July 18, 2024

Royal Ascot: Kyprios overcomes all to reclaim Gold Cup title

Kyprios winning the 2024 Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot (Photo by Megan Coggin/Ascot Racecourse)
Kyprios winning the 2024 Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot (Photo by Megan Coggin/Ascot Racecourse)

The historic 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (G1) on Day 3 of Royal Ascot came down to a tremendous homestretch battle in which 2022 winner Kyprios continued an against-all-odds comeback to reclaim his title.

Three other group stakes rounded out the middle day of the prestigious five-day meet.

Gold Cup (G1)

Two years ago, Kyprios was the star of the staying ranks in Europe, with the Gold Cup ranking as one of four Group 1 wins he tallied during a perfect 6-for-6 campaign. Unfortunately, a fetlock joint infection kept him out of the 2023 Gold Cup and nearly ended his career. The odds were stacked against a comeback.

“I’d say it is millions to one,” said Aidan O’Brien, who trains Kyprios for the partnership of Moyglare, Magnier, Tabor, Smith, and Westerberg. “It was really impossible to come back from what he came back from. At one stage we weren’t sure he would live. This horse has got back to the very top level, which is just incredible. It’s unbelievable really—it shouldn’t have happened, I don’t know how it happened, but I think it happened because of all the people who have been around him and done so much day in, day out—they have been so committed, they communicated so well, everyone put him first. There’s so many people, it’s incredible.

“He got an infection in his joint, and it got into the joint capsule. Usually what happens is that they lose the movement in the joint—and for a while he did, but it came back! It’s from the care that they all took to get him back. It’s incredible.”

When Kyprios returned late in 2023, he went 0-for-2 during a brief autumn campaign, most notably finishing second by a neck to Trawlerman in the 1 15/16-mile British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) at Ascot. But as the calendar turned over to 2024, Kyprios recaptured his winning ways, opening the season with victories in the Vintage Crop S. and Saval Beg Levmoss (G3) to emerge as the 3-5 World Pool favorite for the Gold Cup.

Victory at Royal Ascot wasn’t a given, not with Trawlerman (the 9-2 second choice) back for another showdown after finishing third in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2). But simply getting back to the Gold Cup was a win of sorts given the health challenges Kyprios overcame.

“At one stage, it didn’t look like he was going to live,” said O’Brien. “Then it was getting him to stand, and then to walk, then to trot, then teaching him how to canter again, because he had to move all his body in different ways again. It was incredible, it’s unbelievable really. He always had the most incredible mind, that was always his power probably, was his mind.

“It shouldn’t have happened, to come back like that, but it happened. Nothing is impossible, especially when you see that. I think it’s the people who have been dealing with him all the way and looking after him. I remember when he went down to work the first time, I remember Rachel was riding him, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. No horse has ever been x-rayed, scanned more in their life, than him. Because every stage, he had to be redone, redone, redone. At every little bit. Then when he came back into training, it was every day, every day—was it moving? Was it changing? Was it getting better? It was incredible.

“I thought at every stage it was never going to happen. When there are that many people working together in that kind of a special way, anything was possible. Nobody was for themselves. Everyone was for him. Nobody was trying to take credit for anything. Everyone was passing it on and working it out with each other.”

From start to finish, the Gold Cup was all about the favorites. Trawlerman dashed to the lead under William Buick, but Kyprios was always up close in second or third position under regular rider Ryan Moore.

As the field rounded the final bend and turned into the homestretch, Kyprios advanced outside of Trawlerman and challenged for supremacy. A prolonged battle ensued, during which Trawlerman fought valiantly to stem the favorite’s charge. But Kyprios had more in reserve and forged clear in the final furlong to prevail by one length, bringing his record over 2 1/2 miles to a perfect 3-for-3.

“Ryan gave him an unbelievable ride. Incredible,” said O’Brien. “It wasn’t easy. The second horse passed him here last year, and the second horse came back at him. I could see Ryan biding his time, and he went there and went there… it’s incredible, it’s masterful stuff, really. It’s not simple, it’s incredible. An incredible horse and I’m so delighted for everybody. There’s an unbelievable team around him that makes it happen.”

Trawlerman was clearly second-best, pulling five lengths clear of Sweet William. Vauban, Coltrane, Caius Chorister, Gregory, Enemy, and Prydwen completed the order of finish. The final time of 4:18.06 over good-to-firm turf was the fastest Gold Cup since Rite of Passage clocked 4:16.92 in 2010, and it bettered by more than eight seconds the time of 4:26.52 that Kyprios posted over good-to-firm ground in 2022.

Buick praised Trawlerman’s effort in defeat.

“He was foot-perfect the whole way, and when I turned in, I thought I had plenty of horse,” said Buick. “He kept finding all the way to the line and, even when the winner headed me, he came back. It was a huge run. He stayed the trip. I’m sure Goodwood will be the next target. The winner’s been here and done it before so you’ve got to respect him, but Trawlerman has run a mighty race.”

Ribblesdale (G2)

As a precursor to the Gold Cup, Moore and O’Brien teamed up to win the Ribblesdale with the unheralded Port Fairy.

World Pool bettors didn’t expect Port Fairy to triumph in the 1 1/2-mile test for three-year-old fillies, sending her off at 12-1. But the daughter of Australia improved nicely off her runner-up finish in the 1 7/16-mile Cheshire Oaks at Chester last month, tracking the Ribblesdale pace from second place before battling gamely along the inside to turn back a rally from Lava Stream and prevail by a neck in 2:29.04.

“It was a good fight. Port Fairy has improved a lot this year,” said Moore. “She wouldn’t show you a great deal in the mornings, as she is a very relaxed horse. I had a nice run round. She’s straightforward, very uncomplicated, and she really tried hard.”

O’Brien indicated that the addition of a visor (a type of blinkers) made the difference for Port Fairy, who is owned by the partnership of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Westerberg.

“Ryan said maybe try a visor on her at home before coming here, so we put a visor on her the last day, and her work really stepped up,” said O’Brien. “She looks like she’d be a lovely Irish Oaks filly now as she stays well. And Ryan was brilliant on her—he didn’t panic even when the second went by. It was class.”

Lava Stream made a big rally from off the pace to snatch the lead in the homestretch, but flattened out in the final furlong as Port Fairy battled back.

“I was delighted with that. She travelled so nice,” said David O’Meara, the trainer of Lava Stream. “[Jockey] Danny [Tudhope] thought that maybe she idled a touch. He might have preferred to have had the winner in his sights rather than arriving there as soon as he did, but we were surprised at how well she traveled. She is a very exciting filly.”

Kalpana finished another 1 3/4 lengths back in third place, while You Got To Me, Je Zous, Danielle, Queens Fort, Higher Leaves, Rubies Are Red, Siyola, Sheema’s Rose, and Diamond Rain completed the order of finish.

After winning the Gold Cup and Ribblesdale, Ryan Moore is the winningest active jockey in Royal Ascot history, with his 83 wins surpassing the previous record of 81 held by Frankie Dettori. Among all jockeys past and present, Moore trails only Lester Piggott, who won 116 races at Royal Ascot.

Norfolk (G2)

The five-furlong Norfolk for two-year-olds drew a 13-horse field. Continuing a trend of unpredictable outcomes in juvenile races at this year’s royal meeting, 11-1 World Pool chance Shareholder sprung a double-digit surprise while 4-5 favorite Whistlejacket settled for fourth place.

Shareholder was never far back while racing on the far side of the course, and when jockey James Doyle asked the son of Not This Time to accelerate, the response was impressive. Despite drifting steadily to the left, Shareholder seized command and stayed on nicely to win by one length over fellow longshots Tropical Storm and Arizona Blaze, who finished second and third in a four-horse photo finish also involving Whistlejacket and Aesterius. Binadham, Loom, Moving Force, Blinky, Saturday Flirt, Milford, The Man, and Rock Hunter trailed the field.

“Shareholder is still learning. I tried to keep a lid on him for as long as possible and wanted to give him time to get organized,” said Doyle of the Karl Burke trainee, who entered off a narrow maiden victory sprinting five furlongs at Beverly. “His debut was a bit messy at Beverley—it is a hard place to teach a horse, but he learned plenty. As we know, those smaller tracks get plenty of people there and it was like a mini Royal Ascot. So he’d seen pretty much all of this, and he took it very well.”

Shareholder is owned by Wathnan Racing. On Wednesday, Wathnan Racing, Burke, and Doyle teamed up to win Royal Ascot’s five-furlong Queen Mary (G2) for juvenile fillies with Leovanni. Wathnan Racing has recently made significant investments in British horse racing, and now Royal Ascot rewards are being reaped.

“It is great to have a superpower like this really getting behind British racing,” said Doyle of Wathnan Racing. “It’s been a tough sell, our sport, hasn’t it, so we have to really take note when people want to invest, and they deserve all the success.”

By winning the Norfolk, Shareholder gained a fees-paid berth to compete in the 2024 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar.

Hampton Court (G3)

The final group stakes on Day 3 of Royal Ascot was the Hampton Court for three-year-olds racing 1 1/4 miles. A dozen horses faced the starter, and in another upset it was 9-1 World Pool chance Jayarebe who battled gamely to defeat 3-2 favorite King’s Gambit.

Under jockey Sean Levey, Jayarebe rated in midfield before pouncing to the lead in the homestretch. King’s Gambit, rallying from the back of the pack, got going too late and fell short of catching the winner.

Jayarebe started the season with a decisive score in Newmarket’s 1 1/8-mile Feilden S., but then faltered to third place in the 1 5/16-mile Dee S. at Chester. Trainer Brian Meehan attributed Jayarebe’s rebound to a perfect trip.

“Sean got him in a great position,” said Meehan. “He was able to get a breather in and that was key. That never happened at Chester, which was his undoing, along with the track.

“Once he got the position, Sean was able to just take back, get a little breather. That man is riding out of his skin at the moment, it’s so impressive the way he’s riding. He knows the horse really well, as he comes in every week.”

Bellum Justum, First Look, Bracken’s Laugh, Sons And Lovers, Al Musmak, Portland, Caviar Heights, Taraj, Stromberg, and Under The Sun completed the order of finish.

With only five starts under his belt, Jayareba still has upside and could be poised for a strong season in the colors of owner Iraj Parvizi.

“Jayarebe is getting better—he is still lightly raced,” said Meehan. “The red hood was a good addition today. It’s more about exuberance—when he was saddled he was calm, his body temperature was good, so we’re going in the right direction.

“He’s a superstar horse and what more does he have to do? He’s on the up. I said to his owner that we wanted to explore the autumn campaign, with some international races, so we’ll stick with the plan, although the Eclipse is a possibility.”

Friday brings the penultimate day of racing at Royal Ascot. The Commonwealth Cup (G1) and Coronation (G1) are highlights among the four group stakes on the agenda.