Royal Ascot 2023

Hats off for a Royal winner as Desert Hero takes King George V Handicap

Desert Hero (18/1) earned himself a place in the history books as the first Royal Ascot winner for His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen, prevailing in a thrilling finish to the King George V Handicap.

In a race run at a frenetic early gallop, the William Haggas-trained Desert Hero was delivered late by Tom Marquand to edge out Valiant King by a head, with Bertinelli a length and a quarter further back in third.

Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, had 24 Royal Ascot winners, the final one being Tactical in the 2020 Windsor Castle Stakes.

Haggas said: “It’s fantastic, a great honour for all of us, and I’m thrilled they [The King and Queen] were here to witness it.

“Desert Hero wasn’t 6/4 favourite, so I think expectations were relatively low, but hopes were high, and it came good. It was a beautiful ride, a bit of a bob and a weave up the straight, but he made it and fair play to Tom.

“We discussed the race beforehand and I thought he was going to be more forward, but he obviously thought they were going too fast, and they were. He stayed on really well – it was his first time at a mile and a half.

“How proud am I? This is what it is all about for us, and when you are given the privilege of training some horses for the late Queen and The King and Queen, it’s an honour. We are here to deliver, and try to. It doesn’t happen very often.

“They have been looking forward to Royal Ascot for a long time and they hoped to have as many runners as possible. I think they will be absolutely delighted.

“It’s very important for horse racing, but it’s also important that The King and Queen enjoy it, which they clearly appear to do. Long may that continue.”

Marquand said: “Genuinely, that is one of my proudest moments in the saddle so far. I grew up watching horses like that win for Her Late Majesty, The Queen, and to ride His Majesty The King’s first Royal Ascot winner is unbelievable.

“Honestly, I’ve said it about moments before that it will be hard to top, but genuinely this is… we all grew up watching Ryan win on Estimate and things like that. Royal winners at the Royal Meeting are extremely special, especially this one – I think this is a poignant one. To be a part of that and for William and Maureen and the whole Somerville Lodge team to bring a horse into the Royal Meeting and to have that perfect prep – it’s an insanely special day that I think will live high in my career, probably at the top, for the rest of my days in the saddle.

“Even coming into the paddock wearing the Royal colours, whether you think you have a chance or not, is special in itself. Explaining your tactics obviously holds a bit more pressure, because you’re expected to stick to them and there’s no blagging your way out of it when His Majesty and Her Majesty are here! It’s come off, it’s fantastic. Royal Ascot is where everyone wants to be and even more so doing it in these colours. It’s quite an emotional winner, I think it’s fair to say.

“It’s a hard game breeding horses, and racing horses, and to have The Queen’s legacy stuck through and carried on is immensely special. Even the crowd, everybody appreciates the magnitude of what’s just happened. It’s just an extremely special day for everyone.

“I wasn’t confident of getting there. I tried to spin out on the final bend and get behind horses I thought would take me there, but they didn’t and I had to go in, but this fellow was extremely game.

“He’s fairly lightly raced compared to some of these horses, he hasn’t had many starts and I asked him a big question – a lot of horses wouldn’t want to or wouldn’t be able to answer it. As the Haggas team show time and time again, they just get it right.

“The first Royal winner I remember really was Estimate. I know it wasn’t that long ago, maybe 10 years ago, so I was two years or so off starting riding, but I think that is the one that will always live through in my memory and probably a lot of people’s.”

Zara Tindall, granddaughter of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, said: “I just think how excited my grandmother would have been. To have a winner for Charles and Camilla and to keep that dream alive was incredible, and what a race – asides all of that, what a race. I was stood with Sheikh Fahad [Al-Thani] and the horses were either side, pulling their way up to the line. It was incredible.

“I think it is a new excitement [for The King], like all those owners here who come here with horses, they have dreams and hopes, and to follow it is incredible. Horses are the main game here and that’s why we get involved. We love them, the competition, and feelings are indescribable.”

Oisin Murphy said of the runner-up: “Valiant King was unlucky not to win. I got stuck in traffic and had to switch inside. It is a brilliant result for His Majesty The King to have a winner.”

3.05pm King George V Handicap

1 Desert Hero (HM The King & HM The Queen) William Haggas 3-8-13 Tom Marquand 18/1

2 Valiant King (Qatar Racing Limited) Joseph O’Brien IRE 3-8-11 Oisin Murphy 7/1

3 Bertinelli (D Smith, S Magnier, M Tabor, Westerberg) Aidan O’Brien IRE 3-9-09 Ryan Moore 6/1

4 Cloudbreaker (D R J King) Charlie Fellowes 3-8-08 Kieran Shoemark 22/1

19 ran              4/1 fav Perfuse (5th)

William Haggas – 15th Royal Ascot winner

Tom Marquand – 4th Royal Ascot winner

Sectional times: