July 18, 2024

Royal Ascot: Charyn, Asfoora win Day 1 Breeders’ Cup qualifiers

Charyn winning the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot (Photo by Megan Coggin/Ascot Racecourse)
Charyn winning the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot (Photo by Megan Coggin/Ascot Racecourse)

An action-packed opening Tuesday of racing at Royal Ascot yielded a mix of expected and surprising outcomes as the four group stakes churned out rousing finishes befitting the prestigious five-day meet.

Queen Anne (G1)

As usual, racing kicked off with the coveted Queen Anne (G1), a one-mile qualifier to the 2024 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar. Bettors viewed the race as a battle between Lockinge (G1) runner-up Charyn, the 100-30 favorite among British bookmakers, and Dubai Turf (G1) hero Facteur Cheval, the 5-2 choice in the pari-mutuel World Pool.

In the end, though, it wasn’t a contest as Charyn dominated. The 13-horse field split into two groups early on, with Big Rock—a six-length winner over Facteur Cheval in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot—leading Facteur Cheval on the far side. The other 11 runners stayed on the near side, with Charyn settling a joint fourth among his group in the early going.

As the field came down the straight, Lockinge winner Audience led the way, but Charyn soon launched a decisive bid to seize command. The race was over at that point, as Charyn stayed on under jockey Silvestre de Sousa to win by 2 1/4 lengths over stretch-running Docklands and Maljoom, completing the mile in 1:38.04.

“What I did there was very little—I just had to wait for the right moment, and Charyn won quite nicely,” de Sousa said. “At halfway, I thought I don’t want to get there too soon. He is such a gentleman and you just have to ask him the questions.”

Witch Hunter, Audience, Facteur Cheval, Dolayli, Cairo, Brave Emperor, Big Rock, Hi Royal, Flight Plan, and the pulled-up Poker Face completed the order of finish.

“It doesn’t get any better, a Group One at Royal Ascot,” said Roger Varian, who trains Charyn on behalf of owner Nurlan Bizakov. “I am really delighted for his owner, who has invested so much in the game and has supported me for a number of years. For my team I am delighted, as everyone works so hard at home. It is a great day and we’ll enjoy it.”

The victory marked an improvement from Charyn’s only previous Royal Ascot foray, a third-place finish in the 2023 St James’s Palace (G1).

Coventry (G2)

Juvenile racing is always a highlight of Royal Ascot, and the six-furlong Coventry (G2) served as the first contest for two-year-olds of the 2024 meet. A 22-horse field faced the starter, and the result was a monumental upset as Manton Thoroughbreds IX colorbearer Rashabar (a 128-1 shot in the World Pool) prevailed in a three-horse photo finish over Electrolyte (25-1) and Columnist (64-1). The World Pool $1 trifecta returned $122,667.10.

Rashabar entered as an unheralded maiden after finishing third and second in his first two starts at Newbury and Chester. But under 18-year-old champion apprentice jockey Billy Loughnane, the Brian Meehan trainee showed speed on the far side and withstood near-side challenges from Electrolyte and Columnist to score by a nose in 1:13.90.

Cool Hoof Luke, Al Qudra, Symbol of Honour, Cowardofthecounty, Star Anthem, Angelo Buonarroti, Nascimento, Camille Pissarro, Catalyse, The Actor, Turners Cross, Midnight Strike, Mr Chaplin, Ingot, Yah Mo Be There, Francisco’s Piece, Zminiature, Arran, and Up The Clarets trailed home the top three.

“Wow, what a feeling!” said Loughnane, who was riding his first winner at Royal Ascot. “I haven’t even been riding two years yet. I had my 200th career winner last night at Windsor, and I came here this week just praying I would manage to get on the board with one. To do it so early is a massive relief, and I can’t thank everyone from Brian Meehan’s and everyone involved… Brian was very confident coming into the race. Rashabar was very tough and had to do it the hard way. I wasn’t 100 percent sure I had won, I just kept driving away. I looked up at the big telly there and I thought I might have won but you never know for certain.”

“Tremendous, this feels amazing,” Meehan said. “Dare I say, it was not a huge surprise. He’s felt very good since Chester and everything has gone really well with him throughout.”

Regarding future plans for Rashabar, Meehan indicated a trip to the U.S. for the Breeders’ Cup could be a long-term possibility. “I’ve always liked the idea of the Prix Morny,” Meehan said. “The July Stakes would be too soon but the Richmond Stakes is attractive. Obviously, we have to think about Group 1 races… maybe a Breeders’ Cup by the end of the year.”

King Charles III (G1)

Formerly known as the King’s Stand, the five-furlong King Charles III attracted Big Evs, the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) winner. Fresh off a season-opening score in the Westow S. at York, Big Evs started as the 3-2 World Pool favorite while stepping up against older rivals and seeking an automatic berth to the 2024 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).

Big Evs put up a good try, leading a group on the far side until close to home, but in the final yards he grew leg-weary and weakened to finish third by 1 1/2 lengths. In the meantime, Australian raider Asfoora parlayed a forwardly placed trip on the near side into a tenacious one-length victory over near-side pacesetter Regional. Oisin Murphy rode the winner, who stopped the timer in :58.60.

Believing, Kerdos, Twilight Calls, Makarova, Emaraaty Ana, Purosangue, Diligent Harry, Rogue Lightning, Kylian, Seven Questions, Valiant Force, Crimson Advocate, Vadream, and Equality completed the order of finish.

“I am really struggling for words, funnily enough,” winning trainer Henry Dwyer said. “We have come a long way from Ballarat, but it’s been an amazing experience from start to finish. We’ve been so well looked after and we’re so grateful for that.”

Asfoora had won a bevy of group stakes in her native country, but the King Charles III marked her first top-level triumph from seven attempts. Her best previous finish at the Group 1 level was a second in the Charter Keck Cramer Moir (G1) at Moonee Valley last September.

“We got a bit of stick from home for bringing her over because she wasn’t seen as one of our better sprinters but we were just so confident that she was really textbook wheelhouse five furlongs and she’s proven that today,” continued Dwyer. “We just didn’t have the races for her in Australia and she’s proved she’s up to it and I’m thrilled for everyone involved.”

Asfoora benefited from a British prep run. Prior to the King Charles III, she finished fourth in the May 25 Temple (G2) at Haydock, which established the Noor Elaine Farm Pty colorbearer as a 9-2 chance in the World Pool.

“We needed a lead-up run at Haydock, so she came over early, but just with the changing of seasons we wanted to be here before it was too cold in Australia and too warm over here,” explained Dwyer. “We came over in the nice interchange period, and we needn’t have worried because she settled in brilliantly, and the proof was in the pudding today.

St James’s Palace (G1)

The group stakes action on opening day wrapped up with the St James’s Palace (G1) for three-year-olds racing one mile over the round course. Notable Speech, the undefeated winner of the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, started as the heavy 4-5 favorite in the World Pool. But the Godolphin homebred failed to fire and finished seventh out of eight, ahead of only stablemate Darlinghurst.

In the meantime, 2000 Guineas runner-up Rosallion (5-2) continued his ascent through the ranks of Europe’s three-year-old milers. Winner of the seven-furlong Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) in France last fall, Rosallion bounced back from his Newmarket defeat to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1) by a head, and the St James’s Palace marked his best performance to date.

“Rosallion was special before today,” said Richard Hannon, who trains Rosallion for owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. “Unfortunately, we lost in the Guineas, but he has always been brilliant—physically, mentally. I couldn’t believe he got beaten in the Guineas the way he was travelling. He won the Irish Guineas very well. He is a complete package. He’s as good as I’ve ever seen in our place.”

2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Unquestionable set the pace at Ascot while chased by stablemate Henry Longfellow, a five-length winner of the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) last September. Henry Longfellow appeared full of run entering the straight and easily took command from his stablemate, but then Rosallion battled his way out of traffic and started closing resolutely from midfield. In the final strides, Rosallion edged past Henry Longfellow to win by a neck under Sean Levey, completing the course in 1:38.38.

Metropolitan finished another three lengths back in third place while Unquestionable faded to fourth. Alyanaabi and Amaqam were next in line, followed by the Godolphin pair.

Royal Ascot continues on Wednesday with four more group stakes. The feature event is the Prince of Wales’s (G1), a 1 1/4-mile qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).