Tepin, seen winning last fall's Breeders' Cup Mile handily, took on and beat top European rivals on the opening day of Royal Ascot. (Breeders' Cup photo)
American superstar Tepin stepped well out of her comfort zone and decisively whipped a field of top European milers in Tuesday's opening race of Royal Ascot.
The glitzy, five-day carnival, featuring Her Majesty as a daily spectator, has become a global event in recent years, attracting top runners from as far afield as crack Australian sprinting legend Black Caviar. None, however, performed better than Tepin.
The 5-year-old mare, recently unbeatable at home, was overseas for the first time, racing without her normal medication and without the nasal strip breathing aid, facing undulating and soft turf and handled by Ascot novices – trainer Mark Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux. No problem.
Always in the mix down the 1-mile straight course, Leparoux asked Tepin for her run through the final 2 furlongs and she quickly responded, battling Belardo through the closing yards to win by 1/2 length. Despite the relatively short margin, Tepin did not appear in any danger of losing the race.
"There were a lot of things stacked against us today," Casse said. "But in the end, her greatness prevailed. A lot of people in the United States will be delighted with this result. I have to tip my hat to (owner) Robert Masterson. He was a true sportsman who encouraged us to come."
Masterson, in turn, said Tepin's performance might be a lesson to other American owners and trainers.
"People say Americans have to have drugs in their horses," the owner said. "But she had no drugs, no nasal strip and nothing that everybody was worried about in the paper. She just performed magnificently. It is a great message to send back home."
Casse said the year-end goal is to get Tepin a repeat win in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita in November. With a taste of international competition, however, he might note the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile five weeks after that.
Lightning Spear and Toormore finished third and fourth. Godolphin Racing, which has mounted a huge challenge at the Royal meeting, owns Belardo and Toormore.
"Belardo showed up, ran a great race and we had no excuses on the day," said trainer Roger Varian. "When everything goes right and there are no excuses and there is one better, you have to tip your hat to the winner and say fair play to the American filly. I thought it was commendable to come over here and win under such different conditions."
Also on the first day of Royal Ascot:
Galileo Gold, the English 2,000 Guineas winner, held on to defeat French 2,000 Guineas winner The Gurkha by 1 1/4 lengths in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes. The Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, Awtaad, finished third after causing The Gurkha just enough traffic trouble to possibly have impacted the finish.
Galileo Gold, with Frankie Dettori up, had finished second in the Irish Guineas over yielding turf and there were questions how he would act on the soft going at Ascot. Dettori quickly guided him to the fence behind the leader. When asked, the Paco Boy colt took the lead nicely in the stretch run and drove on home. Ryan Moore, up on The Gurkha, waited farther back in the field and was moving just outside First Selection when Awtaad shifted toward the rail. Moore was forced to take up briefly and shift outside the rival before getting The Gurhka back in stride and was unable to catch the winner.
"In the Newmarket Guineas and again today his stride was never broken," said winning trainer Hugo Palmer. "Frankie was able to get the horse into the most magnificent rhythm and he just galloped and galloped. That's what he needs. It just shows how at every level in sport you need everything to go right.
"No one knows their way around here better than Frankie Dettori."
Dettori picked up his 53 Royal Ascot winner in the race. It was Palmer's first.
Caravaggio, under a brilliant ride by Ryan Moore, scored his third win from as many starts in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds. With the turf conditions questionable after days of rain, the big field split into two groups, with Carvaggio on the stands side. The inside bunch, however, quickly seemed to have the better of things and, halfway through the 6 furlongs, Moore edged Carvaggio outward, joined the leaders and got there first by 2 1/4 lengths over Mehmas. Medieval was third with a good effort and Psychedelic Funk finished fourth.
Caravaggio, trained by Aidan O'Brien for Coolmore owners, is an American-bred colt by Scat Daddy out of the Holy Bull mare Mekko Hokte. He won his first two starts in Ireland. O'Brien said the Phoenix Stakes is a possible destination for the colt. He added: "I think something like the Phoenix Stakes (Aug. 7 at the Curragh) is where he will go next. We'll keep him at six furlongs for the moment anyway."
Profitable surged to the lead down the middle of the course 1 furlong out in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes and edged Cotai Glory by a neck under the line. Goken was third and the hot favorite, Mecca's Angel, beat only one rival in the 17-horse field. Profitable has been prominent in most of his races but had not broken through at the top level until Tuesday.
"Any horse that wins a Group One is special and I hope we can enjoy a little more success before he goes off to stud," said winning owner Clive Cox. "We didn't enter him for the July Cup because I felt he was best over 5 furlongs, but the way he has toughed it out today on easy ground, we may need a rethink."
Breeding rights have been sold to Darley.
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday acted up before the race and had to be hand-walked all the way down the course to the starting gate with jockey Florent Geroux jogging along behind. He took the early lead in the race but faded to get home ninth and has not been competitive in three starts since the Breeders' Cup.
The race was the fifth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, which offers a US$1 million bonus for a horse winning three legs in three different jurisdictions. In the first four stops: Chautauqua won the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning in Australia; Murrab won the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen; Big Arthur won the Grade I Takamatsunomia Kinen in Japan and Chautauqua took the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize in Hong Kong.
Wednesday's feature is the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at 1 1/4 miles. Japanese sensation A Shin Hikari is the heavy favorite in a field likely to be shortened to just five runners as The Grey Gatsby's trainer, Kevin Ryan, shakes his head over the sodden turf. Breeders' Cup Turf winner Found remains in the field.
Another top American hope, Miss Temple City, goes in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile. She finished second in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland last fall and opened her 2016 season for trainer Graham Motion with a win in the Grade I Makers 46 Mile over the same course. Miss Temple City is a bit of an outsider with the British bookmakers, who have the Godolphin-owned Usherette on top.
U.S. conditioner Wesley Ward starts Lady Aurelia in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. An easy winner of her only previous start, she, like Carvaggio, is by Scat Daddy. The local oddsmakers are very high on this one.