On Wednesday, after two great mares delighted the crowd on the first day, another girl stepped into the spotlight. I’d love to say stepped shyly because that would sound better, but there was nothing shy about Lady Aurelia.
She was, in some ways, a bit of a dark horse. Nobody really knew very much about her and this was for a very good reason. She is two years old and she has run once in her life, on dirt, over four and a half furlongs, a distance that does not exist in British racing. She had never run on turf, had never run outside of America, had never so much as sniffed Ascot, had never gone five furlongs, had never encountered soft ground. The list of things she had never done were as long as your arm.
What she did have was Wesley Ward. I love Wesley Ward. He’s always smiling and he’s only just learnt to do up his top button. He is a man who seems most at home in jeans and a polo shirt, and the whole top hat and tails schtick makes him look like a very happy, very small boy who is dressing up for a fancy-dress party. Yet he has made this party his own. He comes over from America each year with a string of speedy stars, and every year he reaps the glittering prizes.
A lot of American trainers fight shy of British racing. It’s so different from the American version, and there is so much to lose. Great reputations can be brought to dust. Ward adores the Royal Meeting and has no fear. Last year, he gave us his might filly Acapulco, who drew gasps in the paddock because she looked more like a four-year-old colt than a first season filly. Often, the baby fillies are described, in the vivid racing term, as ‘unfurnished’. This means they have not yet grown into their physical selves. They are light and a bit on the leg; they still have some growing to do. Acapulco was furnished all right. She looked like a fierce creature, and she won with a blast of speed and power.
Lady Aurelia was nothing like as big as her mighty predecessor, but she had the same sense of packed power, of deep muscle, of developed athleticism. Still, she had a few questions to answer. Five stiff furlongs on rain-softened ground could easily blunt that blazing speed she had showed over the shorter trip on dirt.
She answered those questions in a minute flat. She broke quickly from the stalls, and had them all in trouble by half way. She cruised along in the middle of the track, as talented fillies struggled behind her. She seemed to be going as fast as a horse could go. Frankie Dettori sat motionless on her broad back. And then he just shook the reins at her. He did not need to. The race was pretty much in the bag. It was as if he was saying, come on then, princess, let’s see what you can do. Lady Aurelia said: ‘You’d really like to know? Watch this.’ And she put on her turbo boosters and roared away from the field, by five, by six, by seventh lengths. ‘Lady Aurelia,’ shouted Simon Holt, in hoarse disbelief, ‘is going to absolutely destroy them.’
The filly won with her head on her chest. Frankie Dettori will never have had an easier ride. The official distance was seven lengths, but it looked more like nine. It could have been ten or twelve if Frankie had asked for more. Lady Aurelia was hardly out of second gear. Hardened race-goers were lost for words. People ran out of superlatives. Nobody was quite sure what they had just seen. And the good filly, as if entirely unaware that she had just put a dent in the laws of physics, walked back into the roiling cauldron of jubilation as if she had been out for a nice little exercise canter.
Today, the big race could hardly be a greater contrast. The centrepiece is the Gold Cup, two and a half searching miles for battle-hardened stayers, most of whom have no secrets. This is a race for heart and guts and strength and stamina. It brings out all the most admirable traits in the thoroughbred – the honesty and the courage and the cussed will to win. It is for the ones who give every last inch of themselves.
The class horse in the race is Order of St George, who is flying the flag for Ballydoyle. If he gets the trip, he could show us something magnificent. The heart horse is Clever Cookie, a dear old fella from one of the smaller yards. He’s trained by Peter Niven, who used to ride over the sticks, and Clever Cookie himself has run over hurdles, although he’s now become something of a standing dish on the flat. He’s eight years old, very bonny and bright, and he always tries his best, and he’s become a great favourite with the crowds.
Today, he too goes into the unknown as he’s never run quite this far before, although the charming thing is that he was really bred to be a staying chaser. He loves to get his toe in, so the ground will hold no fears for him, and his fighting heart may see him through the marathon distance. He’s up against the big boys, and the favourite is already odds-on, but he’s my sporting bet at 10-1. If he could acquit himself with honour, I would cry tears of love. But he's one of those horses who owes nobody anything. He's already given a huge amount of joy. In some ways, it will be pleasure enough simply to see him there, with his dear ears pricked and his head held high, brightening up the day by doing nothing more than being his enchanting, genuine, bold self.