RICHARD Fahey has not looked back since he took out his trainer’s licence in 2003 after a mediocre career in the saddle.
With just a handful of decidedly average runners to his name, he has gradually built up both the quantity and quality of his horses.
It’s probably an advantage getting it out of the way early, but I’m looking forward to it. This is what I get up at 4.30am every day for –to be part of races like this. If he gets beat, I might go home, but we’ll see.Richard Fahey
Years of patience – and perseverance – will be rewarded if Ribchester wins today’s Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The meeting’s traditional curtain-raiser, there has been no Yorkshire-trained winner of this mile contest for horses aged four or over in 30 years.
And the reason is clear – it takes a very special horse to win this international contest that has been won in the past five years by turf titans such as Frankel.
Yet Ribchester, who was originally owned by David Armstrong before being purchased by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, is a worthy odds-on favourite.
A proven Group One winner last year, the colt was an exhilarating winner of Newbury’s prestigious Lockinge Stakes last month under big race jockey William Buick.
And while it will take another career-best performance on Ribchester’s part to beat an international field that includes USA challenger American Patriot, Fahey, 51, is relishing this career-defining contest for horse and trainer alike.
“He’s done his last serious bit of work and he’s good. We’re very happy,” said the Malton handler, whose training career began at Manor Farm, Butterwick, before moving to Musley Bank stables in 2005 when his prize money for the year passed £1m for the first time.
“It’s probably an advantage getting it out of the way early, but I’m looking forward to it. This is what I get up at 4.30am every day for –to be part of races like this. If he gets beat, I might go home, but we’ll see.”
Fahey is no stranger to top-level success, having also landed Group One prizes with Wootton Bassett, Mayson and Garswood in recent years, but he feels Ribchester is superior to all three in terms of ability.
The only concern is the rapidly drying ground as Britain basks in a heatwave. “He’s the highest-rated horse we’ve ever had so you’d have to say he’s the best,” added the trainer who has five previous Royal Ascot winners to his name.
“He’s won over £1.5m already and he’s progressing along the right lines. To win a Group One like he did in the Lockinge was great. It was his first serious run back in England and you’re always anxious things won’t go right, but we’re pleased it worked well.
“We’re meeting some of the same horses. There are a couple of American horses there, but barring them there’s nothing new in the race. It’s a Group One and a tough one, but we’re happy going into it. It will be different ground to Newbury, but he has form on fast ground as well. It’s called racing for a reason and things can go wrong, but we’re very comfortable where we are. Someone said to me ‘we’ve looked after him well, he’ll look after you’, so let’s hope he does.”
Ribchester made all the running in the Lockinge after his stablemate and pacemaker, Toscanini, missed the break.
Yet, while Ribchester now settles for Buick and does not use up excess energy in the early stages of his races, Toscanini is in the field again.
Meanwhile, Lightning Spear, owned by Qatar Racing and second in the Lockinge, reopposes with connections more than hopeful.
Trainer David Simcock said: “Ribchester probably got his own way too much at Newbury and that probably won’t be the case in the Queen Anne.
“He’ll still take a lot of beating, but our horse will improve for the ground.
“That’s not to say it won’t suit Ribchester, but if we get a bit of pace on better ground, hopefully we’ll finish a bit closer.”
There are two trans-Atlantic challengers in Todd Pletcher’s American Patriot, the mount of Frankie Dettori, and Miss Temple City from Graham Motion’s stable.
Pletcher’s assistant, Ginny DePasquale, said: “He’s used to being an underdog.
“There are obviously a couple of big players in here, but hopefully he’ll have a good trip with no excuses.
“He’ll probably be up close to the pace and I think he can run into a place.”
Even though the aforementioned Fahey saddles Forest Ranger in the St James’s Palace Stakes against Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner Churchill, Ribchester’s result is likely to define Royal Ascot from a Yorkshire perspective.
Victory would be arguably the county’s most significant winner at the meeting for more than a decade because of the prestige and esteem of the Queen Anne Stakes.
Middleham trainer Mark Johnston will be disappointed if he does not record his 40th career winner at the meeting while today’s King’s Stand Stakes, a Group One race over five furlongs, features the David Griffiths-trained veteran Take Cover; Final Venture from the in-form yard of Paul Midgley and Bryan Smart’s Alpha Dephini who was a more than creditable third in Haydock’s Temple Stakes last month.
In the past, these Yorkshire runners would be headline-makers in their own right – and with good reason.
Yet the fact that the White Rose batallion is headed by a horse of the calibre of Ribchester shows how far Flat racing has come in this county since Richard Fahey, inspired and motivated by a clutch of like-minded trainers, set his sights on being the best.