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A ROYAL THRILLER.

Alastair Down witnesses a proper scrap as the main combatants slugged it out in a vintage Gold Cup AN ABSOLUTE fizzer of a Gold Cup which stoked up the Ascot stands into eruption mode as Leading Light hung first left and then right before hanging tough to hold the royal filly Estimate who gave every last ounce in an unstinting effort bid to give Her Majesty back-to-back victories in this most historic of staying races.

If ever a race exploded the myth the Flat can be a somewhat namby-pamby pastime, then it was this battle royal because it went well beyond a mere test of stamina and took the first three home into the territory where courage has to be mined down to bedrock.

Pre-race there had been plenty of stories along the lines that Aidan O'Brien had been talking about Leading Light in the same breath as Yeats, who won this great race four times and is something of a household god to the Coolmore lads.

In addition, rumours about some of the massive wagers being contemplated by the bigger hitters attached to the team suggested that by the off there wouldn't be a wheelbarrow in Berkshire that hadn't been trundled down to the rails laden with cash.

But when Joseph O'Brien started to drive Leading Light along fully three furlongs from home victory looked anything but assured. With Joseph hard at work the St Leger winner responded and began to dig. But with Estimate, Missunited and Brown Panther all still bang there and blazing bullets from the firing step, the grandstand - suddenly picking up the scent of something special, as sporting crowds can sometimes do - began to roar on the combatants.

Leading Light led a furlong from home but Estimate still looked as if she could steal it as the leader hung one way and another. But in the final 100 hard yards Leading Light had the upper hand and won by a neck from the royal scrapper, with Missunited a superb short head back in third.

My initial feeling was that this was Joseph O'Brien's finest hour. It's true horses can often hang with him, but I suspect that is a function of his sheer height and the difficulty of getting his power low enough.

But given how hard he was having to work from fully three furlongs out, this showed how much more sheer strength he possesses than when he first burst on to the scene as very much the unfinished article.

But the stewards took a dim view and gave him a seven-day whip ban and they also threw four days at Jim Crowley who got a tremendous tune out of Missunited, but also broke the rules.

We are in familiar territory here - the scale of the prize will always mean jockeys will break the rules in order to secure victory.

But it must also be pointed out that abuse of the whip is hugely rarer than it was before racing had the courage to challenge the culture surrounding the whip and change it. When I first started in the sport there would be sights on the racecourse every day that would make you wince, but the age of the carpet beater has, happily, gone the same way as the Dodo.

Joseph's post-race remark: "I was trying to hold off using my whip for as long as I could" was nothing but the truth and if he had not given Leading Light such a strong ride he wouldn't have won the Gold Cup.

It was a roughish race but with tired horses coming to the end of their tether at the end of two and half miles they are going to roll around a bit and not even the guards armoured could keep them straight all the time.

So it came to pass that the Queen, having received the Gold Cup 12 months ago now returned to the presentation podium with the boot on the other foot.

AFTER more than six decades dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that are the daily lot of owner-breeders, she will have doubtless been disappointed to get beat but full of admiration for Estimate who ran an even better race here than when she set the stands alight last year.

She is an admirable filly and you just wonder if Sir Michael Stoute had enjoyed a clearer run with her this season that she might have won.

This was an important afternoon for the Ballydoyle team as the horses have had a hit and miss feel to them all season. But Bracelet lifted the siege by winning the Ribblesdale immediately before the Gold Cup and in Leading Light we have a Gold Cup winner who has also won a Classic.

He is certainly one very tough horse but although he has years ahead of him there will, in my lifetime anyway, only be one Yeats. Four Gold Cups still strikes me as something close to being inexplicable.

And Her Majesty will not be downhearted at presenting the trophy to John Magnier, who is probably the only person who knows more about pedigrees and breeding than she does.

History will never relate what she said to John on the winner's podium, but I wouldn't be surprised if he said: "Thank you ma'am. Would you be kind enough to tell me whether they do a decent breakfast in the Tower?"
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Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 20, 2014
Words:901
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