GRAHAM LEE’S perfectly-timed victory aboard Trip To Paris in the blue riband Ascot Gold Cup becomes even more remarkable when set in the context of the career of the North Yorkshire rider.
This, after all, is a horseman who rode 1,000 victories over obstacles – including countless victories at the Cheltenham Festival and the 2004 Grand National aboard Amberleigh House for ‘Mr Aintree’, Ginger McCain.
Just over four years ago, and with injuries taking their toll, Lee made the bold decision to switch codes to the Flat after finally being convinced by his friend and mentor AP McCoy – the record-breaking rider – that he was good enough to do so.
Lee, who lives with his family near Bedale, has not looked back despite his decision being delayed by his characteristic stubbornness. He rode a century of winners in 2012, his first year in his new role, and has continued to set new landmarks in subsequent seasons. Significantly the quality of his rides has also increased thanks to his tactical acumen and the support of top trainers like Ed Dunlop, the man who masterminded Trip To Paris’s remarkable success.
For, while the winning jockey downplayed the significance of his success on a day dominated by Ryan Moore, who took his tally of winners at this year’s Royal Ascot to a record-equalling eight, this was Lee’s first Group One win on the Flat and his first success at Royal Ascot.
He could not have chosen a bigger or better race – after all the two-and-a-half mile trip was routine in his jump days – and he could not have had a more willing accomplice in Trip To Paris, a four-year-old who was winning a modest handicap at Ripon in April before a high-profile success in the Chester Cup.
This latter success convinced La Grange Partnership – the lucky and sporting syndicate who own the horse – to pay a £35,000 supplementary fee for this two-and-a-half mile championship.
Their gamble paid off. Not only did they win the first prize of nearly £230,000 but Trip To Paris could now be bound for the Melbourne Cup and a chance to recompense Dunlop for stablemate Red Cadeaux’s three narrow and heartbreaking defeats in Australia’s ‘race that stops a nation’.
“The second I got legged up on him in the parade ring I knew he was going to run well,” said Irish-born Lee whose previous win at the highest level came when he rode Ferdy Murphy’s steeplechaser Kalahari King to Grade One success at Aintree on Grand National day in 2009.
“He was asleep, he went to post asleep. He was relaxed all the time, conserving energy. The race went well and happy days.
“Thank the man above, everything went good. I had a look when I turned in where I was going to go and there was a gap down the rail. He has picked up good and he deserved this.”
After Frankie Dettori tried to make all the running on the ultra-game Forever Now, it looked like the Dermot Weld-trained Forgotten Rules would win for favourite backers as a tightly-packed field turned for home.
Yet, as stamina was sapped and the main protagonists became involved in some scrimmaging, Lee’s mount enjoyed a dream run up the inner and won pulling away from Kingfisher, the mount of man of the moment Moore, and Forgotten Rules.
A special day for horse and rider, the success was even sweeter for the trainer whose father John trained Ragstone to win the Gold Cup in 1974. “It’s an incredible day, and one of my greatest days as a trainer,” said Dunlop junior.
“My father and mother had the Gold Cup on their dining table, so to actually win it is a dream come true. I was always brought up by my parents to regard the Gold Cup as the highlight of this meeting. It’s been a difficult season for my staff, so to win this turns it all around.
“The guy leading him up today is Steve Nicholson, who also looks after Red Cadeaux, and until (yesterday) he always said ‘He (Trip To Paris) is not coming on the same plane as Cadeaux’, but after today we’ll see.
“The Australians, the clever ones, said you ought not be running in the Gold Cup because you’ll spoil his mark for the Melbourne Cup, but I think his owners will want to do it now. Why not? Graham Lee has been a big part of this – I thought it was a great ride.”
However, Lee knows more than most that racing is a great leveller and, in the Brittania Stakes 40 minutes later, he was the luckless rider aboard Capel Path when the Queen’s runner suffered a serious injury just past the halfway mark. The horse was being treated by racecourse vets last night.
War Envoy’s win in the Britannia completed a treble for the Moore who had to be at his brilliant best to deny Jason Hart aboard Udododontu in a head-bobbing finish.
In a slight irony, the runner-up’s trainer – Wetherby-based Richard Guest – rode Red Marauder to victory in the 2001 Grand National.
Yet, while all the focus is understandably on Moore, it should not detract from Graham Lee’s achievement in reaching the top over jumps – and now on the Flat.
He is now a Gold Cup-winning jockey, and deservedly so.