Great pals Charlie Hills and James McDonald team up to win Royal Hunt Cup with Dark Shift
Long-time friends Charlie Hills and James McDonald teamed up to win the Royal Hunt Cup with the prolific Dark Shift, who landed the biggest prize of his career.
The improving son of Dark Angel was held up down the middle of the track by his crack Australian-based rider in the early stages. Having made rapid headway from three furlongs out, the pair were in front entering the final furlong and held on gamely to land the heritage handicap by half a length at odds of 13/2.
The winner held off 40/1 chance Intellogent, who ran a huge race in defeat for Jane Chapple-Hyam, with Tempus (28/1) back in third. The well-fancied Astro King (17/2), who was runner-up last year, had every chance and kept on for fourth.
Hills said: “It was always the plan to go for the Victoria Cup. We ran there and got a terrible draw. We needed to then run him again to get into this race, so we ran him at Nottingham and he won there. It was a bit of a worry if we would get into the race two days ago. Anyway, it’s great.
“It is his fourth win here. We were keen to come here and we will keep him here as long as we can. Hopefully, he is a Group horse. The horse has a good turn of foot and it is a slow maturing family, so he could end up being smart.
“Me and James McDonald go back a long way. He came to spend the summer with us eight years ago and we have become good family friends. For connections to let him ride the horse means an awful lot. I’m very proud.
“James is so good. Not taking anything away from our boys, we’ve got some great ones in England, but we just seem to get on well. It’s great to have James on our side.”
McDonald said: “I love Royal Ascot every year, but this one has been extra special. This has made my day. It’s such a special win. Charlie is one of my greatest pals. He has been a fantastic trainer. What he has done for my career is unbelievable and I cannot thank him enough for his support every year. There are plenty of big-name jockeys who could have ridden this horse and I’m only riding him because of Charlie.
“When I was an 18-year-old kid, I came over with a suitcase and I lived with Charlie and Pip for six months. They gave me every opportunity to ride a massive amount of winners and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If it wasn’t for them, I might not have enjoyed it as much. They could have easily put me in college. So for them to look after me is a testament to them. It is awesome.
“The race worked out brilliantly. We were dependant on pace and there was a lovely rhythm. He got into zone pretty quickly. It was just a matter of finding clear air. He is a lovely horse, I don’t think he will stay much further, a mile is his friend. He loves it here and it is a good place to love!”
Jane Chapple-Hyam said of Intellogent: “That was excellent – look at him! We’re very pleased with him. We brought him down here six weeks ago for a practice; it was hard because he got put up in the weights, but Fiona [Carmichael, owner] and Amanda [Skiffington, bloodstock agent] believe in the horse and they gave me the opportunity to rekindle what has been lost over 18 months. We’re just all proud that he’s a happy horse, and he’s shown that today with that amount of weight.”
5.00pm Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)
1 Dark Shift (H Frost) Charlie Hills 4-9-01 James McDonald 13/2
2 Intellogent (Fiona Carmichael) Jane Chapple-Hyam 7-9-10 James Doyle 40/1
3 Tempus (Hambleton Racing Ltd) Archie Watson 6-9-06 Hollie Doyle 28/1
4 Astro King (Saeed Suhail) Sir Michael Stoute 5-9-07 Ryan Moore 17/2
29 ran 7/2F Legend Of Dubai (20th)
Charlie Hills – 6th Royal Ascot winner
James McDonald – 3rd Royal Ascot winner