Turf Queens and veteran Stoute deliver memorable Royal Ascot

Pirate IRWIN

London (AFP) - Septuagenarians may have been to the fore at Royal Ascot but essential for the health of the 'Sport of Kings' a new star was also born in Alpha Centauri at the most famous racing carnival in the world.

Appropriately on the centenary of British women getting the vote, and under the gaze of Queen Elizabeth II, Alpha Centauri, a filly, is trained by 71-year-old Jessica Harrington, one of two memorable wins for female trainers with Eve Johnson Houghton striking the first blow on the Tuesday with outsider Accidental Agent in the Group One Queen Anne Stakes.

Harrington has shown as deft a touch with horses on the flat as she has over jumps -- 44 Grade One wins including the 'blue riband' The Cheltenham Gold Cup last year -- and has an increasingly powerful stable, Alpha Centauri's owners, the Greek shipping family, the Niarchos, reflecting that.

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For Johnson Houghton -- whose late father Fulke trained 10 Royal Ascot winners -- such a high profile win not only showcased her abilities but also struck a blow for the smaller stables.

It was also very much a family affair, her mother Gaie having bred and retained ownership of Accidental Agent who was named in tribute to Gaie's father's account of his experiences as a British agent in Occupied France during World War II.

"Prepare the lifeboats there are going to be plenty of tears," said Johnson Houghton.

Tears are not Harrington's style but a ready smile is and racegoers can prepare for more of them given Alpha Centauri setting a new track record in the Coronation Stakes and her six-length demolition of the highest quality field of the week.

"She floats on that ground," said Harrington.

- 'Like climbing Mount Everest' -

Harrington's fellow septuagenarian trainer Michael Stoute broke the record for career wins (75) at Royal Ascot with Poet's Word -- a mark he had jointly held with his great rival and friend the late Henry Cecil.

Fortunately for the sport 72-year-old Stoute -- like Cecil knighted by the Queen -- is adamant he is not ready to spend his summers watching his beloved cricket.

"I love the game, I have a great staff and supportive owners so I hope to keep going for a while," said Stoute who took his overall tally to 79.

Horses like Poet's Word are reason enough for Stoute to continue and his overturning a seven-length deficit from their previous meeting in eclipsing Cracksman was a rare reverse for the dynamic duo of trainer John Gosden and Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

They were to bounce back with Stradivarius winning a classic renewal of the week's most historic race, the Ascot Gold Cup bringing up Dettori's 60th career win, though, he is still well short of the remarkable tally of 116 held by the legend Lester Piggott.

At 47, Dettori has no plans for retirement.

"He said if Mike Smith can win the US Triple Crown aged 52 (on Justify) this year then why can't I carry on?" said Gosden.

The Royal Ascot meeting, and its future, relies heavily on the patronage of the Queen -- who has not missed a day since her coronation in 1953 -- and the Royal Family, helping attract a large part of the 300,000 spectators.

John Gunther, fresh from the joy of breeding Justify, summed up what it meant receiving the trophy from Prince Harry and his wife Meghan when his colours were carried to victory by Dettori on Without Parole in the St James's Palace Stakes.

"To meet them in person is like climbing Mount Everest," said Gunther.

"Base camp four is Without Parole winning and the summit is meeting the Royal couple."

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