06/16/2009 1:15PM

Master Blaster


The Royal Ascot races are upon us, and their broadcast this week by TVG gives American racing fans a chance to tap into their inner Hugh Grant, or Keira Knightley. I'm not big on wearing the rented formal clothing required for full Ascot appreciation -- they say when you put on those pants you're brushing up against everyone who's worn those pants before -- but the costume party looks like a blast. This does not explain why TVG hosts Simon Bray and Todd Schrupp were wearing each other's top hats. But hey...what happens in Berkshire stays in Berkshire.

They should be drinking Kentucky bourbon in the local pubs tonight instead of Guinness in tribute to the victory of the American owned and trained Strike the Tiger in the listed Windsor Castle Stakes for 2-year-olds. Owned by Mitch Dutko, Ray Sainz and trainer Wesley Ward, Strike the Tiger cashed at 33-1, winning by a neck over the 5-furlong Ascot straightaway.

Earlier Tuesday, the St. James's Palace Stakes was the highlight of opening day, and if there is going to be a better one-mile grass race anywhere in the world this season I would like to make plans to be there right now. Favored Mastercraftsman, who had spent his young life on straightaways, tracked the pacesetter and took the lead not long after making the right-hand turn into the stretch. Second choice Delegator went after him and actually bobbed his head in front for a few strides. Then came the last little uphill piece of the course, and Mastercraftsman came back on to win.

Aidan O'Brien trains Mastercraftsman, which makes the result dog-bites-man kind of news. But recall that O'Brien came to Santa Anita in full force last fall for the Breeders' Cup, with 2008 St. James's Palace Stakes winner Henrythenavigator leading the way. Henry finished second to Raven's Pass in the Breeders' Cup Classic, so do not be surprised if Mastercraftsman also has a Classic in his future. The son of Danehill Dancer is out of a mare by Black Tie Affair, winner of the 1991 Breeders' Cup Classic. Yeah, yeah, I know--the '91 Classic was run on cherished Churchill Downs dirt, while the Santa Anita version is over the synthetic Pro-Ride stuff. But remember, it's not necessarily all about the ground. The most competitive Europeans in the U.S. have the natural speed to be forwardly placed when necessary, on any surface. Mastercraftsman gets that in spades, along with his exotic roan coat, from Black Tie Affair.

The American fascination with British racing dates back to 1881 when Iroquois, owned by tobacco tycoon Pierre Lorillard, became the first colt bred in America to win the Epsom Derby.


When the news broke over here--the telegraphs were afire!--traffic stopped in New York City, horns honked and the stock exchange paused to celebrate. Iroquois was American in name only, though. He was trained in England from the time he was a yearling, raced 12 times there as a 2-year-old, and was ridden in the Derby by British champion Fred Archer (Archer, a five-time Derby winner, shot himself in 1886 at age 29). Iroquois later won the St. James's Palace Stakes at Ascot and the St. Leger, then was repatriated to the U.S. as a 5-year-old. He went to stud in Tennessee, eventually siring 1897 Kentucky Oaks winner White Frost and Huron, who lost the three-horse 1892 Kentucky Derby to Azra by a nose.

The Windsor Castle wasn't exactly the Derby. But for his effort, Strike the Tiger ought to get at least a shout-out on Louisville's evening news.

Glenye Oakford More than 1 year ago
Hi, Jay. Lorillard has a curious connection to Ascot, too. According to his obituary in the New York Times, "Mr. Lorillard's fatal illness dated from June 20, when he went to Ascot races, in England, hoping to see his horse David Garrick win the Gold Cup. While in attendance at the track he was stricken with a uraemic chill and was laid up at his lodge for a week. He was then advised by Dr. Kilroe that if he wished to see his native land again he had better embark without delay." He died in New York after growing worse daily on the voyage. Thanks for posting about Iroquois, who still holds a special place in Kentucky foxhunting and in American steeplechasing, too. The Iroquois Hunt Club in Lexington, Ky., was named for him (a very nice portrait of him hangs in the club), as was the Iroquois Steeplechase in Tennessee. Great horse and a personal favorite.
Jay Hovdey More than 1 year ago
Chris and GC--Thank you for the catch on Strike the Tiger's ownership. Full credit goes to Mitch Dutko, Ray Sainz and trainer Wesley Ward for their historic win in the Windsor Castle. The Ramseys watched their sprinter Cannonball finish a respectable sixth in the King's Stand earlier in the day. The post has been corrected. Again, thanks.
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
I don't like to tell you I told you so, but after Jealous Again's devastating win at Royal Ascot today (Wednesday) I am obliged to gloat. Jealous Again absolutely destroyed a high class field of British fillies, in one of our most prestigeous races. After yesterday's 31/1 bonanza win, I scored at 10/1 today, and will be backing Ward's horses on Thursday and Friday. Please, please send your good sprinters over as soon as possible, we simply cannot compete at 5 and 6 furlongs, and my betting bank needs the winning money. Regards - Bernard
Chris More than 1 year ago
Strike the Tiger is not owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. I believe he is owned by Ward, Mitch Dutko and Ray Sainz. http://horses.sportinglife.com/Horse_Profile/0,12491,450476,00.html cheers, Chris
e_s More than 1 year ago
Jay--did you check out the PPs for the 2 yr. old races at Ascot yesterday? In the 5f. race, 6 of the 20 runners had at least 5 races under their belt, mostly in the last two months. Across the pond in the colonies, we lament the supposed increased fragility of the breed, and make it the explanation for trainers moving to fewer races for their charges. Clearly, US trainers are off the mark. Perhaps we need to inquire of American owners and trainers the basis for the now common practice of racing two year olds so lightly.
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
Well done Strike The Tiger - I got paid out at 31/1. Congratulations to Wesley Ward for having the foresight (and the guts) to race his horses at Royal Ascot. I think his filly (is it Aegean?) will be competitive in a very hot race on Friday. We have got poor prize money in Britain, but the racing is great quality, and fun, and the partying is not bad either. More international racing has to be the way forward for our sport. The general public (and less hardcore fans) are simply not interested anymore in run of the mill, purely for betting, races. Its probably a bit late now but we have some more great sprint races coming up - at Newmarket in July and at York in August. Both courses are top class and a great time on and off the track is almost certain. Get yourself over here. Regards - Bernard
Causeways37 More than 1 year ago
Jay, Don't forget to mention about the 2 year old winner of the Coventry today as well trained by R. Hannon. Candorf Cliffs I think is the name. What a monster! If he comes over for the BC, it's all over. No matter what surface he races on. This is one exciting 2 year old with a bright bright future.