As the runners for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot last year made their way to the starting gate, I had a sneaky suspicion the Australian favourite Brazen Beau could be narrowly defeated. But which of the other runners would have the audacity to spoil the party? Patiently awaiting the stall handler sat the familiar figure of Frankie Dettori aboard the Wesley Ward trained Undrafted, owned by NFL player Wes Welker. An in-form jockey with 30 years’ experience (along with all those Ws) just couldn’t be ignored, so I boldly risked the price of a sandwich on the 14-1 American raider.
Tucked in towards the back of the pack, Frankie kept his powder dry in the early stages before pulling wide to unleash a late run which saw the Australian and American horses book-ending the field. Brazen Beau was running in isolation on the stands’ side, but it would be Undrafted who produced the strongest finish, beating the favourite by a length.
Every winner at Royal Ascot produces scenes of elation as connections celebrate their good fortune, particularly when the win is a surprising one, but it soon became clear that the moment had even greater poignancy – the only clue being the stylishly over-sized hat worn by Wesley Ward’s daughter, Denae. The emotional trainer explained he’d spent an anxious night at nearby Frimley Park Hospital with the 13 year old after she’d suffered facial paralysis caused by Bell’s Palsy. Denae had been adamant she wouldn’t miss the race though, making her presence at Ascot to witness Undrafted’s victory all the more special.
Denae and her brothers were alongside their father in the same winners enclosure again this year, conspicuous by the breadth of their smiles. They had every reason to grin as Wesley Ward’s runner in The Queen Mary stakes had just delivered a breathtaking display of speed to win by an incredible 7 lengths over 5 furlongs. Ward had been confident of Lady Aurelia’s chances before the race, particularly as she’d set a course record during her previous outing at home, but the soft ground and the draw had threatened to make the task which lay ahead much stiffer.
In the trusted hands of Frankie Dettori, the 2-1 favourite was fast out of the stalls, setting a brisk pace in the early stages. But it would be the second half of the race which would show just how much energy she’d used up on the soft ground and, crucially, how much she had left in reserve. A motionless rider ahead of a flurry of activity always raises our hopes of an emphatic victory, but the manner of Lady Aurelia’s response when Frankie asked her to quicken drew an audible gasp from the crowd. It was the frequency of her stride which had to be seen to be believed, with the breathless commentator hailing her ‘an absolute flying machine’.
All credit to those magnificent men, Dettori and Ward, for stealing the show again on flat racing’s most prestigious stage. Frankie echoed the thoughts of us all as he made his way back to the parade ring for his trademark flying dismount.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it’.
This from the man who’s ridden nearly 3000 winners in Great Britain, putting Lady Aurelia’s performance into glorious perspective.
In the wake of the EU referendum and the break-up of a long-term relationship, it’s reassuring to know the Dettori-Ward alliance looks set to continue. And long may it last.