The Dermot Weld-trained Rite of Passage announced himself as a stayer of immense potential when battling to victory in the Group 1 Gold Cup on another sun-baked day here at Royal Ascot. Ridden by Pat Smullen, the 20/1 shot had to dig deep to pass Age of Aquarius for the Aidan O’Brien yard, a stable that has dominated this race in recent years thanks to the achievements of four-time winner Yeats. The betting had been all about Luca Cumani’s Purple Moon whose odds crashed from an opening 33/1 in the morning down to an SP of 12/1. However, it was Sir Michael Stoute’s Ask that was the punters’ first choice and he set off as the 3/1 market leader for the 2m 4f marathon. Akmal, under Richard Hills, dictated the early pace with both Rite of Passage and Age of Aquarius in close pursuit. Typically for such a long distance race the order remained unchanged as the field made their way down the back straight but once they turned for home the contest was really starting to hot up. Akmal dropped away to leave Johnny Murtagh with the long Ascot home stretch between him and glory on Age of Aquarius. Rite of Passage was hitting top gear though in his slipstream and when Pat Smullen moved him out to challenge the two Irish-trained runners settled down to battle out the finish. In the end it was Smullen’s mount who just managed to keep his rival at bay, with only a head separating the two at the finish. There was a lengthy gap back to Purple Moon in 3rd and a further gap back to Bannaby under Christophe Soumillon in 4th.
Amazingly, the winner was keeping intact an unbeaten career on the flat, having won both his previous starts in Ireland. He was sent off favourite at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this year and ran a fine race to finish 3rd at Grade 1 level on that occasion.
The winning jockey was understandably delighted: “I was very happy with how the race went. I was very confident he would stay but he's got speed as well. I got a lovely position just behind the leaders all the way round and got the gap when I needed. When I asked him to kick he quickened up well and it takes a very good horse to win how he did.”
For the winning trainer it was third time lucky in the race: “It's a race I've always wanted to win and two previous runners, Vinnie Roe and Vintage Crop, finished runners-up, so I thought it could be third time lucky”.