Royal Ascot 2023

Royal Champion lives up to name in Wolferton Stakes

Royal Champion (16/1) provided Jack Mitchell with a first Royal Ascot win in the Listed Wolferton Stakes, completing an opening-day double for owner-breeder Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.

The Roger Varian-trained gelding was three-wide for much of the ten-furlong contest but still had plenty in the locker off the home turn. The five-year-old picked up strongly approaching the final furlong and kept on well to win by a length and a quarter.

Runner-up Bolshoi Ballet was always handy under Ryan Moore and stuck to his task well to hold off 3/1 favourite Buckaroo, who came from off the pace to take third.

Mitchell said: “It is amazing. I am no spring chicken in the weighing room and it’s nice to get the monkey off my back. Everyone says it and it’s probably a cliche, but this is our Olympics and where everyone wants to be riding.

“I am very fortunate to get on a horse I know very well, and he delivered for me today, which was the best he has felt. The ground is probably key, and the fact that he’s a rhythm horse – he needs to get into a rhythm. Although I was three wide, I had a bit of cover and he relaxed straight away.

“He actually came alive with me at the four and I was holding on, holding on, and the more I was holding on to him, the more he was grabbing the bit off me. It’s nice to actually sit and wait in a race like that. I know him quite well. Up at Ayr, when he won the Doonside Cup, he got there three out and was pulling a cart. I thought, I’ll squeeze the button to see if he’d stretch away, and he went five or six clear, so I knew he had it in the engine – it was just whether he’d perform today.

“I can’t thank Sheikh Mohammed Obaid and Roger Varian enough for keeping me on this horse. It means everything to ride this winner for Roger – he’s a great supporter and got me going again after a little break. I think it is 10 years I’ve been with him now, which is showing my age, but it’s always important to get these winners, and for Roger it is extra special. I’ve been here many times, but to get this victory is amazing and I hope I get another.”

Varian said: “It is nice to get one on the board on the first day, and I’m delighted to have a winner for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, who is a great supporter. He’s a bit in and out, this horse, but we knew there was a big day in him. The team had him in great shape for today and Jack gave him a fine ride.

“He was very good at Epsom last year in the same race Cadillac won on the way here, and was very good at Ayr, winning the Doonside Cup. They were his two highlights – he was a bit in and out at other times. He needed a run in the heavy ground at Chester but he’s trained really well in the last couple of weeks.”

Aidan O’Brien said of Bolshoi Ballet: “I am delighted with his run – he ran a very good race. He won’t mind stepping up to a mile and a half again.”

Buckaroo’s rider Oisin Murphy said: “He travelled super. I tracked up into the straight off the back of the winner and he had every chance late on. The last furlong with the penalty was a long way.”

5.35pm Wolferton Stakes (Listed)

1 Royal Champion (Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum) 5-9-08 Jack Mitchell 16/1

2 Bolshoi Ballet (Magnier, Tabor, Smith, Westerberg) 5-9-05 Ryan Moore 7/1

3 Bukaroo (Qatar Racing Limited) 4-9-08 Oisin Murphy 3/1F

16 ran             

Roger Varian – 11th Royal Ascot winner

Jack Mitchell – 1st Royal Ascot winner

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