Royal Ascot racing festival finishes with a flourish
By Ron Flatter
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LAS VEGAS — There is no wait that seems more eternal to a bettor than when the “inquiry” sign lights up at a racetrack. Once again Saturday, we were shown the right way to handle that wait – and reminded that the U.S. does it all wrong.
After The Tin Man (9-2 in the U.K., 4-1 in the U.S.) finished first in a bumpy, Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, his jockey Tom Queally was summoned to a stewards meeting along with the riders of runner-up Tasleet (7-1, 7-1) and third-place favorite Limato (2-1, 2-1).
The whole thing lasted a little more than two minutes. We know that, because it is pro forma overseas to televise stewards inquiries live at the track and around the world. So instead of wondering what was going on, we all got to hear Limato’s rider Ryan Moore say, “I just got squeezed through (Tasleet). It was nothing much. I was going to finish third.”
That was the money line. We all heard it. A few minutes later the stewards’ decision was announced.
“The placings remain unaltered.”
And that was that. Instead of being left to wonder what was going on, anyone with a betting interest in the race was kept up to speed throughout the process.
Having lived in Australia for three years and covered races on six continents for three decades, I have seen telecasts of maybe two dozen stewards meetings coming out of England, Dubai and Australia. Not a one has come from America (or, for that matter, France), where inquiries are handled like airline delays – with plenty of mystery and little respect for paying customers.
The lack of transparency in stewards meetings was not the only U.S. flaw that was exposed by the five-day Royal Ascot festival that seems to be on most racing fans’ “Bucket List.”
Five races this week had fields with more than two dozen entries, including Saturday’s Wokington handicap. The long shot Out Do won the six-furlong race for horses aged 3 and up at odds of 25-1 in the U.K. But because computer software in the U.S. has not been programmed to handle any race with more than 24 horses, all runners with numbers higher than 23 are put into a “coupled entry.” That meant a successful win bet on number 26 Out Do paid only 9-1 in America.
Even the British telecast of Royal Ascot offered plenty of lessons that the U.S. can learn. As good as NBCSN is in handling the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, its simulcast of England’s ITV coverage this week showed how much better it can be.
In its first year following the very tough act of the U.K.’s Channel 4, ITV made good use of reporters who closely followed the bookmakers’ marketplace at trackside as well as one who was right next to the gate at the start of each race. As she has for years, host and paddock reporter Francesca Cumani showed herself to be the Doris Burke of racing personalities. Richard Hoiles and former Churchill Downs caller Mark Johnson also showed that it is not necessary to be a gut-wrenching screamer in order to display passion in describing a race.
This is not to suggest the U.S. has nothing to offer the rest of the racing world. We do a far better job with our past performances than just about anyone (Hong Kong is drawing close). When it comes to pure speed, our dirt racing is often a better proving ground than turf, where tactics trump raw power. And while there is a perpetual wheel of debate about America’s allowance of Lasix on race day, at least it is not like England, where the tut-tutting of the U.S. ignores the fact that trainers over there routinely administer the drug in off-day training.
If nothing else, bringing the Royal Ascot telecast from the hard-to-find BeIN to the higher-profile NBCSN has allowed us to see the differences between our racing cultures. All the better if it propels us to see stewards inquiries live here at home.
O’Brien, Moore dominate the week
Moore may not have won the Diamond Jubilee, but his victory in the Chesham Stakes pushed him to his seventh Royal Ascot jockey title in the last eight years.
He rode the Coolmore filly September (11-8 in the U.K., 6-5 in the U.S.) to a 2¼-length victory over the boys in the seven-furlong opener for 2-year-olds. It was also one of six wins this week for Aidan O’Brien, who was the top trainer for the third year in a row. Coolmore tied Godolphin for most wins by an owner.
September’s victory has led bookmakers in England to make her a 7-1 favorite to win next year’s 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the 11-1 choice to win the 2018 Epsom Oaks.
O’Brien did not just win with Moore. Journeyman jockey Seamie Heffernan also finished first for him in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes aboard the brother of the horse that he rode to victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Idaho (9-2, 9-2) overcame the traffic ahead of him and finished a half-length ahead in the 1½-mile race for older horses. Sired by Galileo out of Hveger, 4-year-old Idaho is a full brother to Breeders’ Cup winner Highland Reel, which won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes with Moore on Wednesday.
Normally more comfortable on soft ground, 5-year-old gelding Snoano (25-1, 37-1) was threaded through homestretch traffic on the good-to-firm turf to win by a neck over 7-year-old gelding Majeed (25-1, 37-1) in the 1¼-mile Wolferton Handicap for older horses. A winning $1 exacta ticket in the U.S. was worth $1,214.40.
The 9-year-old gelding Oriental Fox (10-1, 10-1) finished the week with his second victory in the 2 5/8-mile Queen Alexandra conditions race for older horses. The German horse also won this race in 2015 and finished fourth last year.
The final U.S. horse to race this week – 6-year-old Long On Value (14-1, 9-1) – finished 12th in the Diamond Jubilee, 11½ lengths behind The Tin Man. It was Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s first time taking a horse to Royal Ascot, where American Wesley Ward trained Lady Aurelia and Con Te Partiro to wins this week.