Billed as the biggest and best flat festival of the season, Royal Ascot rarely disappoints. The 2023 edition certainly delivered all that was hoped for and more, as the five days were lit up by both the sunshine and several spectacular performances on the track.
All in all, a meeting to live long in the memory, and here we look back at a selection of the key stories from beautiful Berkshire.
A Right Royal Winner
During her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth II was one of racing’s biggest supporters, and almost ever-present at the Royal Meeting – barring the final year of her reign for health reasons and in 2020 when, of course, next to no one was there. Sadly, the Queen is no longer with us to take her place in the Royal Procession and cheer on the horses she owned from the stands, but King Charles and Queen Camilla have taken up the baton and – in their first festival as owners – could hardly have made a better start.
A total of six runners carried the famous Royal silks over the five days, and whilst many ran well, it was left to Desert Hero to steal the show in the King George V Stakes. Deep inside the final furlong, it appeared as though The King may be denied by the King, as Joseph O’Brien’s Valiant King hit the front. Tom Marquand wasn’t done with just yet though, galvanising Desert Hero to a lung-busting effort to get up close home in a thriller. Those who backed the William Haggas runner at 18/1 most likely enjoyed the nail-biting finish, and so did The King.
Shocks, Shocks, and More Shocks
Given those odds of 18/1, Desert Hero could be considered something of a shock winner. However, that upset was nothing compared to what unfolded in a number of other events. In a tough week for punters, the average SP of the winners was higher than at any Royal Ascot Festival over the past decade, with head-scratching results cropping up on an almost daily basis.
The warning bells rang out early at the meeting, with the Kevin Ryan-trained Triple Time causing a 33/1 boil-over in the opening Queen Anne Stakes. More would follow.
Villanova Queen claimed the Kensington Palace Stakes at 25/1, Big Evs defied a defeat on debut and odds of 20/1 to scoot clear in the Windsor Castle, and Richard Hannon’s Witch Hunter benefited from the brilliance of Jamie Spencer to get on top late in the Buckingham Palace Stakes at a hefty price of 50/1.
All that, and we still haven’t mentioned the two biggest-priced winners of the week. Filling the second spot is that man Spencer again, who persuaded the enigmatic Khaadem to put his best foot forward in an 80/1 Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes stunner. However, even that was only around half as shocking as what occurred in the Norfolk Stakes. In a Group 2 contest featuring ten last-time-out winners, Adrian Murray’s Valiant Force rocked up on the back of a fifth of six finish in a Group 3, and promptly thrashed them all. At 150/1, this was the biggest upset at Royal Ascot since that of Nando Parrado, who registered a 150/1 shocker of his own in the 2020 Coventry Stakes.
With 66/1 shot Malc grabbing the second spot behind Valiant Force, anyone with an imagination vivid enough to pick out the Exacta would have been rewarded with a return of £5,369.60 to a £1 stake.
Frankie Fabulous One Last Time
When you think of Ascot, one of the first names to spring to mind is that of Frankie Dettori. It wasn’t at the Royal Meeting that the soon-to-be-retired jockey registered his immortal “Magnificent Seven” in 1996 – that came at the Champions Day meeting in the Autumn. But one of the most popular riders of the modern era has enjoyed many a famous hour with the Royals watching on. Mounting up at Ascot in June for the final time, many racing fans were willing Frankie to bow out on a high. Never one to let his fans down, Dettori duly delivered.
It had initially looked like being a frustrating meeting for Frankie, who hit the crossbar with three second-placed finishes on the opening day. But he broke his duck when powering home aboard the even-money favourite Gregory in Wednesday’s Queen’s Vase. Dettori added to his haul with a double on Day 4, courtesy of Porta Fortuna in the Albany Stakes and Coppice in the Sandringham Stakes, but it was on Thursday afternoon that his big moment in the spotlight came.
Frankie already boasted eight Gold Cup wins on his overflowing CV, and produced one of the biggest cheers of the meeting when driving the John and Thady Gosden-trained Courage Mon Ami to glory in the biggest staying event of the season.
Moore All Class Yet Again
Dettori may have grabbed the headlines, but elsewhere at the meeting, Ryan Moore was quietly going about his business of delivering on the biggest stage time and time again. Of the five days on offer, only the Wednesday card passed by without a Moore mount striding to victory, with the rider showing his prowess over distances ranging from the six furlongs of the Coventry Stakes to Saturday’s 2m5½f finale of the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
Tasting Group 1 glory aboard the hugely impressive Paddington in the St James’s Palace Stakes, Moore ended the meeting with a total of six wins – enough to claim the Royal Ascot Leading Rider title for the 10th time.
The Leading Trainer honour went to Aidan O’Brien who finished level with John and Thady Gosden on four wins, but lifted the title courtesy of his six second-place finishers, compared to just one for the Gosdens.