Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth with Racing Manager John Warren / The Telegraph (p)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth with Racing Manager John Warren / The Telegraph (p)

I thought that someone was playing a joke on me but it turned out to be true.
— Mike de Kock / Trainer


“Better luck next time, we’ll come back and try again!” That’s really all that stables beaten at the world’s most exclusive race meeting can say when coming away also-rans, but there’s nothing but honour in defeat at Royal Ascot. The privilege of competing there over-rides disappointing results.

Mike de Kock, his connections and the many supporters of Soft Falling Rain and Shea Shea were understandably downhearted after the South African pair had failed to make the frame in respective Group 1 races on the first day of the 2014 Royal Ascot Festival Tuesday. Success on the hallowed Royal Ascot turf will remain a dream for now, but there’s always another day and Mike and his team will live to see it.

Soft Falling Rain raced well in contention until the closing stages of the Queen Anne Stakes over 1600m, looking threatening for a while before running out of steam to finish sixth, four lengths behind the well-fancied favourite Toronado. Shea Shea ran well below his best form in the King’s Stand Stakes over 1000m. Under pressure to challenge fully 500m out, he never got into the hunt and was beaten around six lengths by his old rival Sole Power, who racked up a back-to-back double in this fifth leg of the 2014 Global Sprint Championship.

Mike and jockey Christophe Soumillon were puzzled by Shea Shea’s effort - he failed by the proverbial whisker when Sole Power flew up to nab him on the line last year and judged on his good preparation before this year’s renewal he was at more or less the same level of form and in with a big chance of turning the tables.

Mike reported, however, that Shea Shea started coughing badly about half an hour after the race and said: “This goes some way to explaining this run and we will be keeping a close eye on him.”

He was happy with Soft Falling Rain’s performance, saying: “As noted, he didn’t have an ideal preparation at all, he ran a temperature and as a result we lost 10 days of work which is vital at this level. Considering this he put up a credible showing. We’ll see how he pulls up and look at our options; there are no firm plans for his next race.”

Mike’s day took a surprising turn when he was notified by Ascot Management that Queen Elizabeth had personally extended an invitation to her Royal Suite. Her Majesty was apparently keen to meet South Africa’s globetrotting trainer.

Mike related: “I thought that someone was playing a joke on me but it turned out to be true. I was escorted to the Royal Box where Queen Elizabeth was enjoying the day in the company of her racing manager John Warren and Ascot Patron Johnny Wetherby.

“What a privilege. Her Majesty was welcoming and extremely friendly and being acquainted with Bernard Kantor and familiar with his Investec Derby race day she was well up to date with South African racing and our quarantine problems. She had sympathy with our plight, shared her views and we spoke for about 15 minutes. She is smaller in stature than I’d thought, she was chatty and very polite and I left quite amazed at the honour of meeting her unexpectedly.”

Extract from Mike de Kock Racing