Free Eagle had not seen a racecourse for nine months, but that did not stop the son of High Chaparral galloping all the way to the line to land the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, denying by a short-head a last-gasp attempt from The Grey Gatsby.
The victory gave trainer Dermot Weld an 18th Royal Ascot win and one of the training performances of his career.
“Free Eagle has not been easy horse to train. He suffered a stress facture as a three-year-old and missed his Classic campaign. He returned in the autumn to put in a huge effort when third the Qipco Champion Stakes on unsuitably heavy ground,” reported Weld.
“I had planned to give him prep race before here, but he picked up a heavy head cold and I’ve had to nurse him back to fitness.
“We have not been able to gallop him as we’d have wished and his fitness was a concern coming into this race, but he has tremendous guts and courage and he really stretches his head out when he gallops.”
Both Weld and jockey Pat Smullen nominated the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc as future options. “I can’t tell you what a training performance that has been from Dermot,” said Smullen, before adding: “This win has given me more satisfaction than any other –I’ve been telling everyone for two years what a good horse he is!”
Maria was just Amazing
The Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes went to the 25-1 shot Amazing Maria ridden by James Doyle. It was a first Group race success at Royal Ascot for trainer David O’Meara, who won the Buckingham Palace Handicap with Louis The Pious last year.
“She was a long price, but you can never discount one of David’s,” said Doyle. “He told me just to go out and enjoy myself, get her relaxed, to tuck her in and gradually pick them off. She ended up winning with a lot of authority.”
Acapulco: the speed queen
The juvenile fillies’ race, the Group 2 5f Queen Mary Stakes, went for a second time to a Wesley Ward-trained US raider, Acapulco blitzing her rivals to win by a length and a half from the capable filly Easton Angel. Ward has now had five winners at the Royal meeting, all of them in juvenile races.
“She is just a sweetheart,” said Ward. “She has immense talent and immense speed. The gods have been good to me – the sun is shining and US horses love the sun!
“She loves the turf and we will probably look to a European campaign now rather than run on the US dirt.”
“She has got a great attitude, and she is very fast,” added Moore, who has already ridden five winners at the meeting.
GM Hopkins grabs the Hunt Cup on the line
Moore also added the Royal Hunt Cup on to the list of honours today, timing it to perfection in the big sprint handicap on the John Gosden-trained, Robin Geffern-owned GM Hopkins.
“This is the first race at Ascot I’ve won and I’ve sponsored more races through Neptune Investments than I’ve won – this means everything,” said Geffern. “Thanks to John, GM Hopkins has come here cherry ripe and Ryan has given him a brilliant ride – the horse has to come late. We’ll look to a Listed race now.”
A family affair in the Jersey Stakes
The opening Jersey Stakes (G3) saw son beat father – the Charlie Hills-trained Dutch Connection coming home ahead of the Barry Hills-trained Fadhayyil.
“The drop to 7f, the fast ground, the good draw all played to the strengths of Dutch Connection and the race went like clockwork,” said winning jockey Jim Crowley. “It is not often you get a spare ride at Royal Ascot, so to ride a winner on one is fantastic.”
Charlie Hills outlined future options for his horse. “He is in the 6f July Cup, but we’ll also look at easy mile options,” he said. “It is a shame to have beaten Dad, I thought that his horse looked a picture in the Parade Ring.”
Frankie Dettori gets Royal Ascot winner number 50
The best human interest story was until last, the irrepressible Frankie Dettori riding his 50th Royal Ascot winner aboard Osaila.
A jubiliant Dettori, who is currently riding at this very best, said: "It is such a big number, but to get the 50 in Sheikh Joaan's silks means a lot, he saved my career.
“I know this filly had a big chance, and at the start of the morning I was very happy – then it all went wrong! In the last 100 yards I thought I've got this, but it was tighter than I thought. She is a very good filly"
“It's 50 winners – not my age! I've fantastic memories that will last with me for the rest of my life"