Magazine article The Spectator

Speed Kings

Magazine article The Spectator

Speed Kings

Article excerpt

Gutsy stayers can thrill with their courage, canny jockeys with well executed tactical plans. But in any sport there is nothing like the exhilaration of sheer face-whipping, wind-in-the-hair speed.

Ask those fans in South Africa who had to sit through the leaden fumbling of the so-called England football team against Slovenia. Not just overhyped, overpaid and over there but painfully slow both in mind and limb.

It was a vintage Royal Ascot. Who could not be thrilled by the sheer class of Goldikova in winning the Queen Anne Stakes, the joyful pouncing of Richard Hughes to take the St James's Palace Stakes on Canford Cliffs, the clock-in-the-head riding of Seb Sanders as he ground down the Ascot Stakes opposition on Junior?

But what I will remember is the burst of pace that took Michael Hills and Equiano clear of their field after a stumble at the start in the King's Stand Stakes, the athleticism of Jeremy Noseda's mare Laddies Poker Two as she trounced her field in the sprint handicap Wokingham Stakes and the incredible acceleration of Aidan O'Brien's Starspangledbanner in the Golden Jubilee Stakes, when he triumphed over the most international field ever assembled in a race in Britain with contestants from the UK, USA, Australia, France, Hong Kong and Ireland.

What made it even better is that all three were the subject of significant gambles, with estimates that the bookmaking profession may have lost something like £50 million through the Royal meeting. 'It's been a bloodbath, ' said one.

Knowing how much trainer Barry Hills fancied Equiano I had a bit of 9-1 myself and felt really smug when he went past the post the winner at a gambled-on 9-2.

But because his runners had disappointed early in the meeting I was fool enough to ignore the stories coming out of Ireland that O'Brien's Starspangledbanner was proving so quick on the gallops, clocking just over nine seconds for a furlong, that he had advised Johnny Murtagh to wear a neck brace and a parachute in the race.

When the jockey predicted after four days that he would finish top jockey at the meeting after his Saturday mounts, my scepticism was confirmed. 'Jockeys are the worst tipsters, ' I told Mrs Oakley. 'America's Kinsale King is a class above the British and Irish runners.'

Starspangledbanner's victory was appropriately international in this latest leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, which also takes in races in Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. …

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