three victories, O’Brien is currently tied atop the trainer standings with John and Thady Gosden, while Moore’s four wins overall are twice as many as posted by any other rider.

“Ryan gave Warm Heart a lovely ride and I’m delighted with her,” said O’Brien. “She ran a very good race at Newbury the last day (when winning the 1 1/4-mile Fillies’ Trial S.) and we weren’t sure whether the trip would be too far for her. Ryan planned to take his time with her today, to find a handy position and wait as long as possible.

“Ryan is brilliant, an incredible fella. He must be nearly 40, but every year he gets better. He gets better because he puts so much in, day in and day out. When he comes over (to Ireland), he stays with us and runs six or seven miles every morning before he sits on a horse. He’s so fit, so focused, and so committed, and when you ask him a question all the information comes out about the horse, the ride, the ground. He’s an incredible horseman, very cool under pressure, and a total professional. We’re so lucky to have him.”

The final group stakes of the day saw Waipiro rally to win the Hampton Court (G3) for three-year-olds racing 1 1/4 miles. The Ed Walker trainee exited a sixth-place finish in the Derby (G1) at Epsom and relished the drop in class and distance, defeating Exoplanet by 2 3/4 lengths to secure his first stakes score under jockey Tom Marquand.

Bold Act, Torito, Canberra Legend, Caernarfon, Drumroll, Dancing Magic, Oviedo, Bolster, Killybegs Warrior, Captain Winters, Epictetus, Tony Montana, Brave Emperor, and Dear My Friend trailed the field. The winning time was 2:05.10.

Other Thursday races included the 1 1/2-mile King George V won by 22-1 longshot Desert Hero, handing King Charles III and Queen Camilla their first Royal Ascot win; the one-mile Brittania won by tepid 5-1 favorite Docklands; and the seven-furlong Buckingham Palace which went the way of 49-1 longshot Witch Hunter.

Four more group stakes are slated to take place on Friday at Royal Ascot, the penultimate day of racing at the prestigious meet. The six-furlong Commonwealth Cup (G1) for three-year-olds and one-mile Coronation (G1) for three-year-old fillies rank as the highlights.