Belgian Bill Takes Royal Hunt Cup Glory
1 Belgian Bill 33/1
Wiltshire trainer George Baker pulled off his first Royal Ascot winner when Belgian Bill landed the Royal Hunt Cup. Jockey James Doyle, who had won his first Royal meeting race 35 minutes earlier on Al Kazeem, was successful again, completing a 126.5/1 double.
Seven years ago Baker was in the winner’s enclosure following the same race while working as a reporter for the defunct Sportsman newspaper, but his training career is proving rather more durable. He is now based at Manton, which is also home to his training colleague Brian Meehan.
Baker said of Belgian Bill: “He’s been a fantastic old handicapper and has taken us to all the right places. You dream of winning a big one, and while it’s a cliche that is often said of these horses, he deserved to win one.
“He’s been around the world for us and a great standard bearer for the yard. I’ve only been training for four and a half to five years and to have a horse like this is what you dream of.
“I was nervous when they split into two [Belgian Bill raced with a small group on the far side], but at halfway the side-on shot showed we were just ahead and still travelling. This horse just loves getting into a bit of trouble in running and when he was stopped a couple of times that would have suited him. A race like that for old horses is a bit of fun and they seem to thrive on it.
“Being dropped in the handicap [to a mark of 97] has clearly helped and at a competitive level he had a big one in him. Where do we go now? I don’t care!
“This is a career highlight – the move to Manton has taken us to the next level and you want horses on the bigger stages. To do this at a place like this is beyond your wildest, but it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Baker then reflected on his journalism career, saying: “I was in this spot six or seven years ago – but who won this race on that occasion? I can’t remember, but I’m sure I wrote a brilliant article about it!”
Doyle said: “He was well-fancied for this race last year – he was nearly favourite – and he has dropped down the weights a lot. He ran some good races out in Dubai and I thought if he reproduced that form, we would have a chance of getting in the frame.
“The race worked out perfectly. I was able to keep him interested the whole way through, putting him in little gaps and helping him travel. He quickened up well and I was a little bit unlucky because I got stopped a little bit but I think he probably enjoyed it.
“I was happy with my draw. I know that the bulk of the field merged over towards the stands’ rail but I was happy where I was.”
Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)
Chris Wall, trainer of the fine old war horse Premio Loco, who battled to a three-quarters of a length second in the Royal Hunt Cup said of his nine-year-old stable star: “He’s run a blinder. After he had run a couple of duff races in the spring and the handicapper had let him down, the plan had always been to bring him here.
“I just wanted to run him at Haydock the other day over seven to sharpen him up – he’d got a little bit lazy at home- that did the trick and we were happy with him in the interim and he’s come here and run a blinder giving weight away.
“He is the best horse in the race although we haven’t won, but I can’t fault the effort. George (Baker, jockey) has given him a great ride.
“Premier Loco never ceases to amaze me even at the age of nine. We will go away and see what we do next. He is carrying a bit of condition at the moment and the plan had always been to run him throughout the summer as long as we keep his ground so I think a race like the Summer Mile back here in July might be a possibility – he’s won it before – but we will see what other options he got as well.
“He probably doesn’t quite pick up like he used to – but I don’t suppose I do either! He keeps going. George said he really wanted it and when he gets in a fight he is really tough. He was very determined today.
“We have had a good day out. I could just do with finding a few more like him.”
George Baker, who is Premio Loco’s regular jockey, added: “I was very pleased with him we knew we had a massive task – he was nearly top weight – and he is nine. All credit to Chris (Wall, Trainer) he is not particularly easy to keep going forward and he has done a wonderful job with him.
“He doesn’t pick up as well as he used to but he is nine so he is going to be a bit more laboured.
“As long as he is able to maintain a high standard of form I think they (the owners) will keep going with him. If not they will think about retirement but at the moment that was a very competitive run in a heritage handicap at Royal Ascot.”
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