Royal Ascot: Michael Owen’s tears of joy at winner

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport at Ascot

One had shed tears. The other sported jet-black wraparound shades which cast a cloak over his innermost thoughts.

But both footballer Michael Owen and trainer Aidan O'Brien proved leading men on Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot.

Manchester United striker Owen showed the emotion - clearly choked at the success of Brown Panther, a horse he bred and owns, in Thursday's last race, the King George V Stakes.

Top Irish trainer O'Brien had savoured victory at this summer flat racing highlight 32 times before, but a Gold Cup win with Fame And Glory came just 24 hours after admitting one of his biggest errors.

Owen has tasted glory on some of the biggest sporting stages, scored 40 goals for England and is a former BBC Sports Personality of the Year. But this had a different taste to those successes.

The 31-year-old cried, and was hoarse from shouting, as his three-year-old colt was brought into the winner's enclosure by jockey Richard Kingscote.

Owen told how he had gone from placing tiny wagers with his dad as a youngster to developing a passion for horse racing that now leaves a Classic contender in his hands.

Brown Panther, who did not take up an entry in the Derby at Epsom, may now run in the German equivalent in Hamburg on 3 July, and is one of the favourites for the St Leger at Doncaster in September.

Owen, who bought the Manor House stables in Cheshire, where his trainer Tom Dascombe is based, five years ago, said his four children regarded the winner's mother Treble Heights as one of the family.

"I raced the mother, I've got a few of the brothers at home. She's a family pet and so are all the offspring," he said.

"This fella is by far the best one we've bred. To breed a winner, let alone at Royal Ascot, is unbelievable.

"I've got four children and they all love the mother. We pat it most days and she's a lovely mare.

"At the one-furlong marker, I started hugging my mum and my friends because he looked as though he had it tied up.

"I was screaming 'steady on Richard' because he was quite a way clear. I was worried that we got there too soon but obviously the horse is very, very good."

The victory came just 24 hours after his stable celebrated its first Royal Ascot victory with Rhythm of Light.

Earlier, O'Brien had seen his former Irish Derby winner Fame And Glory shrug off stamina doubts to earn his own place in the winner's enclosure, where a new statue of the trainer's four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats has taken pride of place.

Victory for the five-year-old Fame And Glory came after the disappointment of hot favourite So You Think's defeat by Rewilding in the Prince of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday, for which O'Brien blamed himself for not having his horse fitter.

"It's the most unbelievable race and the race that goes on and on," he said of the Gold Cup, which was a gruelling affair in rain-softened ground over two-and-a-half miles.

"It's the real ultimate test and every inch of a horse's body is called on at the end. It's a privilege to win it.

"Listen, he's a Group One winner every year since he was a two-year-old so he has serious class."

Owen had serious class as a footballer and is entering the twilight of his career, but has been given a new one-year contract by Manchester United.

His success on the track continues a long tradition where football has crossed over into horse racing. Mick Channon, an England striker in the 1970s, is a Classic-winning trainer while Owen's boss Sir Alex Ferguson has owned several top horses.

"When you breed one yourself and your kids pat him every morning, and the son wins at Royal Ascot, never mind another race, I don't think anyone else - unless you've done it - would believe the feeling," he said.

"He's the best horse, undoubtedly, I've had. I've been in the game a long, long time and invested a lot of money and to have a winner on a stage like this is what it's all about.

"The difference with football is you're out on the pitch, you feel as though you can do something about it, or score a goal.

"But when that horse goes down to post as an owner you have no involvement whatsoever. It's a lonely old place in the stand. It's just down to man and beast, and thankfully we had that today.

"I've won Listed races, I've never won a Group race or had runners in a Classic. I don't know where he'll go next but he's obviously a very serious horse.

"The German Derby is actually the day before I'm due back in pre-season training. I think it's the third. If it was the fourth I might ring the manager and ask if he'll give me another day off."

Asked if his United team-mates had backed Brown Panther, he said: "I hope so. Everyone who's texted I told them he had a good chance. But how do you tip a horse at Royal Ascot? It's a hard place to win. I always back my horses, I'm sentimental like that."

When I asked what the trigger was for Owen's love affair with racing, he said his father enjoyed a flutter.

"It was probably my dad having a bet the odd Saturday and he'd pick three horses and maybe when I got to 10 or 11, he would say 'well you pick one,'" he replied.

"I used to follow what jockeys and trainers were doing, and have a little 50p patent [combination bet on three horses] with my dad. He got me into it to start with and it's flourished into my investing most of my career earnings into this game.

"My kids are one, three, five and eight, and we are all horsey. The kids have got their ponies and can ride. Our foundation mare is special to our hearts. She was one of my first ever horses. She was my first ever winner at Chester, which is also special, and she's just the apple of our eyes, really, and so is this fella."

As Owen peeled away from the chat, a member of the Wiltshire-based syndicate Melksham Craic, who celebrated an earlier success in the Britannia Stakes with Sagramor, roped the striker into posing for a photo with his three boys.

"We bred an Ascot winner and you did and I had them in a double, it won me nine and a half grand," he told Owen who joked: "Do I get a share?"

The footballer has combined playing with his love of racing. From scoring goals to raising foals.

Many early starts on cold, blustery mornings on the gallops, much financial investment, frustration and, perhaps above all, patience, have been required.

"I've been into racing for a long time. I think I owned my first horse when I was 18. I was really keen on the sport before that and have invested a lot of time, money and everything else. It's all worth it for days like this. It doesn't get any better, does it?" he concluded.

As Owen departed to celebrate, the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone - that anthem of his former club Liverpool - could be heard in the distance round the post-racing bandstand singalong.

While his football career has stuttered a little of late, in racing he has walked through the storm, through the wind and the rain, and was holding his head up high.

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