Crimson Advocate and John Velazquez claimed the narrowest of victories in a thrilling climax to the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot.
A field of 26 juvenile fillies went to post for the five-furlong opener on day two and the George Weaver-trained Crimson Advocate made a rapid start in the hands of his Hall of Fame pilot.
The 9-1 shot, a winner at Gulfstream Park in Florida last month, led her rivals a merry dance for much of the way and it was just a question of whether she would hold on racing inside the final furlong.
Relief Rally, unbeaten in two previous starts for William Haggas, came at the leader hard as the post loomed and was in front just before and just after the line – but the judge confirmed Crimson Advocate was a nose in front where it mattered. Beautiful Diamond, the 11-4 favourite, finished third.
Kentucky-born Weaver had saddled just one previous runner at the Royal meeting, with the Velazquez-ridden Cyclogenisis finishing down the field in the 2015 Commonwealth Cup. He was quick to pay tribute to his wife, Cindy, who was badly injured in a riding accident at Saratoga in July last year.
Weaver said: “My wife is a tremendous horsewoman, she knows more about horses than I’ll ever know.
“She took a fall, she had a dramatic brain injury and it was a very scary time, it’s been a tough year for all of us. It’s a miracle. It’s almost a year ago it happened. At some points we didn’t know if she’d live or have any quality of life. This is her first trip away from home since.”
Weaver admitted that while he had high hopes for Crimson Advocate, he was not certain she could make her mark.
He said: “You come to a new country, a strange place – I have so much respect for the horses over here. It always seems like the European horses are better grass horses than what we have over there, but I knew our filly was very talented and I was hoping that she would be able to get the job done.
“Don’t get me wrong, the way she won at Gulfstream, I was very excited about her, but like I said, I have tremendous respect for the trainers and horses that are over here.
“I came here eight years ago with a horse that wasn’t good enough. I thought it would be great if I could ever come back with something that was, and we did.”
Weaver has another live chance with No Nay Mets in Thursday’s Norfolk Stakes and added: “When you try to plan things, you try to buy horses for Ascot, it never works out. It’s just – things come together, and this year we’ve got two nice horses to bring over here.
“Royal Ascot is Royal Ascot, what can you say? You can feel the electricity when you’re here and how special it is, and it’s a beautiful feather for us to have in our cap.
“It’s not the biggest purse I’ve ever won – Vekoma was a tremendous racehorse and I won the Dubai Golden Shaheen early on in 2005 (with Saratoga County). I’ve had some great moments, but this ranks right up there.”
Velazquez – who was riding his fourth Royal Ascot winner – said: “I knew she was going to be fast, it was all about if she handled the turf here. It’s a little bit better than yesterday, it was a bit soft for the Americans yesterday, but she handled it very well and held on.
“It’s very hard when they come from America, there’s also the second hill close home they have to handle. On firmer ground it just helps them and that’s what happened today.
“She’s so nice, she handled everything nicely, in fact she was so calm I had to take her away from the others to wake her up a bit! She was a little too quiet, but behind the gates she was very nice.
“She was going so well and in hindsight I almost messed up the race by going too soon. I should have waited longer with the second hill in mind, but she handled it.
“That’s the first time I’ve ridden her, I knew she’d be pretty fast. Every year I try to come back here to get another winner, now I’ve got one it feels great, I’ll be coming for as long as I can.”
He added: “It’s great for George and his wife. A year ago she had a really bad accident and they didn’t think she would walk again so for her to be here is amazing.”
A philosophical Haggas did not have a lot to add to the obvious.
“We were in front before and after the line, but not on. There you go, that’s the way it is, she’s run a great race and made up a lot of ground in the last furlong. She’s run a fine race,” he said.