The season as a whole has been lit up by some sparkling performances from sprinters and Royal Ascot was no different, with Caravaggio’s defeat of Harry Angel (more on him later) in the Commonwealth Cup likely to have been high up on anyone’s highlight reel of the meeting. The performance of the week in ratings terms came in the King’s Stand, however, with Lady Aurelia pulverising her high-class opposition under just hands and heels riding, maintaining her 100% record at the meeting (won the Queen Mary in equally incredible fashion in 2016) with a career-best effort.
After a low-key two-year-old season (when trained by David Wachman), Winter had burst onto the scene when upsetting hot favourite and stablemate Rhododendron in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, running to a Timeform rating of 120. What she did in the Irish equivalent three weeks later was perhaps even more special, however, as she completed the fillies’ classic double in fine style, winning by four and three quarter lengths. With the second and third, namely Roly Poly and Hydrangea, going on to win five Group 1 races between them, this has to go down as Winter’s best performance.
Royal Ascot and the July Meeting had perhaps failed to produce a really exciting two-year-old colt, but Glorious Goodwood didn’t disappoint, with Expert Eye a seriously impressive winner of the Vintage Stakes (a race won by the likes of Galileo Gold and Highland Reel in recent years), value for even more than the four and a half lengths he won by having shot clear and simply been kept up to his work by Andrea Atzeni in the closing stages. At the time, that was the best performance by a two-year-old on Timeform ratings, and the form has stood up well, with the likes of Mill Reef winner James Garfield and Champagne Stakes winner Seahenge having been in the wash behind Expert Eye.
Sir Michael Stoute takes his second Vintage Stakes with the impressive once-raced Expert Eye who strode clear in the run to the line pic.twitter.com/2o3LQODmvP— Goodwood Racecourse (@Goodwood_Races) August 1, 2017
The hot-headed Battaash had been gelded after his first two runs as a juvenile and still looked a very lively ride on his first three-year-old start in a listed race at Sandown. He won despite taking a strong hold (held on to by his jockey), but was even better when allowed to roll from the start over the same C&D in the Sprint Trophy next time. His performance on his third start of the season in the King George at Goodwood was even better, however, blitzing a high-class field and recording the best five-furlong timefigure (130) by a colt/gelding since Oasis Dream in 2003.
Sir Michael Stoute doesn’t really do hype horses, but there was a great deal of expectation surrounding Ulysses before his run in the Derby last season. He found the occasion all too much that day, but during 2017 he has steadily revealed why Stoute sent him into a classic with just a maiden win under his belt. Ulysses had recorded a first Group 1 success in the Eclipse at Sandown, denying Barney Roy in a thriller, but it was in the International Stakes at York where he ran his best race on Timeform ratings, breaking through the 130 barrier for the first time as he pulled clear of a pair of better-fancied three-year-olds including the Guineas winner Churchill by two lengths.
ULYSSES wins the Juddmonte International Stakes (British Champions Series) (Group 1) pic.twitter.com/H2765265Yv— Champions Series (@ChampionsSeries) August 23, 2017
After breaking the track record in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock in May, Harry Angel was purchased by Godolphin, though there were certainly no team tactics at play when he made his first start in the royal blue in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, with Godolphin’s other runner Blue Point rather taking him on for the lead in front and setting the race up for Ryan Moore and Caravaggio. Things went far more to plan in a tactical renewal of the July Cup, where he reversed form with the Commonwealth Cup winner, but Harry Angel’s best performance came back at Haydock in the Sprint Cup on his next start, where he powered clear of some smart rivals, including the likes of Diamond Jubilee second Tasleet, by four lengths on the softest ground he had encountered.
Clemmie couldn’t replicate her brother Churchill by winning at Royal Ascot on her second start, but she went from strength to strength after her defeat in the Albany, winning the Grangecon Stud Stakes at the Curragh and the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket. She hasn’t come up against the other top fillies from her yard on the track (missed the Moyglare Stakes, won by Happily, due to soft ground), but her win in what was a strong renewal of the Cheveley Park Stakes puts her at the top of that tree in terms of ratings, while it’s all the more exciting that her rapid progression this season has come entirely at six furlongs (looks sure to be suited by further).
Enable had been scintillating throughout 2017, her wins in the Oaks and King George VI also very memorable, but she saved her very best until the last of her five successive Group 1 wins, becoming the first three-year-old filly from Britain/Ireland to win Europe’s richest race. Going with plenty of zest throughout under Frankie Dettori, who managed to get her well positioned behind a couple of Ballydoyle runners from a potentially tricky draw, she led two furlongs out and quickened clear approaching the final furlong, stamping her class on a strong field (nine of the first ten home had won Group 1s earlier in the season), and every bit as impressive as Treve had been when also winning the race as a three-year-old in 2013.
The best two-year-old performance of the season on Timeform ratings came in the Dewhurst, but it didn’t come from the horse that many predicted it would pre-race. With Expert Eye clearly not himself (restless in the stalls and subsequently reported to be lame) and Emaraaty – who’d looked well worth a go at the highest level after his maiden win at Newbury – below form as well, it was U S Navy Flag who stepped up. He was given a good ride by Ryan Moore against the favoured rail, but recorded a huge timefigure (121) for a juvenile in beating stablemate Mendelssohn (who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf) by two and a half lengths.
There won’t have been many horses with more column inches dedicated to them this season than Cracksman, who had been sent off at 7/2 for the Derby on just his third ever start. He didn’t look the finished article back in third that day, but looked far more professional when running out a wide-margin winner of the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. Cracksman was seemingly under consideration for the Arc when he was sent to France for the Prix Niel next time, but eventually ran in the Champion Stakes, seemingly to avoid Enable. However, based on the performance he put up at Ascot (won by seven lengths, running to 136), the chances are he’d have given his outstanding stable companion a race at Chantilly, his season one of steady progression throughout (promises to be better still as a four-year-old).