IS the best still to come? Trainer Richard Fahey thinks so after stable star Ribchester lit up Royal Ascot with a stunning victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, the historic meeting’s traditional curtain-raiser.
The biggest win in Fahey’s career, he signalled next month’s Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood as the next assignment for the champion miler who, at the age of four, is now maturing into the complete racehorse.
No longer the tearaway who burns up too much energy in the early stages of his races, jockey William Buick was able to settle Sheikh Mohammed’s colt in the early stages as stablemate Toscanini set a blistering pace.
Yet the fact that the winner wandered across the track in the final furlong, and still set a course record time of one minute 36 seconds, speaks volumes about the emphatic nature of this performance.
After winning last year’s Jersey Stakes at the Royal meeting, the late-maturing Ribchester has not looked back, winning a Group One prize in France last summer before turning last month’s Lockinge Stakes at Newbury into a procession.
With career earnings just shy of £2m, Ribchester can now be regarded as one of Yorkshire’s all-time greats – especially if the form holds for the rest of the year before the colt is, in all likelihood, retired to stud.
“He gets lonely out in front sometimes. I don’t think it is pressure and he just went walkabouts,” explained Fahey, who was recording his sixth Royal Ascot winner and, more significantly, his first at the very highest level at the famous meeting.
“William doesn’t feel that the tank is empty with him and that he is getting stronger the whole time. Mentally, he is also getting better, which is a great attitude to have in a racehorse – he is starting to think he is good.”
The Sussex Stakes is an intriguing proposition as it would see Ribchester take on the best younger horses whose number includes Godolphin’s Barney Roy who won the St James’s Palace Stakes for three-year-olds under James Doyle.
Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner Churchill, the odds-on favourite, could only finish fourth after failing to pick up, though winning trainer Richard Hannon suggested Barney Roy will be stepped up in trip.
Given Churchill’s odds were even shorter than Ribchester’s starting price of 11-10 favourite, it is understandable that Fahey, 51, has endured sleepless nights in the build-up to the big race.
Though he has an insatiable appetite for winners, and has won at least 100 races every year since 2008, this is a career-defining victory as he looks to improve the quality of horses at his Musley Bank stables in Malton.
“I’m just delighted he has won. You can never be confident, but everything dropped into place there. He has huge gears and he is never in trouble. He gets the trip and that makes him a good horse,” said Fahey, who took out a trainer’s licence in 2003.
“It wasn’t really the plan to go that quick with Toscanini. He more or less took off and probably didn’t lead Ribchester far enough. Look, Ribchester is just an exceptional horse. He has to be the best horse I have ever trained. He broke the track record here and that’s not being disrespectful to the others, but he is just exceptional.
“It was a good pressure coming into the race as he was the right horse to have the pressure on. I was quietly confident that he would win as everything was good with him before the race – I’m in a happy place.”
Fahey’s view that this is the best horse he has trained was vindicated by the aforementioned Buick, 28, who was landing his 17th Royal Ascot success to add to a big race CV that also includes two St Legers.
Worried that the horse would be too free in the early stages, the jockey noted his mount’s new-found maturity. “We knew we had the best horse in the race, and that always makes things easier,” said Buick before taking the concluding Windsor Castle Stakes on Charlie Appleby’s promising two-year-old Sound And Silence.
“I believe he has more to give. He’s a pretty awesome horse, he travels so well and sees it out so well, and Richard and Sheikh Mohammed have done so well with him. He’s a joy to ride and always gives his best. He is a jockey’s dream.
“I got a nice tow into the race, but I knew we were going hard – I didn’t want to break his stride, so knew I would get there quite quickly and I expected him to look at the big stands. He’s the best miler I’ve ridden, and as good as any that are out there at the moment.”
Both Buick, and Fahey, were greeted by Sheikh Mohammed whose Godolphin operation has struggled to keep pace with rivals like Coolmore in recent times – however, this victory came 40 years to the day after Hatta was his first ever winner in Britain.
“Hatta was my first horse and people were surprised when she beat the favourite at Brighton,” he said. “From that day, we have moved forward and we are really enjoying it. In life there is no winning post. You have to keep going otherwise the rest will catch up with you.”
Fahey, for one, would concur with this sentiment.