Royal ascot still managed to thrill, despite the lack of fans
Royal ascot still managed to thrill, despite the lack of fans Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Former British champion jockey Jim Crowley delivered a stunning three-timer for Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, as a very different Royal Ascot 2020 got off to a bang on Tuesday.

Unlike in the past, there may not have been the pomp and glory of a Royal procession, no top hats or elegantly dressed women, but the racing remained top notch.

Sheikh Hamdan, one of the world’s most influential men in horse racing, came away as the big winner on the opening day of the five-day festival held behind closed doors and featuring masked jockeys, with three wins out of seven races.

The star of the day of easily his prized sprinter, Battaash, who blitzed his rivals to win the 1,000 metre King’s Stand Stakes (Group 1), a race that can be compared to the always-thrilling 100 metres at the Olympic Games.

Battaash had a lot to prove having never won at the Berkshire course, but he answered his doubters with a powerful display of sprinting under former champion jockey Jim Crowley.

Trained by Charlie Hills’ Shaikh Hamdan’s stable star easily put the race to bed inside the final furlong pole to score by three lengths from stablemate Equilateral who ran on strongly to deny Liberty Beach for second.

Battaash, had finished runner-up to Godolphin’s Blue Point in the race over the last two years, but more than compensated his connections with a performance that eclipsed everything else on the day.

Crowley told ITV Racing: “Every time he wins it feels special, as when he wins he wins well. I was a bit worried the stiff uphill finish might find him out on his first run, but he’s just a real superstar.

“He’s won the big three now — the King’s Stand, the (Prix de) Abbaye and the Nunthorpe. Hopefully he’s not finished yet — I’m very grateful to be riding him.”

Hills added: “He broke out of the stalls fantastic and always looked in command and it is a real shame Shaikh Hamdan was not here to witness it, but it is great to finally win a King’s Stand with him.

“You get slightly tense, obviously, but I’ve lived every emotion with him. We’ve been beaten in this race twice before, so three times I don’t think I could have dealt with that.

“He is just an amazing horse. Everyone in the yard is so lucky to have a horse like him, he is a horse of a lifetime.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Sheikh Hamdan saw his colours carried to victory by Motakhayyel in the Buckingham Palace Handicap while Nazeef completed the hat-trick by taking the Group 2 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes.

Meanwhile, the Dubai-owned Godolphin-stable were narrowly denied a ninth victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, the first Group 1 race of Royal Ascot 2020, when Terebellum was pegged back by Irish-trained Circus Maximus in an absolute thriller.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori for legendary handler John Gosden Terebellum was shaping like a winner with less that 50 metres to run before he was caught on the line by a hard-ridden Circus Maximus and Ryan Moore.

Marie’s Diamond, the mount of Joe Fanning finishes third.

What a race between the joint favourite and two of the world’s best jockey’s Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori.

It was a 59th Royal Ascot winner for Moore.

“We’re very happy that we’re here racing,” Moore told ITV racing, referring to the absence of crowds and all the pomp and gagentry that Royal Ascot is known for.

“Obviously it’s not the same so we’ll just make the best of it and put on a good show.”