It was supposed to be the perfect introduction; The announcement of So You Think to the British public at the world renowned Royal Ascot festival in the 149th running of the Prince of Wales' Stakes after a double of processions over the Irish Sea. Australia and Dato Tan Chin Nam had sold a considerable share in one the greatest middle-distance horses to race in Australia in recent years and the 'Peoples Horse' had done all he could in his native homeland, now it was time to strut it with the best in Europe. Sent off the heavy odds-on favourite few believed it would be in doubt; Joseph O'Brien - a bit player in Team Ballydoyle at this time - was booked to ride the eventual pacemaker, Jan Vermeer, with Ryan Moore booked for So You Think.
Breaking out of the gates on a dreary day, Ryan Moore immediately looked for O'Brien on Jan Vermeer emphatically expressing concern that his pacemaker had not alertly broke to the front of the pack. In alarming fashion, O'Brien found his way to the front and jutted in front of So You Think causing Moore to momentarily check up on the first turn. However, for all the inconvenience that this could've created it became minor in the grand scale of the race. Turning down into the straight and out of Swinley Bottom, So You Think took things up leaving the one-time Epsom Derby favourite, Jan Vermeer, dropping back through the pack quicker than Trinniberg in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. This was So You Think's time to shine. Commited at the three furlong pole, So You Think looked to be drawing away in a manner typical of his dual-Cox Plate and Yaluma Stakes victories and with every horse behind him seemingly under pressure it looked to be a matter of how far.
At the two furlong pole it was a very different story; Rewilding under a power packed Frankie Dettori drive was coming fast, So You Think was seemingly begin to tire and the complexion of the race had begun to chance. At the one furlong pole, Rewilding was there breathing heavily down the neck of the Australian champion with Dettori urging him just for one final lunge and despite the brief moment where So You Think looked to be holding him by an ever decreasing neck, Rewilding got to him in the shadows of the post. Dettori had done it, Godolphin had done it, Mahmood Al Zarooni had trained the 2011 Dubai Sheema Classic victor to beat one of the gutsiest horses ever seen 'Down Under' at a distance far from ideal for the winning charge.
This year So You Think returns yet again in a bid to go one better. With a new rockstar-esque mane, So You Think is a little older, a little wiser and even more experienced. Australian raced horses are used to backing up quickly, after all So You Think ran five times in a month in the lead up to the 2010 Melbourne Cup, but his campaign through the autumn of 2011 and into the spring of 2012 saw him run in a Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, a British Champions Stakes, a Breeders Cup Classic and a Dubai World Cup - suffice to say, So You Think has been around a bit since Royal Ascot last saw him and that's without mentioning an emotional victory over Workforce in the 2011 Coral-Eclipse.
One year on and Joseph O'Brien is no longer a bit part player in the Ballydoyle operation, he's number one jockey for his father and has a vast array of Group 1 victories to his name including a Breeders Cup Turf and two-legs of the English Triple Crown (2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby) under his belt thanks to Camelot. Joseph O'Brien has improved at an alarming rate since the arguably poor ride on pacemaker Jan Vermeer, his efforts and rides on horses such as St Nicholas Abbey have earnt him plaudits worldwide. However, albeit the improvement evident, Joseph is yet to deliver a Group 1 winning performance on So You Think in a top grade Group 1. Ryan Moore is also back, this time for his boss - Sir Michael Stoute - and for her majesty The Queen herself. The Queen's Carlton House looks to be So You Think's main challenger this time around after an impressive comeback performance in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown Park three weeks ago. Sir Michael Stoute and The Queen's connections look to have found that niche distance for Carlton House now, that distance just shy of the Derby and Classic races that looked to exert too much stamina to see him as effective. The ten furlong test of a Prince of Wales' Stakes or a British Champions Stakes looks right up his street and all that stands in his way looks to be an Australian superstar in a bid for redemption. Cirrus des Aigles, victorious in the 2011 British Champion Stakes over So You Think, would obviously be a worthy challenger to the title yet his trainer and connections are downbeat of the chances of running at Royal Ascot at current due to the drying ground and they look to be opting for the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on the Sunday following Royal Ascot at this moment in time. Sadly Rewilding (left) won't return to defend his crown. A strong fancy for the mid-season showpiece of British racing that is the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 1m4f at Ascot, Rewilding came wide into the straight charging towards the eclectic trio of Workforce, St Nicholas Abbey and Nathaniel synonymous of his Royal Ascot finishing effort with the world at his feet, Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe favouritism at his mercy and just three furlongs separating him from the wish list of hundreds of breeders only to suffer a life ending injury. Collapsing in front of the stands and throwing Frankie Dettori hard towards the firm turf in the process, Rewilding had broken his near-fore leg only to get back up and canter towards the winning post with his injury all too visible. As he surged past the winning post alone gleaming as if he had won his race, Rewilding finally realised his injury and stopped as the winning trainer came towards him and held him close. To Rewilding he had just won another race, he would go out a winner.
Rewilding may not be there in reality but in spirit he'll be running right alongside So You Think and, who knows, that scintillating finish of 2011 may happen yet again. We just won't see Rewilding challenge So You Think's victorious effort this time. There are stories aplenty possible in this years' 150th renewal of the Prince of Wales' Stakes and as heartwarming as it would be to see The Queen gain a royal win at her Royal Ascot in her Diamond Jubilee year, my colours are firmly nailed to the mast and they're purple with a white trim. This is So You Think's time to gain his penultimate victory before the breeding sheds of Australia call him home for a new career.
Good luck, my friend.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)