06/22/2017 4:26PM

Limato gets favored ground in Diamond Jubilee

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Barbara D. Livingston
Limato (left) finishes sixth in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Five-day race meets go fast, and already Royal Ascot 2017 is coming to a close, with Saturday’s final card headlined as usual by the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

The six-furlong, straight-course Diamond Jubilee, which has a post time of 11:20 a.m. Eastern, drew 19 final entrants and has Limato at the head of the betting market. It also includes trainer Bill Mott’s first Royal Ascot starter, Long On Value.

Limato, a 4-year-old who was seen at Santa Anita failing to stay a mile and finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last fall, is at his best going six furlongs on firm turf and so will get ideal conditions on Saturday. That was definitely not the case when he began his 2017 campaign with a 10th-place finish in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan, which was hit with heavy rain that turned the turf course far softer than Limato prefers. Limato finished second in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup going this distance a year ago at Royal Ascot.

The other two well supported in the antepost markets are Tasleet and The Tin Man. Long On Value was available at 20-1, an appealing price on a horse who seemed just fine making his first straight-course start in the six-furlong Al Quoz, where he was second of 12, beaten just a nose. Long On Value performs at least as well on firm going.

The Group 2 Hardwicke over 1 1/2 miles came up a solid race this year, with Dartmouth favored over Wings of Desire and Idaho.

Gold Cup to Big Orange

At 2 1/2 miles, the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup seems little more than a curiosity to North American racing fans consuming a steady diet of six-furlong sprints, but the Gold Cup is the featured race of the entire Royal Ascot meeting, and Thursday’s 2017 renewal provided all that could possibly have been expected, with Big Orange denying Order of St George a second straight Gold Cup win by a nose.

Big Orange took the early lead under James Doyle, who was subbing for the injured Frankie Dettori, ceded it for a quarter-mile or so, and then went back in front with close to two miles still left to race. And there he stayed all the way to the finish – if only just.

Order of St George, the odds-on favorite who won the 2016 Gold Cup by more than three lengths, took quite some time to find his best stride after racing from the rear of the field under Ryan Moore. A half-mile out, Order of St George was going nowhere, but after cornering into the long homestretch, with three furlongs left to run, Order of St George got out into the clear and began gaining momentum.

Faster and faster he ran, blowing past all rivals save Big Orange before coming down several paths to race alongside the leader. The pair bumped twice as Big Orange fought back, and at the finish Big Orange had held his powerful 4-year-old rival by the narrowest margin.

“It feels epic,” said Michael Bell, who trains Big Orange. “He’s a fantastic horse who gives his all. He’s so brave. I’m not eloquent enough to praise him. I was praying for the winning post and thank God it came. He’s got an amazing will to win and constitution.”

It was six lengths farther back to Harbour View in third. Big Orange was timed in 4:22.40 over good-to-firm going. A 6-year-old who has raced in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Australia, Big Orange is by Duke of Marmalade and out of Miss Brown to You, by Fasliyev. His ninth win from 24 starts was the best of his career.

In other Ascot action Thursday:

◗ Coronet, Olivier Peslier riding for John Gosden, won the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes over 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-old fillies. Coronet, by Dubawi, won her first group-level stakes while beating Mori by a neck.

◗ Benbatl won what appeared to be a strong running of the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes, beating the fast-closing favorite, Orderofthegarter, by a half-length. Oisin Murphy rode the winner, also by Dubawi, for Godolphin – which notched its fourth win of the meet – and trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

◗ Sioux Nation, an American-bred 2-year-old by Scat Daddy (who has sired three stakes winners at this meet) won the Group 2, five-furlong Norfolk Stakes by a half-length over Santry. The Wesley Ward-trained McErin had pace but faded to seventh.