Donn's Articles » So You Think

So You Think

At the top of the home straight in Saturday’s Qipco Champion Stakes, it looked like Aidan O’Brien was finally going to land his first.

So You Think had enjoyed the perfect passage through the race. He was drawn wide enough in stall nine, but not as wide as he had been in the Arc and, significantly, he was away much faster than was the case in France. He actually probably won the first 100-yard dash before Ryan Moore eased off the throttle, allowed Nathaniel up on his outside, Ransom Note up on his inside, and relaxed into a perfect rhythm and a perfect position in third place, getting the ideal tow from the two leaders, one horse-width away from the rail, every option in the book open.

The pace was solid, which suited So You Think well, he raced evenly in Moore’s hands, not too keenly, unharried for third place down the side of the track. He travelled well into the home straight, moved up easily on the outside of Nathaniel, and joined the leader just inside the two-furlong pole, trading at 1/2 in-running.

Even when Cirrus Des Aigles got to within a half a length, So You still looked the most likely winner. Christophe Soumillon was flat to the boards on the French horse, whereas it appeared as if Moore had a little up his sleeve, and you knew that the Ballydoyle horse would gallop all the way to the line.

He did gallop all the way to the line, but not as quickly as Cirrus Des Aigles did. It is probable that Corine Barande-Barbe’s gelding beat him for pace rather than for stamina, that he out-speeded him rather than out-stayed him.

In one sense, So You Think was unlucky to come up against a horse as good as Cirrus Des Aigles. The son of Even Top was under-rated going into the race – he was allowed drift to an SP of 12/1, quite remarkable when you consider that he was as low as 4/1 for Saturday’s race before he was narrowly beaten in the Prix Dollar by Byword – and probably still is.

It is possible that Saturday’s race came too quickly after So You Think’s run in the Arc. Aidan O’Brien said that he came out of that race bouncing, that he was ready to run for his life again, and Seamie Heffernan said after the Arc that his horse had plenty left to give. But history tells us that it is extremely difficult to win the Champion Stakes after running in the Arc, and 13 days may not have been enough.

The other possible explanation for So You Think’s defeat is that, while he is a top class middle-distance horse, he just may not be as far in front of his peers as the market for his races generally suggests. He has been favourite for all but one of his last 12 races, five in Australia, seven in Europe, odds-on for nine of them, and that one exception was the Arc de Triomphe, when he was drawn in the car park and was still just a half-point longer than Sarafina. Snow Fairy may be an accurate reference point. So You Think has raced against Ed Dunlop’s filly three times now, he has beaten her by a half a length twice and she has beaten him by a half a length once.

Strange for a horse about whom many expressed stamina doubts in the preamble to the Arc, but it may be that a mile and a half is more So You Think’s trip than a mile and a quarter, and he may not be best suited by Ascot’s two-and-a-half-furlong-long home straight. Two of his three Northern Hemisphere defeats now have been over 10 furlongs at Ascot. He may be more a galloper than a quickener. As such, he would be a fascinating contender in either the Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt, or the Breeders’ Cup Turf over a mile and a half.

It doesn’t make sense that Aidan O’Brien has not yet won the Champion Stakes, but you can easily argue that the very best Ballydoyle horses have not run in the race since the Vincent O’Brien days. Aidan’s very first runner in the race, Lermontov in 2000, was effectively a pacemaker for the Michael Tabor-owned, John Hammond-trained Montjeu. Hawkeye and Beckett in 2001, Sholokov in 2002, Middlemarch in 2003, Mingun in 2004, no runner in 2006, Hebridean in 2008, and no runner in 2010 smacks of a race that, historically, might just have come up at the wrong time on the calendar, between the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup, for the Ballydoyle race-planners.

That said, Aidan was represented in the race by A-listers Oratorio (fourth in 2005), Eagle Mountain and Mount Nelson (second and 11th respectively in 2007), Fame And Glory (sixth in 2009) and now So You Think. And with the move to Ascot and the added prize money and the added prestige, perhaps a first Ballydoyle victory since Sir Ivor is imminent.

© The Racing Post, 18th October 2011