THE FUGUE, the horse with the dancing feet of a ballerina, is the new queen of Royal Ascot after the Yorkshire Oaks heroine broke the course record to lower the colours of the reigning Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe champion Treve in the race of the season.
Her regal-like performance under an ice-cool William Buick in the prestigious Prince of Wales’s Stakes paves the way for a possible return to York in August for the £800,000 Juddmonte International, though she would need her favoured quick ground.
Owned and bred by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine, a top class equestrian in her own right, they described the win as the high point of their respective careers as John Gosden’s filly won the fourth Grade One win of her career in imperious style and beat the 10-furlong course record set by the great Cirrus Des Aigles in the 2011 Qipco Champion Stakes.
This win over Aidan O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician, with Treve a disappointing third, helped to compensate connections for The Fugue’s unexpected setbacks in the 2012 Epsom Oaks and on her subsequent travels to America, Hong Kong and Dubai that saw her become regarded as one of the unluckiest horses in racing.
The weather gods were also cruel in the 2012 Darley Yorkshire Oaks – a sudden storm during the race changed the going dramatically – but at least the rain clouds held off last August until after the filly had crossed the winning line.
“We’re so excited and she so deserves this,” said Lady Lloyd Webber. “It hasn’t gone her way sometimes and this is a very big stage to do it on. She’s got her recognition as one of the best horses in Europe.”
Her husband, an unlucky mascot at the best of times, was witnessing The Fugue win in person for the first time.
“We did genuinely think we were going to let her have a stroll round the park! We didn’t believe she would do this, but it’s the best day in our whole racing career,” he said.
Always ideally placed by Buick, the race was effectively over at the two furlong pole as The Fugue pulled clear from Magician and Treve who never travelled under Frankie Dettori.
She will be assessed today when she returns to the yard of her French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek.
Longer distances now beckon for Treve, starting with her Arc defence in October. Head-Maarek said: “They’ll go slower and it will be easier for her. It is the 18th of June today – the Battle of Waterloo. It is just a French defeat.”
As for Buick, the 2010 and 2011 St Leger-winning jockey could not have asked for an easier big race ride.
“She’s been an absolute star for me... she proved today what she can do against top-class horses,” he said. “When she gets an uncomplicated run, she’s lethal.”
This view was shared by a delighted Gosden who opted to head for Royal Ascot, rather than Ireland at the end of the month, after The Fugue failed to shine in Dubai in late March.
“We trained her in the winter and she was like a little bud that went tight, but now she’s flowered and she looks great,” he said. “She got knocked over in the Oaks (two years ago), she got absolutely creamed and should have won, but she remains a very brave, lovely filly.
“A mile-and-a-quarter on good to firm ground, that’s the difference. You look at races like the Eclipse and the Juddmonte International and hope we have summer weather. She has little feet like a ballerina and doesn’t like soft ground, so if it’s soft we don’t run.”
This victory strengthened Gosden’s grip on the trainers’ title race thanks to the successes of Kingman in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace Stakes and Epsom Oaks winner Taghrooda.
Yet, because these champions belong to owners who have retained riders in the form of James Doyle and Paul Hanagan respectively, this was Buick’s biggest win of the season to date.
The Northern Racing College graduate will be on the John Oxx-trained Saddler’s Rock, the 2011 Doncaster Cup winner, in today’s Ascot Gold Cup when all eyes will be on the Queen’s Estimate who defends the crown that she won last year.
Estimate’s task is far harder than 12 months ago. This is her seasonal reappearance after a training setback and her opponents are headed by last year’s Ladbrokes St Leger winner Leading Light and former footballer Michael Owen’s Brown Panther.
“In my mind I’ve got her finishing third, there are two other very good horses in there, but if the ground keeps drying out then things can happen,” said Her Majesty’s racing manager John Warren. “The Queen never expects anything, that’s why she’s so extraordinary. She’s the best loser you could hope for, she’s a realist. If you’ve owned horses for as long as she has, you’ve been through every hiccup.”
The Fugue’s connections would concur.