Wonderful Tonight went to post for the Hardwicke Stakes here on Saturday as a proven talent in races against her own sex and returned as a legitimate contender to take on all-comers in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October, thanks to a five-second burst of speed inside the final quarter-mile which startled even William Buick, her jockey. “She really took me by surprise when she quickened up,” Buick said afterwards. “She’s a very, very classy filly.”
David Menuisier’s four-year-old is now a general 10-1 chance for the Arc, and if the ground is soft at Longchamp – as it tends to be – she will attract support from hard-nosed punters as well as the romantics with a soft spot for the Eric Clapton song after which she was named.
“She was running against tough opposition with the benefit of at least one run so you always have to be on the side of caution, but she is amazing,” said Menuisier, who was celebrating his first success at the Royal meeting.
“Wonderful Tonight showed a tremendous turn of foot which she perhaps never showed before. She loves Longchamp and Ascot so we will keep an eye on all the races she can run in at both venues. She’s Wonderful Tonight and wonderful all day.”
Menuisier, who grew up in north-east France and started his racing career as an assistant to Criquette Head-Maarek in Chantilly, moved to England just over a decade ago and is now based at the Coombelands training estate in West Sussex where Guy Harwood prepared the brilliant 1986 Arc winner, Dancing Brave.
Wonderful Tonight’s trainer is working backwards from Paris, but the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes over Saturday’s track and trip next month is a possible target on the way, particularly if there is still some cut in the ground.
“Two things today overwhelmed,” he said. “It is how much more mature she is and so calm. Also, how strong she has got. William had the leisure to tuck her in instead of using her to use her stride which is great. That will be important in a race like the Arc where you need to be flexible based on your draw and other things. She showed a lot of flexibility today.”
This was a special success too for Chris Wright, the founder of Chrysalis Records and an owner and breeder for four decades, as he finally added a Royal Ascot winner to several Group One and Classic successes over the years.
“I’ve been running horses here for 40 years, almost every year at least one, sometimes several,” he said. “I’ve had lots of seconds, lots of very good horses. Culture Vulture, who won a Classic, was second twice, but I’ve never had a winner here.
“It means everything, actually. There are winners and winners, but a Royal Ascot winner. I’ve won a lot of very good races, but to win at Royal Ascot is like I’ve died and gone to heaven.
“After last year, when we almost ran her in the Arc, we thought that we would target the Arc this year. I know that’s like shooting for the moon, but that has been the target and her programme has been based round it, so we didn’t want her to start the season too early.
“We don’t think she’s a filly who will like a mid-season break particularly, so we wanted to start the season and gradually bring her along so she could peak on the first weekend of October. This was step one of that plan.”
Worcester 1.30 King Golan 2.00 Danse Idol 2.35 Getaway Lucky 3.05 Balladame 3.35 Lost History (nb) 4.05 Fix Sun 4.35 Gerboise Borget 5.05 White Turf
Pontefract 1.45 Almohandesah 2.20 Qwicken 2.55 The Flying Ginger 3.25 Queen Daenerys 3.55 Selsey Sizzler 4.25 Cormier 4.55 Fantasising 5.25 Mr Wagyu (nap)
Hexham 2.10 Lord Caprio 2.45 Ash Hill 3.15 Gordon’s Jet 3.45 Prince Dundee 4.15 O Connell Street 4.45 Graystown 5.15 Dear Alix
Wonderful Tonight’s success was the brightest moment on what was an overcast final afternoon at Royal Ascot, which also saw Dream Of Dreams give Sir Michael Stoute a record-extending 82nd Royal Ascot winner in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, and Oisin Murphy confirmed as the meeting’s leading rider for the first time.
Dream Of Dreams finally got his head in front in the final Group One of the meeting after finishing a close second for the last two years, edging out Glen Shiel and Hollie Doyle by a length.
Murphy, meanwhile, is only the fourth new name on the trophy for the top rider since 2007 – Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori and the now-retired Johnny Murtagh carved up the other 13 between them – which added to the sense of a changing of the guard in the weighing room this week, following a long list of first Royal winners for riders (and trainers) over the five days.
Murphy emerged on top with five winners thanks to a last-to-first success on Foxes Tales in the penultimate race, and despite losing Friday’s Commonwealth Cup in the stewards’ room.
“It normally belongs to Ryan or Frankie, but they gave me a turn this week,” Murphy said after picking up the prize. “Thanks very much to the fast horses.”