Sir Michael Stoute has long been revered as a trainer who has no equal at improving older horses. It seems the trainer is himself improving with age and, having ended a long drought in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last year with Poet’s Word, he didn’t have long to wait to follow up as the five year old Crystal Ocean took the feature race on the second day of the Royal meeting.
Crystal Ocean, who won the Hardwicke Stakes at this meeting last year, was ridden by Frankie Dettori, the horse’s regular partner Ryan Moore claimed to ride Magical for Aidan O’Brien. In the end it was the pair of them that fought out the finish.
The race was run in a torrential downpour which had punters running for cover in the stands but Dettori was oblivious to the rain as he settled Crystal Ocean into second place behind Magical’s pacemaker Hunting Horn. Moore tracked Dettori on Magical, who was made favourite at 13/8. Turning for home Dettori sent Crystal Ocean for home, determined to make use of his proven stamina, and he quickly passed Hunting Horn. Magical was sent in immediate pursuit but although she closed the gap inside the final furlong, Crystal Ocean was finishing strongly and he held on well to win by one and a quarter lengths.
This was a first Group One win for Crystal Ocean, whose Ascot record now reads 31221, both second place finishes coming at the highest level in last year’s King George and Champion Stakes. Dettori spoke after the race about his tactics, “I decided I had to kick around the turn and get them all at it. He responded well and kept going, so I was sure it would take a good one to go past me.’
Stoute, whose Royal Ascot roll of honour just keeps growing, felt that although the horse was defeated by Cracksman in last year’s Champion Stakes, that run had offered some encouragement about Crystal Ocean’s capability over today’s shorter trip. “He ran better than it appeared [in the Champion Stakes]. I felt that, although he might be better at a mile and a half, he was certainly a pretty good horse at a mile and a quarter and he has proved that today.”
The big disappointment in the race was last year’s Arc De Triomphe runner-up Sea Of Class. Trainer William Haggas only decided to let her run after walking the course shortly before racing but after he’d decided to run the heavens opened and Haggas was left ruing his decision. “We make mistakes occasionally but James [Doyle, the filly’s jockey] looked after her and she’ll be fine.” He confirmed a run in the King George, which takes place at Ascot near the end of July, was still a possibility.
That race is also the target for Crystal Ocean and he’ll be bidding to go one better than last year, when he was a close second. After today’s race leading bookmakers Paddy Power shortened the horse from 4/1 to 3/1 for that event.