The Lir Jet swoops late to deny Wesley Ward's Golden Pal in Norfolk
Despite a change of colours and completely different ground, The Lir Jet emulated his sire Prince Of Lir by landing the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes to give Oisin Murphy a first Royal Ascot win for Qatar Racing.
The result looked unlikely soon after flagfall when Wesley Ward's Golden Pal blazed a trail down the centre of the track under Andrea Atzeni, but after beating off the attentions of favourite Eye Of Heaven, the US raider's petrol ran dry when The Lir Jet pounced close home.
The winner, who had been bought privately by Qatar Racing only a fortnight ago after smashing the all-aged track record on his debut at Yarmouth, was giving Michael Bell his eighth Royal Ascot triumph.
The trainer's son and assistant Nick was central to the story having acquired the horse through breeze-up consignor Robson Aguiar for just £8,000 at Doncaster last August, and was originally going to send him to the breeze-up sales until they were delayed.
Bell said: "Prince Of Lir won this four years ago on soft, so we were hopeful he'd handle the ground, but I was a bit worried when the leader went so far clear.
"He’s battled – he’s very inexperienced and only run the once and never had to dig in before because when he won he won on the bridle. He’s learned how to race today and I think you’ll see an even better performance next time."
On the circumstances surrounding his recent change of ownership. Bell added: "Sheikh Fahad was watching Yarmouth on TV and sent me a text ‘Is he for sale?’ and the rest is history. I’m particularly pleased for Nick, it was his deal and he must take a huge amount of credit."
As for future plans, the Derby winning trainer added: "If he runs in another Group 2 he’ll be carrying a penalty, so I'd be inclined to maybe point him at something like the Prix Morny, but we shall talk to Sheikh Fahad and David Redvers and come up with a plan."
Looking even further ahead, The Lir Jet was given an opening quote of 14-1 by most bookmakers for the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August, on which Bell commented: "That’s something that is another option, these things need to be considered, but if Battaash was going to go to the Nunthorpe we’d probably say he should be avoided."
Winning jockey Oisin Murphy said: "I wasn’t that confident a furlong down, I thought Andrea rode a clever race in front. I didn’t jump super well, my horse travelled lovely, he’s got a great mind and he picked up the whole way to the line. He galloped through the line, I was the last one to pull up."
Murphy also revealed he had some input into the purchase of The Lir Jet, he added: “Sheikh Fahad watched the race at Yarmouth but I’d ridden the horse before he ever came to England and I liked him when I galloped him.
"I was pleased when Sheikh Fahad saw the race – it was his idea to buy him and I’m absolutely delighted for Qatar Racing. It’s my first Qatar Racing winner at Royal Ascot so it’s a huge relief.”
The speedy runner-up was given a quote of only 8-1 by Paddy Power for the Nunthorpe and fared the best of the Wesley Ward-trained runners so far this week. Ward plans to take the son of Uncle Mo home and bring him back for the Knavesmire speed test, where Irad Ortiz will ride as he is set to carry only 8st 1lb.
Andrew Balding's Imperial Force finished well to take third, while Lipizzaner finished fourth for Aidan O'Brien.
This race report is being updated and more news will follow shortly