There are more than a few ways of looking at old. Consider riders past and present like Mike Smith and Gary Stevens and trainers like D. Wayne Lukas and Art Sherman, for whom old is good.
So when a 48-year-old jockey rides for a 73-year-old trainer at Royal Ascot, bettors do not automatically fade the horse involved. At least the wise ones don’t. Such was the case Wednesday when jockey Frankie Dettori teamed with trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
Never far from the front, Dettori rode 5-year-old Crystal Ocean (3-1 in the U.S., 3-1 in the U.K.) to the lead with a quarter-mile to go, veered left toward the grandstand and then right toward the rail on the way to a 1¼-length win in the $945,101 Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the signature race of the five-day royal meeting in the south of England.
The weaving ahead of traffic might have raised the eyebrows of stewards and the hackles of bettors if they had been running in America. But Crystal Ocean was never going to be caught by two-time Group 1-winning favorite Magical (6-5, 13-8), runner-up in this 1¼-mile race for older horses as she also was in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Prix Ganay winner Waldgeist (4-1, 4-1) finished third, 4½ lengths behind on a turf course that deteriorated to soft on a second straight rainy day.
“I kicked on early and did not hear anything coming,” Dettori said. “The rest is history. He was full of running, and I felt it was going to take a good one to get past me.
Punctuated by his signature flying leap on arrival in the winner’s enclosure, Dettori raised his career total to 62 Royal Ascot victories, most among active riders. He had won earlier on Wednesday’s card with Raffle Prize, denying American trainer Wesley Ward and Kimari a victory in the $138,614 Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes.
Dettori would not have ridden Crystal Ocean if Enable had been in the Prince of Wales’s. The Breeders’ Cup Turf and reigning European champion Enable had her 2019 debut pushed back to next month’s Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, England, thus freeing Dettori to ride another horse.
“As soon as I knew Enable was going for the Eclipse, I rang Sir Michael’s office and said I was available,” Dettori said. “He was quick to react and called me in the afternoon to say I’d got the ride, and I was delighted.”
Stoute collected his 80th royal-meeting win – best among trainers past and present – with the same horse that got him his 79th. Crystal Ocean won last year’s Hardwicke Stakes with Ryan Moore on board. This was also Stoute’s second straight Prince of Wales’s victory. His 2018 win with Poet’s Word moved him past the late Sir Henry Cecil in the all-time Royal Ascot trainer standings.
Crystal Ocean did not break well, but within a quarter-mile he was close to Hunting Horn (39-1, 25-1), the pacesetter that set slow fractions of 27.31 (no run-up), 53.74 and 1:18.91 before fading to finish fourth. Once Crystal Ocean had the lead, Dettori responded to rival pressure with the moves outward and then in. As he zigged, Magical zagged but never found the extra gear needed to catch him.
The winning time of 2:10.25, the second slowest in the last 31 runnings of the race.
Sired by 2009 European champion Sea The Stars, Crystal Ocean has not finished worse than second in his last 11 races. His two previous wins this year – both in Group 3 races – came after a six-month break that followed his runner-up finish six lengths behind Cracksman in the 2018 British Champion Stakes over the same course as the Prince of Wales’s.
“I thought he ran very well in the Champion Stakes last year and better than it appeared,” Stoute said. “He may be better over a mile-and-a-half, but I felt he was a pretty good horse over 10 furlongs, and he proved that today. I am delighted to have won a Group 1 with him now.”
Royal Ascot notes and opinions
Chalk was denied in Wednesday’s opener when maiden winner Raffle Prize (41-1, 18-1) overcame Ward’s front-running Kimari (3-1, 13-2) to claim victory in the Queen Mary, a five-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies. With Ickworth (11-1, 11-1) left at the gate, the remaining 24 fillies split into two packs across the straightaway. Dettori was intent on keeping Raffle Prize close to Kimari on the grandstand side. The two of them dueled late and finished 1¼ lengths ahead of third-place track favorite Final Song (7-2, 6-1). The winning time was 1:01.58 for the filly trained by Mark Johnston, who has 44 wins at the royal meeting. Ridden by John Velázquez, Kimari was bidding to give trainer Wesley Ward his 11th Royal Ascot victory. “What are you going to do?” Ward asked. “Obviously she likes the soft, which was a big concern beforehand. I’m proud that she ran so well” Ward’s other filly in the race – Anna’s Fast (3-1, 16-1) – finished 16th under jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who was making his Royal Ascot debut.
Velázquez was hit with a nine-day suspension and fined $442 for premature and excessive whip use on Kimari. Under British Horseracing Authority rules, jockeys may not use their crops more than eight times in a flat race. There is also a an area of judgment over how often the whip is used late in a given race. Stewards said that they were alarmed by Velázquez’s urging in the last 330 yards.
Ward also came up short in Wednesday’s finale, the $113,412 Windsor Castle Stakes won by the Coolmore colt Southern Hills (5-1, 7-1) to give the trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore their third win together this week. In the five-furlong sprint for two dozen 2-year-olds, Ward’s Karak (11-1, 14-1) was 15th with Gaffalione and Foolish Humor (21-1, 20-1) finished 20th with Velázquez.
Thursday will bring Ward his next shot at winning with Maven (9-1) in the $126,336 Group 2 Norfolk Stakes, a five-furlong race for 2-year-olds. A colt sired by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Maven won his debut race in April over 4½ furlongs at Aqueduct. But the lean here for Thursday’s opener will be to A’Ali (15-2), a close second two weeks ago on good-to-soft turf in a novice race at Ripon. But that was not with Dettori. Thursday will be, and that could make the difference for trainer Simon Crisford.
Before Moore tied him, Danny Tudhope had taken the 2019 lead among Royal Ascot jockeys with his third winner in two days. He guided Move Swiftly (10-1, 9-1) to a neck victory in the $220,523 Group 2 Duke of Cambridge for older fillies and mares going a straight mile. Rawdaa (4-1, 4-1) was second. The favorite I Can Fly (3-1, 7-2) was two lengths behind in third. Tudhope came into the day having won 12 times in 52 starts over the past two weeks. The win was the ninth at Royal Ascot and the first in seven years for trainer William Haggas.
Racing to the lead down the middle of the course, Dashing Willoughby (10-1, 6-1) won by a half-length in the $283,530 Group 2 Queen’s Vase for 3-year-olds racing 1¾ miles. After saddling his first Royal Ascot winner in five years, trainer Andrew Balding said that it was as much a triumph for his stable team after the colt was diagnosed Saturday with a blood blister on one of his hooves. It was the third career Royal Ascot victory for jockey Oisin Murphy, who was denied rides Sunday at Salisbury, England, after failing a breathalyzer test to determine if he had been drinking. Barbados (23-1, 20-1) was second and Nayef Road (33-1, 16-1) third.
Among Crystal Ocean’s fans at the course was Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a friend of the horse’s owners Sir Evelyn and Lady de Rothschild.
The problem appeared to be solved Wednesday, but the supposedly final odds shown in the U.S. for Tuesday’s races did not match the pay-outs. I found this out first hand when I was paid at 11-1 on Tuesday for betting Circus Maximus to win in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace. The problem is that he supposedly closed at 13-1. Perhaps the last click was not shown under a new system that starting this year pools more international money with North American bets. Or maybe old math was being used. Whatever the case, the kinks appeared to be worked out Wednesday.
Ron Flatter’s racing column appears daily during Royal Ascot. It is normally posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher