Believe what you read elsewhere, and you might be sucked into thinking Royal Ascot 2014 was all about how many people watched it on Channel 4.
Turn instead to any one of the 286,000 people who flocked to the majestic Berkshire track last week, and they will tell you a very different story.
A story of top-class racing, of breathtaking performances and of a unique occasion delivered with professionalism and panache in an intoxicating atmosphere, oozing style and class. Even the weather played ball!
It almost beggars belief that some quarters should allow such a successful meeting which is, after all, the flagship for British racing, to be tarnished by criticism of TV viewing figures. Especially when that criticism is wrapped in such blinkered and simplistic terms.
If the critics look beyond the total number of viewers and concentrate instead on the key statistic of audience share in relation to Channel 4’s audience reach (compared to that of the BBC, where Royal Ascot coverage previously lived), the picture becomes much brighter.
As habits and lifestyles change in the digital revolution, the number of people watching terrestrial TV is dropping drastically. Just as the number of people who read the printed version of newspapers is dropping drastically. Viewers/readers have access to a range of other media platforms through which they can maintain their interest.
Of the TV audience that remains, C4’s average weekly share is about one-sixth of that of the BBC. C4’s average daily reach is about one-third of that of the BBC.
Take all that into account, and the fall in the number of C4’s Royal Ascot viewers is not so relevant and not so alarming, especially when offset against the revelation of a slight rise from last year in the audience share for large parts of the meeting.
Whether you were watching or not, you cannot dispute that the commitment C4 gave to the meeting, through hours and hours of wall-to-wall programming, was quite extraordinary. Nothing has matched it in the history of racing coverage by terrestrial TV channels.
The coverage helped hundreds of thousands witness the best, most competitive Flat racing in the world, which yielded any number of horses to follow for the rest of the season.
Below, I have pinpointed 20 such horses, avoiding the here-and-now obvious, such as KINGMAN, TELESCOPE, SOLE POWER, SLADE POWER, TORONADO, ARAB SPRING, LEADING LIGHT and THE FUGUE, and concentrating on up-and-coming potential for the future.
ANTHEM ALEXANDER (Won, Wednesday)
2yo filly (Eddie Lynam)
A memorable week for Irish trainer Eddie Lynam was highlighted by the Group One sprint double for Sole Power and Slade Power. But now he has another, younger, speedster to go to war with in this daughter of Starspangledbanner, who himself caused a stir at the Royal extravaganza of 2010. A big, scopy filly, she travelled beautifully through the Group Two 5f Queen Mary before finding more at the death. Considering she only started doing half-speed two months ago, she must be some tool.
CANNOCK CHASE (Won, Thursday)
3yo colt (Sir Michael Stoute)
As predicted here, Newmarket maestro Sir Michael Stoute rolled back the years with success for his battalion of middle-distance horses. This colt went off a short price to emulate his briother, Pisco Sour, by winning the Group 3 10f Tercentenary Stakes, but he actually had to overcome one or two telling negetives, not least quick ground and the need to improve on the bare buts and bolts of his form. The fact that he managed it so impressively marks him down as a Group One star of the future. Needless to say, he was superbly handled by Ryan Moore, who gave a masterclass all week on how to ride the round course.
CLOUDSCAPE (4th, Thursday)
3yo colt (John Gosden)
The form of the race won by this colt on his seasonal re-appearance at Newmarket’s superb Craven meeting could hardly have worked out better. So why hasn’t he himself gone on? Reasons revolve around a reluctance to settle in his races, but he was back on song here, in the best race he has contested so far (Group 3 10f Tercentenary Stakes), and there is still time for him to develop into a very useful middle-distance sort. But for interference at a key stage, he would have finished second here.
CONTRIBUTER (Won, Friday)
4yo colt (Ed Dunlop)
The yard of Ed Dunlop has endured such a torrid time in the opening three months of the season that he must have feared the worst when his middle-distance star was handed a debilitating wide draw for this Listed 10f Wolferton Handicap. The fact that the son of High Chaparral defied the drawbacks to post a classy hold-up victory underlined his ability. He has always threatened to land a big prize and over his best trip of 10f on fast ground, he is lightly raced enough to land more.
CURSORY GLANCE (Won, Friday)
2yo filly (Roger Varian)
A successful Royal Ascot for one of our brightest young tainers, Roger Varian, was spearheaded by an unexpected win for this daughter of crack US sire, Distorted Humor, in a competitive Group 3 6f Albany Stakes. Unexpected because she showed huge improvement from her winning debut in a modest maiden on the all-weather at Kempton. But it was no fluke, and the way she powered clear, allied to her pedigree, suggests she’ll keep improving as she steps up in trip. The Sadler’s Wells dam won over 10f, while the second dam is by Darshaan, a massive influence for stamina.
EAGLE TOP (Won, Friday)
3yo colt (John Gosden)
Having pinpointed John Gosden’s colt as a potential superstar after his winning debut at Newbury’s Greenham meeting, I was beside myself with grief when he was beaten next time in a handicap at Leicester. However, his blood was later found to be all wrong, so it became hugely significant that he was still pitched into this cracking Group 2 12f King Edward VII Stakes, ahead of the stable’s Derby challenger Western Hymn. Strictly on the book, he had stacks to find, but despite obvious greenness, he came from last to first to quicken clear in a brilliant display. So highly is he thought of that Gosden is now considering returning to Ascot for the King George.
ELIDOR (4th, Saturday)
4yo gelding (Mick Channon)
No doubt ex-England striker Mick Channon is suffering as much as the rest of us over the efforts of Roy Hodgson’s squad in the World Cup. But the performance of his four-year-old in this competitive 12f Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap should have cheered him up. He’s a bit more exposed than most on this list, but Channon insists he’s a different horse since a gelding operation and much better than last season when he won at the Royal meeting. Don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a dark horse for the Ebor.
ELITE ARMY (Won, Thursday)
3yo colt (Saeed Bin Suroor)
A quiet meeting for Godolphin could still not hide the glaring promise offered by this exciting and progressive son of Derby winner Authorized. A rise in the handicap and a step-up in both trip and class seemed to be against a colt with a tendency to race too freely. But he produced an eye-popping performance in what was a richly competitive 12f King George V Handicap. Despite pulling Kieren Fallon’s arms out through the first half-mile and despite hitting such traffic problems that Fallon had to snatch him up and stop riding at one point in the home straight, he still quickened clear. Connections are now eyeing a crack at the St Leger.
GIOVANNI BOLDINI (3rd, Wednesday)
3yo colt (Aidan O’Brien)
When Ballydoyle’s son of War Front came within a whisker of landing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last November, Aidan O’Brien was talking of him in the same breath as Australia, War Command and Geoffrey Chaucer as one of his best juveniles. He’s taken time to come to hand this season but quicker ground and a slight drop in trip and grade worked the oracle in this Group 3 7f Jersey Stakes. He travelled like a dream and although no match at the business end for two very smart rivals (MUSTAJEEB and MUWAARY, who will both win more races), he was clear of the rest of a quality field.
HAVANA COOLER (3rd, Saturday)
4yo colt (Luca Cumani)
A horse who has had Ebor written all over him since last summer, Luca Cumani’s colt could hardly have made a more encouraging start to his four-year-old career. It’s unheard of for seasonal debutants to win the 12f Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap, so to finish so close behind a winner being aimed at the Arc speaks volumes for his potential to progress, especially as it was only the sixth race of his career. As a big, strong son of Hurricane Run, he was always likely to improve with age and will lap up the extra 2f of York’s big handicap in August too. A mark of around 100 would be ideal.
HILLSTAR (2nd, Saturday)
4yo colt (Sir Michael Stoute)
One of the most pleasing sights of this year’s Royal Ascot was the scintillating victory of Telescope in the Group 2 12f Hardwicke Stakes, which finally translated all his natural talent to the track. However, trainer Sir Michael Stoute also saddled this stablemate in the race and was keen to stress beforehand that there was little between them. A subsequent seven-length rout suggests otherwise but, in fact, Frankie Dettori had nowhere to go for most of the home straight on the son of Danehill Dancer, so his display can be upgraded, especially as he settled beautifully in rear, shedding an Achilles heel that hampered him in many big races last term. Mark my words, this is a horse yet to fulfil all his potential.
HORSTED KEYNES (2nd, Friday)
4yo gelding (Roger Varian)
Snipers who revelled in a supposedly poor meeting for jockey Jamie Spencer conveniently ignored the fact that seven of his 19 mounts made the first three. They included this lightly-raced son of Giant’s Causeway, who finished so powerfully in a 7f Buckingham Palace Handicap cavalry-charge that he would have got up in a few more strides. Had he done so, he would have defied an 11lb hike for his win at Yarmouth in April and a hefty weight in what was an ultra-competitive heat. After an early career plagued with injury, he remains a lightly-raced horse with bags of potential, especially on fast ground, and will be plying his trade in Group company before long.
LEGEND RISING (8th, Thursday)
3yo colt (Martyn Meade)
Richard Hannon rejects rarely go on to great things, especially ones sold for as little as 30,000 guineas. But considering the assumption that this colt needs Soft ground to produce his best, his new trainer Martyn Meade must have been delighted by his performance in what was a superb renewal of the 1m Britannia Handicap. He never threatened to win, but he was spotted running on very nicely in the closing stages. The son of Tamayuz looked a useful prospect, with a turn of foot, in his early two-year-old days with Hannon and his current mark of 92 is far from insurmountable.
NAFAQA (4th, Saturday)
2yo colt (Barry Hills)
The death of trainer John Hills sent shockwaves through racing on the eve of Royal Ascot. So how fitting it was that one of the young horses he left behind made his mark at the meeting. OK, the Listed 7f Chesham Stakes is not, traditionally, one of the hottest juvenile contests of the week, but it yielded an impressive winner this year, and an eyecatching debut-effort in behind by this Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned son of Derby winner Sir Percy. Not only was it his first appearance on a racecourse, he was also reluctant to load and slowly away, yet he made up the ground with comfort and finished the race in some style.
OSAILA (5th, Friday)
2yo filly (Richard Hannon)
For a filly described pre-season by trainer Richard Hannon as potentially “a bit special” and “one of our nicest” juveniles, you might be worried that she’s yet to get off the mark. I suspect you won’t be waiting much longer on the evidence of a decent performance in a strong Group 3 6f Albany Stakes. Nothing travelled more smoothly through the race and although her challenge fizzled out in the final furlong, Frankie Dettori wasn’t hard on her. She’s also bred to appreciate further in time, given that she’s related to a couple of Arc winners
PSYCHOMETRY (8th, Wednesday)
3yo filly (Sir Michael Stoute)
Having identified Sir Michael Stoute’s daughter of Danehill Dancer as a smart prospect last summer, I have been surprised her failure to progress so far this term, especially as she’s grown into a fine, big filly. However, because the track was against her at Chester and the ground against her at Goodwood, she squeezed into this Listed 1m Sandringham Handicap on an attractive mark. The formbook suggests she disappointed again, but that tells only half the story. On her toes in the paddock, she struggled to settle in the race and then met with two bouts of interference. All in all, she did well to run on and is a winner waiting to happen during the summer.
QUEEN CATRINE (2nd, Wednesday)
3yo filly (Charlie Hills)
A sorry meeting for trainer Charlie Hills was rescued only by the return to form of this daughter of Acclamation, who was a centimetre or two away from shrugging off a big weight in a typically competitive Listed 1m Sandringham Handicap. New hold-up tactics appeared to suit as Jamie Spencer circled the whole field to deliver her on the line and erase the disappointment of two sub-standard efforts previously this season. Her handicap mark remains prohibitive, but she showed admirable consistency at Group level as a two-year-old and wasn’t considered wildly inferior to her crack, ill-fated stablemate Chriselliam.
RICHARD PANKHURST (Won, Saturday)
2yo colt (John Gosden)
Named after a supporter of women’s rights, it is perhaps appropriate that John Gosden’s Listed 7f Chesham Stakes winner is owned by his wife, Rachel Hood, and triumphed in the year that she has been elected Mayor of Newmarket. The colt is also a son of Gosden’s brilliant Breeders’ Cup winner, Raven’s Pass, and showed enough here to suggest that he might well be treading a similar path as the next couple of years unfold. Showing dramatic improvement from his debut, he travelled and quickened to pounce on a couple of smart Irish raiders who had very much got first run. Unquestionably Group One material.
RIVELLINO (3rd, Saturday)
4yo gelding (Karl Burke)
After bursting on to the scene early last season, Karl Burke’s sprinter never quite fulfilled his potential during his three-year-old campaign. But he regained the thread on Lingfield’s all-weather surface during the winter and spring and, despite an absence since Good Friday, he translated that improvement in a fine renewal of the 6f Wokingham Handicap. From an awkward middle draw, he was left with a lot to do but flew home to finish never nearer and is surely a speedster going places. Providing the handicapper isn’t too harsh (raced off 104 here), he might well be one for the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood or the Ayr Gold Cup later on.
VENEZIA (4th, Thursday)
3yo colt (Martyn Meade)
There can be few better, or higher-rated, maidens in training at the moment than Martyn Meade’s grey son of supersire Galileo. But don’t confuse his failure to win any of his five starts with lack of ability. His form actually makes for impressive reading with placed efforts behind very smart winners. This effort, in a warm 12f King George V Handicap maintained the trend, but considering he had to sweep round the whole field from an uncompomising position in rear, he did well to get so close. It was his first try at the trip but given he is closely-related to a useful 2m stayer, he ought to improve for it and get even further. His physical scope and his workable handicap mark of 89 add even more encouragement for the rest of the campaign.