It was a record sixth Gold Cup win for trainer Aidan O’Brien and a first for his jockey son Joseph, 21, and came by only a neck from last year’s victor, with 40-1 shot Missunited a short head behind in third.
Betting suggested Leading Light would win the feature race on day three of Royal Ascot comfortably, but it was far from that, with the four-year-old only emerging triumphant after a dramatic tussle.
“When you win it is always a good ride, there’s no such thing as a bad winning ride,” said Joseph O’Brien.
“I kept a straight line, Ryan [Moore, riding Estimate] was looking for a bit of room but I was entitled to keep a straight line.
“He had a little look when he got to the front and then went a bit to his left. He’s a big, lazy horse but I think he’s better at a mile and six. I was rowing away on him but I had loads left, I was trying to hold off asking for everything for as long as I could. Ryan gave me a bit of help by coming up my inside as he pushed me along a bit. This fellow is as tough as nails.”
It was a second win of the day for the O’Brien dynasty, Joseph having earlier piloted the Aidan-saddled Bracelet to glory in the Ribblesdale Stakes.
Aidan O’Brien said of Leading Light: “He’s idle, but he was in a lovely position and settled well. He was very lazy when he got there. Joseph was trying to keep him with company.
“We were worried about two and a half miles as he’s out of a Queen Mary winner.
“He’s a horse we thought could go back to a King George maybe, but he was up there for the last half a mile and after two miles you never know what is going to happen.”
Brown Panther, owned by former footballer Michael Owen and trained by Tom Dascombe, was going well into the straight but had to settle for fourth.
“He has been beaten by better horses but has still made us immensely proud,” Owen said. “He always tries his best and has the heart of a lion.”