ALTHOUGH it took a nail-biting 48 hours for the North to post a first Royal Ascot at York success, the wait was well worthwhile when Howard Johnson's Masta Plasta won yesterday's Norfolk Stakes in electrifying fashion.

The Crook-based trainer, who until now has made his name handling high-class jumping stock, is beginning with the aid of millionaire businessman, Graham Wylie, to build a powerful Flat string with the likes of Masta Plasta, easily the fastest horse he has trained to date.

Jockey Robert Winston hustled his mount out of the gates like a rifle bullet, the pair leaving each and every one of the 11-strong opposition toiling in their wake to clock an exhilarating near-course record victory in the Group 3 five-furlong dash.

"It's great to have a winner here, but it takes me all my time to get all this clobber on, I'm more of a cloth cap man myself," quipped Howard, referring to the mandatory top hat and tails required to grace the Royal Enclosure.

"I've always liked this horse and he works with the two-year-old, Pacific Pride, who finished second for us here in the Coventry on Tuesday," added the former full-time County Durham farmer, who still has cattle but didn't replace his sheep following the last foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Johnson had every reason to be pleased with this inaugural Royal triumph, because not only did he train the winner, he also in partnership with Wylie set up the Transcend Bloodstock, in whose colours the 50,000 guineas purchase Masta Plasta runs.

"Howard and I formed the operation in the hope of selling on them on at a profit," revealed Wylie, who secured a substantial fortune by disposing of his £115m holding in the Newcastle-based software giant, Sage, a firm he and a friend founded during the 1980's.

Much of that cash has since been sunk into thoroughbred investment, a policy which didn't take long to reward the man with the golden touch seeing as Wylie, together with his wife, Andrea, had no less than three winners, Arcalis, No Refuge, plus Inglis Drever, at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Team Johnson and Wylie also sent out Percussionist in the big-race of the day, the Ascot Gold Cup, but he ideally needs soft ground and could only finish in the ruck behind popular 7-4 favourite, Westerner.

Ellie Lellouche's raider from France, second in the two-and-a-half-mile feature 12 months ago, went one better this year under a superbly-judged ride from Olivier Peslier, booting home his tenth success in total at the Royal meeting.

All were agreed it was a vintage renewal of the historic contest, although a major upset seemed on the cards when 33-1 outsider, Distinction, nicknamed "Big D" due to his enormous size, stormed into the lead at the head of the home straight.

But when Westerner cruised up to stalk Distinction's quarters, the writing was always on the wall, and once he took the lead inside the final furlong the result was never in doubt, despite the comparatively conservative winning margin of a neck.

"I had a good plan and didn't move on him until late because he stops when there aren't any horses in front of him," reported Peslier.

As for the defeated Distinction, connections were far from disheartened.

"He ran a fantastic race, especially as it was touch and go whether he came until doing a good piece of work on Saturday," said Harry Herbert, representing trainer Sir Michael Stoute and owners Highclere Thorougbred Racing Ltd.

Getting so close yet so far is frustrating, however Stoute's luck changed with a vengeance in the next on the card when Mostashaar overwhelmed the opposition to capture the one-mile Britannia Stakes.

Mostashaar supplied owner Hamdam Al Maktoum with a double on the day having earlier witnessed Thakafaat win the Ribbledale Stakes, sparking a staggering across-the-card 295,595-1 five-timer for veteran Arundel trainer, John Dunlop, later successful with Jedburgh in the Buckingham Palace Handicap, plus Layazaal, Goodwood Spirit, and Tawqeet at Newbury.

The manner of Sheikh Hamdan's brace could not have been more different, 22-1 outsider Thakafaat staging a remarkable last-gasp rally to nail Twyla Tharp by a short-head, whereas warm 100-30 favourite, Mostashaar, spread-eagled his field in ruthless style by three lengths.

"He'll do things properly from now on," reported Sir Michael, with the sort of twinkle in the eye which suggested he has always thought the smart son of Intikab capable of upping his game to even more elevated company.

Having got first run on the punters, the bookies were caught firmly on the back foot when 3-1 market leader, Indigo Cat, made it three favourites in a row by collecting the Hampton Court Stakes.

It was an initial success of the week for Aidan O'Brien and stable jockey, Kieren Fallon, who appeared to have no chance when rowing away and apparently getting nowhere at half-way.

Not for the first time, Fallon's persistence and sheer strength in the saddle prevailed, forcing Indigo's Cat's head in front inside the final 100 yards to add more cash to the coffers of joint owners, Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor.

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