It’s somehow fitting that the 2023 edition of Royal Ascot, the first with King Charles III as the ruling monarch, served up a myriad of amazing headlines.
There was Hollie Doyle’s victory in the fittingly-named King’s Stand Stakes; the first time that a female jockey had won a Group 1 race at the world-famous festival.
And then there was the scarcely-believable win in the Norfolk Stakes when Valiant Force, 150/1 with the bookies and 488.00 on the exchange, romped home to net those few punters that backed him an unlikely payday – one banked nearly £16,000 from a £1 each way punt when 100/1 shot Witch Hunter also obliged in the Buckingham Palace Stakes.
Starting today with a HUGE shock – VALIANT FORCE finds phenomenal form at #RoyalAscot in the Norfolk Stakes, the joint-highest winning SP at the Royal Meeting at 150-1 🤯 congrats to @AMurrayRacing @RossaRyan15 @amoracingltd pic.twitter.com/3hHwbysdzJ
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 22, 2023
And then there was a triumph for Frankie Dettori in the Ascot Gold Cup – a fitting send-off for the veteran, who will retire at the end of the 2023 season. He’d even described his horse Courage Mon Ami as a ‘bit of a chancer’, which must have made crossing the line in first place all the sweeter.
You might think that a career as long and as illustrious as Frankie’s would mean that he’s the winning-most jockey in Royal Ascot history – but you’d be wrong, actually.
Instead, it’s a legend of yesteryear who takes top billing….
Lester Piggott (117 winners)
All told, Lester Piggott notched 4,493 winners in his career – 117 of them coming at Royal Ascot.
A record eleven victories in the Ascot Gold Cup confirm Piggott’s dominance of the meeting, while five wins each in the Coronation Stakes, St James’s Palace Stakes and Queen Anne Stakes reveals that he was a master of riding many different horses and over varying distances too.
As if to confirm the magnitude of Piggott’s brilliance, back in his day Royal Ascot only had six races per day across a four-day meeting – meaning that he only had 24 opportunities to win at each edition, rather than the 35 that are available over the extended five day, seven races per day format of the contemporary festival.
It seems impossible to think that anybody will ever match Piggott’s brilliance at Royal Ascot. His longevity – he won his first Ascot Gold Cup aboard Zarathustra in 1957, and his last on Ardross some 25 years later – deserves as much praise as his unrivalled skill in the saddle.
Frankie Dettori (81 winners)
Almost as if to frank Piggott’s brilliance, Dettori – who many consider to be the best Flat jockey in history – *only* has 81 winners to his name at Royal Ascot.
His first winner at the festival came back in 1990 in the Queen Anne Stakes, and since then he’s racked up 80 more – a staggering 33 years separating his first from his last.
Blessed with a unique knack for getting big performances out of his horses on the most prestigious of race days, Dettori has also benefitted from partnering with some of the finest Flat sprinters, one-milers and stayers in the sport’s history – Stradivarius, Lammtarra and Enable just three that immediately spring to mind.
Given that Queen Elizabeth was known to be a huge admirer of Frankie’s, it’s perhaps no surprise he saved some of his biggest wins for Royal Ascot – although things haven’t always gone smoothly for the Italian in aristocratic company. One of his more famous tales recounts the time his pet dog emptied its bladder on the Queen’s finest Persian rug….
As he hangs up his stirrups, Dettori’s hopes of usurping Piggott as Royal Ascot’s best ever have come to an end.
Ryan Moore (79 winners)
He has lived in the shadow of Dettori for a number of years – preferring the quieter life of racking up stacks of winners without the fanfare.
But you have to hand Ryan Moore credit – in addition to his near 180-haul of Group 1 winners, he’s notched 79 (and counting) victories at Royal Ascot.
A three-time Ascot Gold Cup champion, Moore has also prevailed in the St James’s Palace Stakes (x3), Coronation Stakes (x2), Prince of Wales’s Stakes (x2) and the Queen Anne Stakes, amongst a whole catalogue of Group 2 and handicap renewals.
He won’t turn 40 until September, so if Moore can retain his ability, his determination to succeed and his plum role as top jockey to Aidan O’Brien, he might, just might, get close to Piggott’s record-breaking Royal Ascot win tally….