Significance of Royal Ascot

(By Avalyn Hunter)

This year's Royal Ascot meeting saw two coronations. One was that of Frankel as possibly the best miler Europe has ever seen--rarefied air indeed when one considers the likes of Brigadier Gerard, Miesque, and Goldikova. The other was that of Black Caviar as not only the world's best sprinter but as a champion whose heart matches her stunning talent, overcoming both injury and an ill-judged ride to win. In between, England's premier venue staged a series of completely satisfying races that can only be described as "fit for a Queen."

The whole was a striking contrast to the disappointment surrounding this year's American Triple Crown series, which saw I'll Have Another fall prey to injury the day before he was to have challenged for a place among racing's immortals. But there was another contrast which American racing would do well to pay heed to. Among those who watched the racing at Ascot, there was not one whisper about drugs and their possible role in both performances and injuries--unlike the speculations which surrounded I'll Have Another, trainer Doug O'Neill, and American racing in general all through the Triple Crown--and this in a country where animal welfare and animal rights organizations wield more political clout than in the USA.

In fairness to I'll Have Another and his connections, few serious horsemen appear to think that the results of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness (both gr. I) were anything but the best horse seizing victory; likewise, his injury prior to the Belmont was simply one of the unhappy chances that dog horse racing. But public sentiment and the judgments of professional horsemen are two different things, and in the court of public opinion, questions about the role of race-day medications and speculations about whether illicit substances were involved ran rampant both before and after the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Is it any wonder that in England, racing is flourishing as a popular sport even as it sinks toward irrelevance in the sporting world of North America?

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