06/17/2010 12:00AM

Rite of Passage sets track record at Ascot

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Stamina was the order of the day at Royal Ascot on Thursday, when the 20-1 Rite of Passage set a track record for 2 1/2 miles in winning the Group 1, $370,000 Ascot Gold Cup. The 6-year-old Rite of Passage outbattled Age of Aquarius by a neck in a ding-dong stretch duel to give trainer Dermot Weld his first Gold Cup triumph.

Pat Smullen was content to let Rite of Passage sit in third place behind the sprightly early pace of Akmal. When Akmal faded approaching the half-mile mark, Age of Aquarius assumed the lead under Johnny Murtagh and looked home free entering the stretch. But Rite of Passage was making up ground with every stride. He collared Age of Aquarius at the three-sixteenths pole and while Age of Aquarius dug back in, Rite of Passage was not to be denied. Purple Moon was six lengths behind the runner-up in third with the 11-4 favorite Ask a non-staying fifth and 13-2 French invader Kasbah Bliss a one-paced sixth.

The winning time of 4:16.92 on good to firm ground smashed Full House's 2006 record by 1.37 seconds, not bad for a horse whose last start had been a third-place finish in a 2 5/8-mile, Grade 1 novice hurdle at Cheltenham on March 17. In fact, Rite of Passage's last three outings had been over hurdles. With his first four races having been in Irish National Hunt Flat Races restricted to horses preparing for hurdle races, Rite of Passage had only run in open flat races twice previously, winning both of them going 1 3/4 miles at Ballinrobe and two miles at Leopardstown.

Weld had trained the Ascot Gold Cup runner-up twice in the past with Vintage Crop and Vinnie Roe, both of whom ran in the Melbourne Cup three times. Vintage Crop won that race in 1993. Vinnie Roe finished second to Makybe Diva in 2004. Weld will now prepare Rite of Passage, who is 7 for 10 lifetime on the flat and over hurdles, for the two-mile Melbourne Cup on Nov. 2.

* Hibaayeb, held out of the English Oaks after a promising third in the Prix Saint-Alary behind subsequent French Oaks winner Sarafina, made good use of her rest with a convincing 3 3/4-length victory in the Group 2, $185,000 Ribblesdale Stakes. Ridden by Frankie Dettori and co-favored at 4-1, Hibaayeb finished well clear of Eldalil while traveling the 1 1/2 miles in 2:31.18. Hibaayeb had won the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Ascot last fall when trained by Clive Brittain and owned by Mahommed Al Nabouda. Afterward, she was purchased by Godolphin and sent to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. After a winter in Dubai, Hibaayeb returned with a dull 16th in the 1000 Guineas, but figured to improve at longer distances.

* In the five-furlong, Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, the 16-1 Approve was a handy 1 1/4-length winner over another 16-1 shot, Reckless Reward. Trained by William Haggas, Approve had finished a troubled fourth last time in the listed Woodcote Stakes at Epsom.