After Estimate created history by winning the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup and so becoming the first horse to claim the prestigious prize for owner Queen Elizabeth II, all eyes were focussed on the horse as she attempted a repeat performance in the 2014 renewal of the race at the royal meeting. Having raced only once since that victory when producing a below par performance at the same venue during October, the fitness of the horse was subject to scrutiny. There was also a small matter of the participation of Aidan O’Brien’s colt Leading Light and he was both a course winner over two miles and the victor in the 2013 St Leger.
Leading Light had never raced beyond two miles whereas Estimate had confirmed his ability to stay the 2m4f distance of the Gold Cup whereas the Michael Owen part-owned Brown Panther could not be ignored having won the two mile Goodwood Cup last season. Brown Panther was also unbeaten in two races this season, while Leading Light was a comfortable winner of a prep race in Ireland.
As the race enfolded, the unheralded Missunited set a strong early pace and was still leading the others as the runners approached the final half mile. What followed was probably the best finish to a Gold Cup witnessed in many years. At one stage, the three fancied horses were in a line abreast alongside Missunited and a lack of fitness probably cost Estimate eventual victory.
A visibly tired Leading Light won the race with trainer O’Brien declaring that he is a notoriously lazy horse who produces the bare minimum to win races. Several other observers thought differently as the horse continued to blow significantly in the unsaddling enclosure and it may just have been a display of pure courage which secured the victory.
Two miles may be the optimum trip for Leading Light, especially on easier ground, although O’Brien may yet be swayed for the horse to return next season to defend his crown.
Elsewhere at the meeting, on drying ground, Kingman proved that he should have won the 2,000 Guineas when beating his conqueror Night of Thunder in the St James’s Palace Stakes while 2013 Prix de L’arc de Triomphe winner Treve could only finish third in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Treve appeared to be inconvenience by the quicker surface as fast ground specialist The Fugue secured the contest with Magician in second position. Should conditions be easier in Paris in October, Treve appears capable or repeating his ‘Arc’ victory although Derby winner Australia will be a serious challenger.
Aidan O’Brien has mentioned that Leading Light may race again in the Arc but after his performance this week, he may just lack that turn of foot over the shorter distance but could be just about unbeatable at two miles.
Leading Light has set his trainer a real dilemma regarding his preferred distance.