ASCOT, United Kingdom (AFP) – Ireland dominated the opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting on Tuesday carrying all before them in the first four races including the feature race the St James's Palace Stakes.
In doing so they denied challengers from the United States, Australia and South Africa as well as the massed ranks of the home country in the most prestigious racing festival in Europe.
Aidan O'Brien was to the fore courtesy of a big-race double. But the honours belonged principally to Jim Bolger, whose brave decision to start Derby disappointment Dawn Approach in the St James's Palace Stakes saw the colt win an epic renewal.
Dawn Approach finished last at Epsom just 17 days earlier, having raced like a rodeo bull. But Bolger felt sure his horse had recovered and was fully vindicated. None of Dawn Approach's competitive fire had been quelled as he fought tooth and nail to fend off Toronado by a short head.
Although Toronado was among the sufferers in a melee halfway down the home straight, he had every chance at the finish. But Dawn Approach, owned in partnership between Bolger and the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, refused to yield. The placings remained unaltered after a stewards' inquiry.
"He is very tough and hardy," Bolger said of Dawn Approach. "I'm very happy. Relief (that he won) plays a part in it but I knew the horse wouldn't let me down. It's in the nature of the sport to take chances and sometimes they work out."
So wildly did Dawn Approach behave at Epsom that he returned with a badly cut mouth. In consequence he was ridden at morning exercise in a bitless bridle.
"Pat O'Donovan, who looks after the horse at home, was happy to do it and that was the winning of today's race," Bolger related.
Victory entitles Dawn Approach to be hailed as the best three-year-old miler in Europe after he opened his campaign by winning the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. And that race is now on War Command's agenda after the two-year-old ran clean away with the Coventry Stakes.
War Command was the least fancied of O'Brien's three runners in the race, He loomed up under Seamus Heffernan before sprinting clear of Parbold, with the winner's stable-mate, Sir John Hawkins, back in third place. He prevailed by six effortless lengths and is by some way the best juvenile seen out this season.
War Command was bred by American Joseph Allen, who has entered into a fruitful partnership with the Irish syndicate comprising John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
The four men are involved in a handful of horses within O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable and another of them, Declaration Of War,opened the meeting on a winning note in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Advance billing of the race centred on the outstanding claims of American raider Animal Kingdom, who was sent off a hot favourite.But the five-year-old pulled for his head soon after leaving the stalls, in the process draining his energy reserves. He was a spent force soon after halfway.
Meanwhile, Joseph O'Brien sought an opening for Declaration Of War approaching the final furlong and the sea duly parted, ushering the colt through to a a decisive victory from Aljamaaheer and Gregorian.
While Royal Ascot victories are routine for the Irish syndicate, Allen, who travelled over from his Florida home, was overcome with joy.
"This is surreal; it could not get better," he said. "I did not expect much of Declaration Of War because he was so disappointing on his previous run (in the Lockinge Stakes), but War Command is a horse I have always liked. He had a few (physical) issues at one point but he has come around. What he did today was scary."
Another foreign challenger, South Africa's Shea Shea, started favourite for the King's Stand Stakes and covered himself in glory, if not the victory laurels, despite being ambushed in the final strides by Sole Power.
Trained in Ireland by Eddie Lynam, Sole Power was expertly ridden by Johnny Murtagh, who was posting his 40th Royal Ascot winner.
The Irish jockey later added to his score when driving Extortionist home in a desperately tight finish to the Windsor Castle Stakes. For Ireland and its horses, it was that sort of day.