Ad Tom Marquand salutes King Charles III in the royal box after riding Desert Hero to victory in The King George V Stakes on day three during Royal Ascot 2023. (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse)

Royal Cup runner gaining momentum

25 August 2023 Written by Vicki Gibbins - Racing & Sports

2023 Lexus Melbourne Cup on the agenda for King Charles’ Royal Ascot winner.

Desert Hero could be the first Royal runner in the Melbourne Cup since Arabian Story finished sixth in 1997.

The William Haggas-trained three-year-old has been touted as a possible candidate for the Melbourne Cup, following a run in the UK's final and oldest Classic, the St Leger at Doncaster on 16 September.

The son of Sea The Stars  provided King Charles III with a poignant and important victory at the first Royal Ascot meeting since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September. Ridden by Tom Marquand, Desert Hero came out on top in a thrilling battle with Melbourne Cup entry Valiant King in the King George V Stakes over 2400m.

John Warren, racing advisor to Their Majesties said: "The target is the St Leger and obviously, the way the horse is bred – he's by Sea The Stars out of a full sister to Dartmouth, who was a very good mile and a half horse – we would be hopeful that he will see out the trip, but he's never run beyond a mile and half at the moment.

"So, the St Leger will give us an indicator on whether the horse looks as if he will stay and after the Leger, if it looks like he will stay, it's very much all roads to Flemington".

Desert Hero is a prime example of the exquisite breeding programme founded and nurtured by the late Queen Elizabeth. By Sea The Stars, the colt is out of an unraced half-sister to Dartmouth, who won the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup.

The bloodstock operation is an aspect of ownership that the new King and Queen are keen to get involved in.

"The King and Queen have both taken a keen interest in the bloodstock and they've very much enjoyed recently seeing their yearlings and their foals," Warren said.

"They've done a number of trips out where they've looked at the young stock coming along and taking on board all the new names that have been thrown at them, learning all about the stock which is tremendous.

"They're very much following it and this season they've copied what the late Queen did in watching the iPad for the foals being born in the evenings. They're very engaged."

King Charles II and Queen Camilla hold the King George V Stakes trophy after a brilliant win from Desert Hero. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The statistics certainly favour Desert Hero, should he take up the engagement in the Melbourne Cup.

Two northern hemisphere three-year-old colts have won the 'race that stops the nation' in the last six years; the Joseph O'Brien-trained Rekindling in 2017 and Godolphin's Cross Counter in 2018.

The Doncaster to Flemington route has become a tried and tested blueprint in the last decade.

Of the 11 northern hemisphere three-year-olds that have participated in the Melbourne Cup since 2013, five have run in the St Leger that same year. Rekindling finished fourth in the Doncaster Classic before his victory in 2017, while Il Paradiso, fifth in the 2019 St Leger, was fourth over the line in the Melbourne Cup before being promoted to third on protest.

"I think the prospect of that horse having the potential to stay far enough to participate in the Melbourne Cup, has very much got the King engaged and excited."

A common theme across those three-year-olds who have made the trip to Australia is Group success in the UK and Ireland. Tiger Moth won a Group 3 at Leopardstown prior to finishing second in the 2020 Melbourne Cup and last year's third Deauville Legend took the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York en route to Flemington.

Desert Hero fits the trend, following up the Royal Ascot handicap win with a comfortable victory in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

A Melbourne Cup runner would be the jewel in the crown for the King's first full season as an owner and Warren summed up the feelings of His Majesty.

"The King's had a good season and very much enjoyed his first full year, along with the Queen. They've had ten or twelve winners and it's been exciting," he said.

"I think the prospect of that horse having the potential to stay far enough to participate in the Melbourne Cup, has very much got the King engaged and excited."