LIFTING THE LID: “It’s the biggest week of the year. It’s a meeting where everyone just wants one winner; even Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Appleby, they might not say it, but they just want to get one on the board.”
At this point, you’re just crossing every finger and toe and trying to get the squad there in one piece. Particularly this year – our leading hope is a horse that’s had a near career-ending injury, and we’ve had to piece him back together – so every day that we tick off that Subjectivist is a day closer is a relief for sure.
Royal Ascot memories
The Gold Cup is such a special race. I’ve got fond memories of all of dad’s Gold Cup winners. I would only have been four or five when Double Trigger won in 1995, but I’ve got more vivid memories of Royal Rebel, when he went back-to-back in the Gold Cups of 2001 and 2002.
Royal Rebel sadly would not have won any Gold Cups under the current whip rules. He was a very tough and genuine horse, but one that needed plenty of encouragement as he was very lazy. He ran in blinkers and required very strong riding from the outset, from someone as strong as Johnny Murtagh, but that brought out the best in him and he became a dual Gold Cup winner. His subsequent life and retirement was a lot better because we got the best out of him on the racecourse.
Subjectivist’s 2021 Gold Cup win
I remember it vividly. The race just went so perfectly. At halfway we probably had a 10-length lead on Stradivarius, who was of course trying to win his third Gold Cup, and I remember thinking that no matter how good Stradivarius is there’s no way he can make up that kind of ground on Subjectivist. At every point of the race I was confident and then at the top of the straight, he blew the race apart and it was just a case of keeping going. It was a phenomenal moment, and I’ve barely let myself dream about recreating it.
A remarkable comeback journey
It would be 10 times better if the unthinkable happened and he did it this year. Subjectivist spent last summer as an ornament in the field outside my house and at that point if you’d have told me that he’d be back racing in the Ascot Gold Cup, I’d have thought you were mad.
I remember driving back home after Trueshan had won the Northumberland Plate and everyone was raving about what a phenomenal performance it was from a horse carrying 10st 8lbs. I stopped and wound down my window as I passed Subjectivist’s field and I said, ‘You could have carried 15 stone of me and still won the Northumberland Plate!’
He’s a very special horse to us all. We were at a point, when he won at Ascot two years ago, we were just picking the races we wanted to win – we were that confident he was the best stayer in training. We had it all planned out, we were going to win the Goodwood Cup, then to France, then to Saudi and Dubai for the money and then back to Ascot. To have been on such a high, and to have lost all that and now be trying to get it back, it’s been a real journey, and so many people have been involved along the way. Win, lose or draw we’ll be delighted to have him back competing at Ascot.
Joe Fanning comeback
Joe [Fanning] was on his own comeback trail. He didn’t ride for around seven months from the middle of last year, and I think a lot of the driving force for getting back was to ride Subjectivist. They were both on a recovery mission together.
Joe is a hugely liked man in the weighing room, and I remember all the jockeys coming out from the weighing room to cheer him in after he won on Subjectivist two years ago. He’s a huge part of our team and it would make it all the more special for him to win too.
Subjectivist’s unique training routine
It’s a unique routine and one that’s trying to find a balance between keeping him fit but also putting as little strain on his tendons as possible.
He swims first thing in the morning and does 20 laps of our pool. Then he goes on the walker until he dries off. Joe [Fanning] has been coming in every morning to ride him, so he then does his ridden exercise. After that he stands in ice boots while he’s having something to eat and then in bubble boots for another half an hour, before going on our water-walker for an hour at the end of morning stables. He’s nearly doing something from six in the morning until lunch time.
With any horse you don’t go really into the red zone on a regular basis at home, but in particular with a horse that has his history, we’ve been treading a really fine line for the last few weeks trying to do enough work to have him in good enough shape to win an Ascot Gold Cup, but without taking any unnecessary risks. Would we have done more galloping at home if we didn’t have a tendon injury to worry about? Of course, but we’ve done enough work to think he can go there with a good chance.
Gold Cup rivals far down list of concerns
It’s strange to say about any race, but in particular about an Ascot Gold Cup in that the opposition is far down my list of concerns.
I have such faith in the ability of this horse and I know that if we had him there in the same form as two years ago, he would win. There’s nothing in this race even remotely close to him at his best. Can we get him there in that condition after the injury and time off he’s had? That’s the million-dollar question.
Other Royal Ascot runners
He obviously ran below expectations in the Derby. I thought Danny [Muscutt] got him into a lovely position, I couldn’t have been happier at halfway, but I could see going into Tattenham Corner that we were in trouble. When they really accelerated down the hill on that ground, he was always struggling to go with them.
It does raise a concern that his best two career efforts have both been on testing ground. How crucial is that to bringing out the best in this horse? That will be a contributing factor to where we decide to go next.
Dear My Friend
Even going into the Derby, I was never really convinced about his stamina. I think coming back to a mile and quarter for the Hampton Court will suit him. A nice galloping track like Ascot will suit him better than Epsom, as he’s a huge, tall horse. Most importantly this is a step down in class. He was shooting at the very highest-level last time and coming back to a Group 3, albeit a deep one, is a more realistic level for him to be operating at.
I would guess there will still be horses in there rated close to 110 and you’ll need to run to that to be winning, so he’ll have half a stone to find, but I think he could be competitive.
He’ll go to the Coventry. He took such a big step forward from his first run to his second that you would hope there’ll still be improvement from his second to his third run. There’ll need to be to be competitive in the Coventry, that’s for sure.
I’d expect he’ll be a fairly big price, but the market is really framed by hype and talk. He’ll need to step forward from what he did at Chester, but that’s quite conceivable and he certainly warrants having a shot at it.
I thought he won very impressively at the Guineas meeting. Like every Ascot handicap, it’s so competitive and you need everything to go your way. I’ve often thought the expected set up of a Hunt Cup – a stiff mile with a strong pace – would be ideal for him.
Andrea [Atzeni] has struck up a good relationship with him and he’ll be on board. If he can get a nice tow into it, I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran a big race.
She’ll run in the Ribblesdale. She finished third in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, just staying on late in the race. I think a more galloping mile and a half on turf would suit her.
She’s got a really stout dam side of her pedigree that indicates she’ll stay forever. I even half contemplated putting her in the Queen’s Vase but she’ll go for the Ribblesdale. The stronger the test of stamina, the better for her.
Two that could outrun their odds
I think Outbreak will be a big price in the Hunt Cup and The Gatekeeper, in the Buckingham Palace, could also be, probably because they don’t have quite as sexy profiles as some.
You need a lot of luck in these big Ascot handicaps, but I think they are two that could start at 40/1 or more and I wouldn’t be shocked if either of them ran into the frame.
Who is your best chance of a winner at Royal Ascot?
I’d love to say Subjectivist, but that’s probably the heart ruling the head. The head would probably say Knockbrex, who will run in the Golden Gates on Saturday. He’s a progressive, lightly-raced three-year-old and he looked like he was going to win a nice handicap at York by half the track last time. He went five lengths clear and looked to be in total control, but just didn’t appear to stay the mile and a half, albeit he was ridden pretty aggressively.
He’ll come back to a mile and a quarter and has got some really strong form. He was behind Gregory at Haydock in a novice and finished in front of Perfuse at Pontefract in a novice. He’s only had four runs and he’s been saved for this meeting, so he would probably be our best chance.