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20 Years of Australian horses at Royal Ascot

20 June 2023 Written by Ryan Kellam

It all started with Choisir back in 2003 and Australian horses have been going back to Royal Ascot ever since.

Choisir


(Adam Davy / EMPICS via Getty Images)

WON 2003 Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)
WON 2003 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

Choisir was an Australian trailblazer in the UK, becoming the first Australian horse to win the Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) in 2003. Trained by Paul Perry in Newcastle, he was the champion two-year-old colt in Australia in 2001/02, recording three wins and six placings in nine total starts as a juvenile, including three placings at Group 1 level in Sydney's two-year-old triple crown. He added a third placing in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) before claiming the Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington.

The decision by Paul Perry to take his talented colt to England in 2003 turned out to be a fantastic one. After his win in the Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m), he went on to win the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m).

He then tackled the Group 1 July Cup (1200m) at Newmarket where he ran second and was subsequently named 2003 Champion older sprinter in Europe. 

In 2019, Godolphin horse Blue Point, became the first horse to replicate Choisir’s 2003 feat in winning two Royal Ascot races in the same week.

Read more about this Royal Ascot trailblazer below:
Choisir paved the way from Flemington to Royal Ascot


Starcraft (NZ)

(John Giles / PA Images via Getty Images)

THIRD 2005 Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m) at York

Starcraft won the Group 3 Debonair (1400m) at Flemington before finishing second in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) behind Reset. He ventured to Sydney where he would claim the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m), Group 2 Tulloch Stakes (2000m) and Group 1 AJC Derby (2400m) in successive starts.

He returned next preparation in New Zealand, winning the Group 1 Mudgway Stakes (1400m) first-up, the Group 2 Stoney Bridge Stakes (1600m) and finish second to Balmuse in the Group 1 Kelt Capital Stakes (2040m). The following Saturday he was in Australia finishing third in the Group 1 Yalumba Stakes (2000m) before a close-up third behind three-year-old Kiwi colt, Savabeel and dual-Cox Plate winner, Fields Of Omagh in the Group 1 WS Cox Plate (2040m).

Keen to chase Group 1 prestige in Europe, while increasing his stud value, connections transferred the horse to the care of Luca Cumani. He contested the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m), finishing third behind Valixir. Traditionally one of the features at Royal Ascot, that year the race was held at York due to Ascot undergoing a track refurbishment.

He went on to win the Group 1 Prix de Moulin (1600m) in France and the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (1600m) at Newmarket before a final run in the Group 1 Breeders Cup Classic (2000m) at Belmont, USA on dirt.


Takeover Target


(David Davies / PA Images via Getty Images)

WON 2006 Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)
THIRD 2006 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)
FOURTH 2007 Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)
SECOND 2007 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)
SECOND 2008 Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)
FOURTH 2008 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

If there is a bigger rags-to-riches story than Joe Janiak and his champion Takeover Target, I’d love to hear it. Janiak was a cab driver by day who slept in his stables, purchased a tried horse for just $1250 in 2003. Less than three years later, Janiak and Takeover Target were the toast of Royal Ascot after winning the Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m).

Winning his first seven starts including the Group 1 Salinger Stakes (1200m), it didn't take long for Janiak to realise his gelding was a star with a big heart. After claiming the 2006 Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) and the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m), Janiak announced his desire to tackle Royal Ascot. 

Takeover Target made the trip to the Royal meeting three times and was in the mix on all occasions, recording a win, two seconds, a third and two fourth placings from six Royal Ascot runs. 

He finished his career with eight Group 1 wins across four countries, including the Group 1 Krisflyer International Sprint (1200m) in Singapore, the Group 1 Sprinter's Stakes in Japan and over $6 million in prizemoney. He was named the World’s Best Sprinter in 2006.


Miss Andretti


(David Davies / PA Images via Getty Images)

WON 2007 Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)
15TH 2007 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

Miss Andretti was a sensational sprinter. Beginning her career in Western Australia, she won nine of her thirteen starts before a move to Melbourne and into the care of Lee Freedman.

She was a formidable force, partnering with Craig Newitt and landing four Group 1s including the 2006 Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m), 2007 Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m), 2007 Group 1 Australia Stakes (1200m) and the 2007 Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m). 

Connections were keen to show off her talents abroad and she became the third Australian horse in five years to claim the Group 2 King's Stand Stakes (1000m). She burst clear with 100 metres to go, beating home two other Australians in Takeover Target and Magnus, further cementing Australia's stranglehold on the five-furlong sprint.

She ended her racing career with 19 wins from 31 starts, five Group 1 wins and almost $3 million in prizemoney, but arguably her biggest accomplishment was her Group 2 King's Stand Stakes win, in which she smashed the course record by over two seconds.


Scenic Blast


(David Ashdown / Getty Images)

WON 2009 Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)

It was a golden age of Australian sprinters in the late 00’s and Scenic Blast became the third horse in four years to win the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot. He was trained in Perth by Dan Morton but quickly became a fan favourite over in the east. He might not have had the accolades of the other three to win the race but Scenic Blast’s win was the most dominant. He sat at the tail of the field and loomed up to the leaders with ease on the far side before storming over the top to win.

He had an affinity with the Flemington straight, running third as a three-year-old behind Weekend Hussler in the 2007 Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m). He returned in 2009 to win both the Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) and Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) before heading over to England. 

He retired after trips to Japan and Hong Kong, and also had a five-start stint in the US with John Sheriffs, trainer of superstar Zenyatta. He finished with eight wins from 31 starts and over $2 million in prizemoney.


Haradasun


(Julian Herbert / Getty Images)

WON 2008 Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m)

Being a half-brother to Elvstroem comes with a lot of expectations, and in few cases does a horse live up to their big brother/sister. Not only did Haradasun become a multiple Group 1 winner like his brother, he also emulated him by winning a Group 1 overseas.

Elvstroem won the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Stakes (1800m) in 2005 and also finished third in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (2000m) at the Royal meeting held that year at York. His little brother won the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m) at Royal Ascot just three years later after Coolmore bought a half share in the horse for $20 million.

It’s a long way from Swan Hill where both horses kickstarted their careers, winning the same maiden event, Haradasun showing his promise with a ten-length victory.

He retired to stud in 2008 with three Group 1 wins to his name.


Starspangledbanner


(David Davies / PA Images via Getty Images)

WON 2010 Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

Choisir would further enhance his reputation by siring the 2010 Golden Jubilee Stakes winner just seven years after he won the race in 2003. His son Starspangledbanner saluted in the race further adding to the Australian dominance of the sprinting ranks at the meeting.

After winning the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) as a three-year-old, Starspangledbanner was kept to sprint distances. H kicked off his preparation with a close up fourth in the 2010 Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) behind Lindsay Park-sprinter Nicconi. He then won the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m) before returning to Flemington for a credible third behind Group 1 winners Wanted and Eagle Falls in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap. 

A proven path to Royal Ascot sprint success, Starspangledbanner transferred to Aidan O'Brien and was united with his sire's successful Royal Ascot jockey, Johnny Murtagh. He would go on do what his father could not and win the Group 1 July Cup (1200m) at Newmarket, becoming the seventh horse to win the double in the same year.


So You Think (NZ)


(Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images)

SECOND 2011 Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes (2000m)
WON 2012 Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes (2000m)

So You Think was a once-in-a-generation type of horse and when the champion horse was sold to Coolmore we were equally as upset as Bart was! After two dominant wins in his first two starts in his new home of Ireland, including the Group 1 Tattersall's Gold Cup (2100m), he was narrowly beaten in the 2011 Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (2000m) by Rewilding. 

He returned to the winner's circle at his next start, defeating superstar mare Snow Fairy in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) and headed to Paris for Europe's most-prestigious race, the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m). He finished a credible fourth to German filly, Danedream.

Trips to the Churchill Downs for the Group 1 Breeder's Cup Classic (2000m) and Dubai for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) were the ultimate test for So You Think and although he didn't win, he ran well in both instances.

A six-length romp back home at the Curragh had him primed for a return tilt at the Group 1 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (2000m) where he defeated Carlton House, owned by Queen Elizabeth II. He won six of his 10 starts in Europe with five of those at Group 1 level to go with his five Australian Group 1s. A true international star.


Black Caviar


(Jan Kruger / Getty Images)

WON 2012 Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

If I was to name all of Black Caviar’s feats as a racehorse, we would be here all day but I will simply state that she was the greatest sprinter of all time. Peter Moody was not shy of travelling the great mare around Australia but he was always hesitant to send her overseas.

He eventually made the decision to don the top hat and send her to England for the Royal Ascot Carnival where she fell in against a pretty ordinary field. There were of course excuses for her ‘lacklustre’ performance. She tore muscles in her chest and it didn’t help that Luke Nolen stopped riding her in the concluding stages.

The chiropractor said of her injuries, “If she was a footballer, she would have been taken from the field, and not been able to see out the game.” The world didn’t see the best of our champion but it is still one of the greatest moments in Australian racing history.

Her dominance down the Flemington straight captivated crowds, crowds that she drew with her unbeaten streak, calm nature and her incredible galloping action.


Merchant Navy


(Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images)

WON 2018 Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m)

Merchant Navy's win in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) was breath-taking and somewhat of a surprise to punters, beating more-fancied rivals a host of subsequent stakes-performers.

With Coolmore in the ownership, the horse was sent to Ballydoyle master trainer, Aidan O'Brien. He opened his international account with an impressive win in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes (1200m) at the Curragh, with top jockey Ryan Moore in the saddle.

Heading into Royal Ascot, he was installed as 4-1 second favourite behind the Godolphin star sprinter, Harry Angel. Merchant Navy had a fight on his hands in the concluding stages, outlasting French horse City Light to become the fourth Australian horse to claim the race. Only adding merit to the performance, Merchant Navy was still only three-years-old by birth date.


Nature Strip


(Alex Livesey / Getty Images)

WON 2022 Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m)

The most exciting part about our Aussie horses going overseas is despite knowing they have been successful in their home country, there is always the unknown of just how they will stack up against international horses.

There was no doubt that Nature Strip was a champion sprinter before he lined up in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot. With Group 1 wins in the TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) three times, two wins in the VRC Sprint Classic (1200m), a Lightning Stakes (1000m), a Moir Stakes (1000m) and a Galaxy (1100m), it's hard to argue that he wasn't one of the best to ever grace the Ascot straight.

But his performance in the King's Stand Stakes was nothing short of incredible. It was a dominant display of his cruising speed and toughness up Ascot's rising straight course, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest sprinters that Australia has ever produced.

 

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