Talking Horses: should Dettori worry after mixed fortunes at Royal Ascot?

The Queen did not attend Royal Ascot last week, for the first time since her coronation 70 years ago, but 273,465 spectators did. Though they had to make do without the track’s owner leading the daily procession, most will have headed home with overwhelmingly positive memories of the first Royal meeting with a proper crowd since 2019.

The weather played a blinder with only the final hour or so on Saturday seeing any need for spectators to retreat from the lawns and take shelter in the stand. The track was also immaculate, with safe, watered good-to-firm ground providing an ideal surface for top-class racehorses to strut their stuff. The seven races-a-day format helped to ensure that every afternoon had at least one moment to keep racegoers coming back for more.

Baaeed and Nature Strip were imperious on the opening afternoon, Inspiral took the breath away in Friday’s Coronation Stakes while Ryan Moore’s ice-cool slice through the field on Rohaan in the final furlong of Saturday’s Wokingham set the seal on a flawless week, as he claimed his ninth riders’ crown at the meeting.

William Buick is still waiting for his first Royal Ascot title, as is his main employer, Charlie Appleby, who was one winner adrift of Aidan O’Brien in the trainers’ contest, but they will be well satisfied with their weeks’ work, finishing with five and four wins respectively.

Danny Tudhope, with four victories, matching his total in 2019, also had an excellent meeting, while Shane Crosse, Shane Foley, Sean Levey and Callum Hutchinson all got their first Royal winner on the board.

Frankie Dettori had a curate’s egg of a meeting, with a single – and spectacular – success on Inspiral and several near-misses that might have been winners had the cards fallen a little differently. One win from 22 rides was Dettori’s worst return at the Royal meeting since 2013 – when he drew a blank from 20 starts – and included an agonising three-race sequence on Thursday when Stradivarius’s defeat in the Gold Cup was followed by two second-place finishes in the Queen’s colours, on Saga in the Britannia Handicap and Reach For The Moon in the Hampton Court Stakes.

John Gosden’s unstinting support has been an essential part of Dettori’s return to the pinnacle of Flat racing after his split from Godolphin, and a six-month ban for a cocaine positive, a decade ago. But the trainer was clearly unimpressed by Thursday’s events and it was still nagging away even after Inspiral’s success on Friday, as he suggested that “our hero overcomplicated” the ride on Stradivarius and added that he “should have won” on Saga.

Compare and contrast to Gosden’s comments after Hollie Doyle decided to cut out much of the running on Nashwa in Sunday’s Prix de Diane (French Oaks), earning the first Classic success of her career. Doyle took the ride as a result of her retainer with owner Imad Al Sagar and Gosden said: “Imad asked me a few years ago about having a jockey and when he showed me the list, I said ‘Hollie Doyle’. I said horses run for her, she’s very meticulous, a fabulous rider and a very serious person with a great sense of humour. She’s got a bundle of talent and Imad has been rewarded.”

Nashwa’s hard-fought success was a first Classic for the stable since Thady Gosden, the trainer’s son, joined his father on the licence. “I’m very proud, as Thady is, because it’s the youth team that are obviously taking over here. It’s quite obvious I’ll be surplus to requirements quite soon and it’ll be the youth with Hollie and Thady.”

It was, perhaps, a throwaway remark in a moment of celebration, but Dettori might still have cause to reflect on how many true words are spoken in jest.