August 8, 2022

Alpha Centauri sets course record with Coronation romp

Alpha Centauri, shown in her course-record Coronation, racked up her fourth straight Group 1 in the Marois (c) Photo courtesy of Ascot Twitter

Niarchos Family’s homebred ALPHA CENTAURI gave trainer Jessica Harrington her first win at Royal Ascot when romping home an easy six-length winner of the Coronation Stakes (Eng-G1) on Friday, the penultimate day of the 2018 royal meeting.

“I have a lot of good people behind me and a lot of very nice owners who give me nice horses,” Harrington said in regards to her first Royal Ascot winner. “It’s very special, absolutely fantastic.

With jockey Colm O’Donoghue aboard, the sophomore daughter of Mastercraftsman ran a mile over the good-to-firm going in 1:35.89, a new course record for Ascot. Threading finished second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Veracious.

“Alpha Centauri was awesome,” said O’Donoghue, who scored his second overall Royal Ascot win. “She traveled beautifully and moved great during the race. I am just very grateful to be riding her.”

“We’ve always been happy with the filly and (trainer) Jessie (Harrington) lets the horses do the talking, and there was nothing negative ahead of the race,” added Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos family. “She does the training and said everything was good and so you just have to take the chance. Going into the race we were very nervous, looking at the form of the others, but we’ve shown them all today.

“I don’t need to tell you anything about Jessie – her record and her achievements tell you everything. I saw the filly on Saturday and she looked wonderful. She traveled well and what happened today was amazing. It’s the Niarchos family’s third Coronation win and it is fabulous for our broodmares.”

Alpha Centauri entered the Coronation Stakes off a 1 3/4-length victory in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1) at the Curragh on May 27.

“First, I am relieved; I definitely was very nervous today as I know she is a great filly,” said Harrington, who is also a successful jumps trainer having captured the Cheltenham Gold Cup. “It was rather nice going into the Irish One Thousand Guineas as we were very much under the radar; she hadn’t run well on soft ground two runs before that.

“The ground is the key to her. As you see there, she is a very big filly – she weighs 520kg – and I think when she is on soft ground she physically can’t get her feet out of the ground. She just floats on top of the ground. What she wants is good ground, what she doesn’t want is heavy ground.

“Colm was very confident on her, she jumped well and settled great and when Colm turned in I thought ‘jeepers, he has gone very soon,’ but the further she went the quicker she went.

“Any winner is a great winner, and to have a Grade 1 winner over jumps or a Group 1 winner on the Flat, it is the same feeling, it is fantastic,” Harrington said in comparing a top-level jumping score like the Cheltenham Gold Cup to success at the upper echelon on the Flat. “My yard is now about fifty-fifty jumping horses to Flat horses. I have a great team and lots of family work for me – both daughters work for me and I am about to get my son-in-law too.”

The other Group 1 contest on Day 4 at Royal Ascot was the Commonwealth Cup (Eng-G1), which only began in 2015. Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell operation has now captured half of the four runnings of the six-furlong contest thanks to EQTIDAAR‘s half-length victory on Friday.

Eqtidaar, a Shadwell homebred like inaugural Commonwealth Cup winner Muhaarar, had Jim Crowley aboard and held off Sands of Mali to stop the clock in 1:12.12. It was a length farther behind to Emblazoned in third.

Sir Michael Stoute extended his hold on the winninest trainer title at Royal Ascot by recording his 78th victory as well as his third during the current stand.

“We have always liked this horse,” Stoute said of the Invincible Spirit sophomore. “I thought things just didn’t go quite right for him the first time he ran (second) here in the (May 2) Pavilion Stakes. Then at Newbury last time, he was on the wrong side of the track and at halfway was too far out of his ground (to finish fourth in the May 19 Carnarvon Stakes).

“He worked very well the other weekend under Jim Crowley, so we were hopeful.”

Eqtidaar’s score gave Crowley his first winner at the 2018 Royal Ascot meet and fourth overall.

“Eqtidaar was one of my best rides of the week and it’s great he could pull it off. He is trained by a master and just keeps on improving,” the reinsman stated. “I knew his potential. He had been working unbelievably well, and you could make excuses for his last two starts. We knew coming here today that he would have a great chance.”

Finishing sixth in the Commonwealth Cup was Gidu, who shipped over to England for trainer Todd Pletcher and was ridden on Friday by John Velazquez.

“I thought he went and ran well,” Velazquez said. “It was a good effort. It was a tough race.”

Saif Ali’s MAIN EDITION closed fast to stick her neck in front of La Pelosa in the Albany Stakes (Eng-G3) to kick off Day 4 of the 2018 Royal Ascot meet in exciting fashion.

The Zoffany juvenile filly finished six furlongs in 1:13.67 to award a 43rd Royal Ascot win to trainer Mark Johnston and 10th to jockey James Doyle.

“We came here knowing that she is a useful – she had two runs and two wins by her name. We have not got as many two-year-old fillies as colts for some reason this year, but we’re very strong in the two-year-old fillies’ department and this is one in the leading bunch,” Johnston said.

“I had such a willing partner today – she was so brave late on. Full credit to everyone at Mark Johnston’s and the whole team,” said Doyle, who picked up a two-day ban for using the whip above the permitted level in the last furlong and a half.

One race later, Godolphin homebred OLD PERSIAN posted a 2 1/4-length triumph under jockey William Buick in the King Edward VII Stakes (Eng-G2) for trainer Charlie Appleby.

The Dubawi sophomore had Rostropovich 1 3/4 lengths back in second, while Giuseppe Garibaldi just missed the place spot by a neck. Old Persian ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:29.95.

“This horse has done nothing but progress through the spring, and we felt this was the right race for him and that stepping up in trip would suit,” Appleby said. “We were confident and I told Will to go forward with him, and if someone wanted to take the lead, then we would be delighted.

“He’s a typical son of Dubawi – he’s improved from two to three and I’m sure he will progress from three to four. We wanted to mind him because we liked him and felt he had the scope to become a good horse. It’s still a building stage.

“I am delighted for the whole team,” Appleby added. “This is what Royal Ascot is all about.”

“Charlie has always said that Old Persian wants a mile and a half and this was his first time over the trip,” Buick said. “We hoped he would improve for it and he did. He is a lovely horse for the future.”

The final two races on Friday’s program were the Sandringham Stakes and Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.

Trainer Ed Walker recorded a first Royal Ascot success thanks to AGROTERA‘s 2 3/4-length triumph over Ortiz in the Sandringham Stakes.

“I remember it took Ralph (Beckett) 17 years to gain his first Royal winner, and Marco Botti is a great trainer who has been around a while and only trained his first winner yesterday,” Walker said. “It’s tough, because everyone is trying their hardest and bringing their best horses.”

The sophomore daughter of Mastercraftsman – who, like Thursday’s Gold Cup (Eng-G1) winner Stradivarius, is a Bjorn Nielsen homebred – completed a mile in 1:38.69 under jockey Jamie Spencer.

“We’ve been hitting the crossbar in the past three weeks, left, right and centre, with lots of fancied horses getting beaten. We’ve run 30-odd horses without a winner coming into this meeting, and it’s been dreadful,” Walker said.

“As a trainer you are a constant worrier, and it doesn’t do your confidence any good coming here to take on the world’s best. However, we knew we had a very good filly and she was on a very good mark of 88, and she proved that today. I was full of confidence about her, even though the horses had been running well but not winning, which was almost worst.”

“Agrotera is a good filly,” said Spencer, who garnered his 25th Royal Ascot winner. “The race was very smooth and I could see a lot of them were struggling at the three-furlong pole. I ended up going early enough to the lead and I got left a bit in no-man’s land in the middle of the track.”

Jeff Smith’s homebred DASH OF SPICE concluded the day’s racing action at Royal Ascot with a 2 1/4-length triumph in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.

“That was Royal Ascot winner number nine – and I must be 109 now!” Smith said. “This is a good horse and to win at Epsom (on June 2) and then come here, it is wonderful. He has just taken a long time to come to hand, but we know the family backwards, we’ve had lots of success with it.”

The score gave trainer David Elsworth his 16th Royal Ascot winner but the first since 2007.

“Dash of Spice has only run seven times, but he is a good horse, a lovely horse, he is still very lightly-raced,” Elsworth said. “He has pleased us, and it seems a few years since I last had a winner here.”

Jockey Silvestre de Sousa guided Dash of Spice, a -year-old son of Teofilo, through 1 1/2 miles to register his fifth Royal Ascot winner. The duo finished up in 2:27.76 with Sir Chauvelin coming in second by a length over Walton Street.