Joseph O’Brien was still in the winner’s enclosure talking to reporters after winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes with State Of Rest here on Wednesday as the jockeys came out for the next race. “Thanks, Mickaël,” he said as Mickaël Barzalona offered his congratulations, a reminder that O’Brien himself was in weighing room and competing against many of this week’s riders as recently as June 2015.
O’Brien rode six winners at Royal Ascot during his brief few years as stable jockey to his father, Aidan, including So You Think in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes a decade ago and Leading Light in the Gold Cup, the meeting’s most historic event, in 2014.
But his achievements since hanging up his boots to take out a trainer’s licence have been astonishing. Two Melbourne Cup winners in four years between 2017 to 2020, an Irish Derby and a St Leger have been among the major highlights – and O’Brien is still 11 months shy of his 30th birthday.
State Of Rest’s 5-1 victory here on Wednesday was another landmark, as O’Brien is the first person to both ride and train a Group One winner at Royal Ascot since the Pattern system was introduced in 1971. This was also his first winner at the meeting, after a run of 43 losers stretching back to 2016, and it arrived thanks to a pre-race plan to “uncomplicate things” according to Shane Crosse, the winner’s 20-year-old jockey, who executed to perfection.
Shahryar, attempting to become Japan’s first Royal winner, has made the running in the past but Cristian Demuro was happy to take a lead from State Of Rest as Crosse set a steady pace through the first three-quarters of a mile. Demuro seemed poised to pick off the leader in the straight but when Crosse asked State Of Rest to lengthen, he soon opened up an advantage that Shahryar was clearly struggling to close.
Bay Bridge, the 10-11 favourite, was next to have a crack but he too could not find the acceleration to drag State Of Rest into a battle and Crosse still had a one-length advantage at the line.
“We thought that if we could lead the race, we had a really good chance to win,” O’Brien said. “After a furlong, we were very comfortable with how the race was setting up and the horse was very tough and genuine, as he always is.
“Shane gave the horse the most wonderful ride, he’s a very cool customer and he proved that today. We really wanted to lead, he’s tough and he loves a fight.
“I feel it [pressure] a bit more as a trainer, but maybe that’s because I’m getting older. We’ve had a few horses placed [at Royal Ascot] over the years and we knew that a winner would come eventually, but it’s very special in a race like the Prince of Wales. You lose every day of the week, this game is all about losing, and you have to learn from it and regroup and go again.”
Aidan O’Brien got off the mark for the meeting when Little Big Bear, the 6-5 favourite, edged out Rocket Rodney in the Windsor Castle Stakes, while Karl Burke’s Dramatised took the card’s other speed test for juveniles, the Queen Mary Stakes, in impressive fashion under Danny Tudhope.
Tudhope was always travelling ominously well behind a strong pace and fired Dramatised into a decisive lead over one furlong out. The jockey dropped his whip soon afterwards but it made no difference as the winner got home by nearly two lengths.
There was much less for Irad Ortiz jun to celebrate afterwards, as the American jockey’s difficult week continued with a five-day ban from the stewards for careless riding aboard Wesley Ward’s Love Reigns. The officials found that Ortiz had allowed Love Reigns to drift left-handed in the early stages, setting off a chain reaction of interference to four of his rivals.
Ortiz, who replaced Frankie Dettori as Ward’s rider at this year’s meeting, was looking backwards aboard Golden Pal in the stalls before Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes and missed the break, leaving his horse with an all-but impossible task to recover. He has two more rides for Ward at the meeting, aboard Ruthin in the Palace of Holyroodhouse Handicap on Friday and Campanelle in Saturday’s feature, the Platinum Jubilee Stakes.