Multiple Group 1 winner Cracksman, most recently victorious in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, was expected to be the star of the day on Wednesday, the second of five days of racing at Royal Ascot in England.
Instead, it was Sir Michael Stoute who took the honors, saddling Poet's Word to a mild upset of Cracksman in the G1 Prince of Wales's Stakes and earning his record 76th career triumph at what arguably is the world's most prestigious race meeting.
Blanked at last year's Royal Ascot meet, Stoute surpassed the late Sir Henry Cecil, who died in June 2013, to become the all-time leader.
Stoute added a 77th winner in the afternoon's final race, the G3 Jersey Stakes for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs, when the Acclamation colt Expert Eye demolished his rivals with a late burst of speed under James McDonald. Expert Eye was bred and owned by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms.
“It's a relief because we were stuck on it last year,” Stoute said immediately after Poet's Word ran past the favored Cracksman to secure the comfortable victory. “Henry did most of his training when it was a four-day meet, so I've had an advantage. Nobody respected him any greater than I did as a trainer.”
Stoute's first Royal Ascot winner came in 1977 when Etienne Gerard won the Jersey Stakes
“I think it's special to every trainer, to be honest,” Stoute said of the Royal Ascot meet. “We've been very lucky to have brought a lot of nice horses over the years.”
Poet's Word, a 5-year-old by Poet's Voice out of Whirly Bird, by Nashwan, was bred in Ireland and races for Saeed Suhail. He was ridden to victory in the 1 ¼ Prince of Wales's by James Doyle.
“Sir Michael is a master trainer, isn't he?” said Doyle. “Horses like this, he's very patient with them.”
The Prince of Wales's is a Breeders' Cup Win and You're In Challenge Series race in the Turf division, giving Poet's Word an automatic berth, free entry and $40,000 travel allowance for the Breeders' Cup Turf, to be held this year at Churchill Downs. Stute has enjoyed great success in the Breeders' Cup, winning seven races from just 39 starters dating back to 1985.
Poet's Word becomes the third horse to earn an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Turf this year. The first two to qualify were the filly La Extrana Dama (ARG), who won the Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (G1) at San Isidro in Buenos Aires, and Quarteto de Cordas (BRZ), who captured the Grande Premio Brasil (G1) at Gavea in Rio de Janeiro.
Doyle placed Poet's Word – coming off a G3 victory at Sandown in May – just behind Cracksman, who traveled in fourth in the early going under Frankie Dettori as Eminent served as pacesetter in the field of seven in the Prince of Wales's. Dettori made a four-wide move into the stretch but it was clear Poet's Word was traveling the better of the two and moved to the lead easily. winning by 2 1/4 lengths. It was eight lengths back to third-place finisher Hawkbill.
“At no stage was he travelling (well) in the race,” said Cracksman's trainer John Gosden, who said the son of Frankel has gotten lazy as a 4-year-old and hoped to sharpen him up for a fall campaign. “He's beyond being laid-back.”
“He's not the same animal,” Dettori said of Cracksman, who came into the race off five consecutive wins dating back to August of 2017. “He was very lethargic, wasn't traveling at any stage. I gave him every chance. He was very one-paced.”
As for the winner, who improved his record to six wins from 15 career starts, Poet's Word is a “very consistent, brave, sound, horse,” according to Stoute.
Day Two Results
Just as Tuesday's program began with a major upset, Wednesday's action kicked off with 25-1 outsider Signora Cabello taking the G2 Queen Mary Stakes for 2-year-old fillies in a three-way photo finish with the Scat Daddy filly Gossamer Wings and Shades of Blue. Wesley Ward-trained Chelsea Cloisters finished 11th of 22 runners as the favorite in the five-furlong dash. The winner, a daughter of Camacho trained by John Quinn and ridden by Olsin Murphy, races for Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Zen Racing. The Queen Mary was her fourth start and third win.
In the second race, the G2 Queen's Vase for 3-year-olds going 1 ¾ miles, order was restored as Aidan O'Brien swept the top three positions, led by 4 1/2-length winner Kew Gardens, a Galileo colt who finished a disappointing ninth in the G1 Epsom Derby for the Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith. Ridden by Ryan Moore, Kew Gardens – now a winner in three of nine starts – may surface next in the G1 Irish Derby, according to O'Brien. O'Brien runners Southern France and Nelson were a well beaten second and third, respectively.
While Stoute would be celebrating his 76th win, Aljazzi gave trainer Marco Botti his first victory at Royal Ascot, taking the G2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes for older fillies and mares going a mile, winning easily by 3 3/4 lengths. The 5-year-old by Shamardal, owned by Saleh Al Homaizi and Imag Al Sagar, bested Tribute Act and Wilamina. Favored Hydrangea was not a factor, finishing ninth.
Expert Eye's 4 1/2-length victory in the Jersey Stakes was his third in six starts and first since last August. “He was such a good 2-year-old and things went wrong in the Dewhurst,” said Stoute, when Expert Eye finished a well-beaten ninth as the odds-on favorite. “I'm just so thrilled to see him back to this sort of form.”
It was the first Royal Ascot victory for jockey James McDonald, who is mounting a comeback after an 18-month suspension resulting from a 2015 betting scandal in Australia, where he was a leading rider for Godolphin. “I can't put into words what it means,” McDonald said.
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