Connections of Big Orange were united in their admiration for the gelding after he had pulled out all the stops under James Doyle to win a pulsating renewal of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
The Michael Bell-trained six-year-old, well-known for his front-running style, made virtually every inch of the running in the 2m4f showpiece under James Doyle.
Order Of St George, 5-6 favourite to repeat his win of the previous year, came late on the scene under Ryan Moore and the two horses engaged in a thrilling finish, with Big Orange edging home by a short head. It was his third success in a QIPCO British Champions Series contest, having previously won two Goodwood Cups.
“He’s just an absolute superstar,” Bell said. “He gives his all and he’s got a heart as big as himself. I can’t praise his attitude enough; he wants to race and he’s a colossal racehorse. On fast ground in the middle of the summer, he’s a monster.
“I was very happy throughout the race. I thought James was in total charge of the situation and I was very happy. Then in the closing stages I was praying for the winning post, saying, ‘Inshallah, please God’, any religious thing I could think of to make the winning post come, and it did.”
Explaining how it felt to win the Gold Cup for the first time, Bell replied: “It’s the feature race of the meeting, an epic race taking on a very good horse [Order Of St George] in a proper horse race, and I can’t tell you the pride I have got in Big Orange. Enormous pride and great satisfaction for the team at home. I’m so pleased for them, for the horse, for the owners, for me – for everybody.”
In the absence of injured Frankie Dettori, the well-backed 5/1 shot was ridden by Doyle.
“Frankie just told me not to interfere with Big Orange,” the elated jockey said. “He knows what speed he wants to go at and you just sit as a passenger. I had Frankie’s voice in my head, so just eased him, let him go to the front and the rest was history.
“Big Orange got a little bit lonely and I wished that something had just joined him a bit sooner and he would have won a bit more impressively. It is a long time to be in front when you make the running like that and he had plenty of time to get lonely, so I couldn’t knock him for that.
“I only knew I was going to be on this horse a couple of mornings ago and he is the people’s horse – it was just a pleasure to ride him.”
Asked to describe the qualities the six-year-old son of Duke Of Marmalade possesses, Doyle responded: “He is a real proper old-fashioned stayer who just wears his heart on his sleeve and just tries. I wish most horses I rode tried as hard as him. He is just a real battle-hardened champion; as tough as they get.”
Winning owner Bill Gredley said: “All credit must go to Michael Bell. He has done a fantastic job on him. His head lad Tyrone has looked after him and Michael’s staff deserve a lot of credit. They are really good guys who have done a lot of work on him.
“We are here to take the applause but there are people behind-the-scenes who deserve to take the applause.
“This is alongside User Friendly’s [Epsom Oaks, Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and St Leger winner] victories I suppose. She was a good horse and let’s hope they keep coming!”
In every great horse race there has to be a loser, and on this occasion it was Order Of St George, who found plenty under a strong Ryan Moore ride but came up agonisingly short.
“He ran a very good race,” said O’Brien of the five-year-old by Galileo. “I am not sure yet where he will go next, we’ll see how he is.”
Laura Mongan’s burgeoning career was furthered enhanced by her stable star Harbour Law’s third place.
The 33/1 chance, who took the Ladbrokes St Leger last year, ran superbly to be six lengths behind the front pair.
An elated Mongan said: “I threw my hat off! He ran a cracking race. We knew he was entitled to be here. He didn’t have a great start to the year but has come here 100 per cent and he is a very nice horse – there is a lot more to come from him. He has done us proud.
“I am happy with this and will enjoy it for now.”
The Lawman colt’s jockey Jim Crowley, added: “He has run a good race, he has run as well as I thought he would. If this was soft ground it would be a different story.”