Donn's Articles » Irish Champion Stakes

Irish Champion Stakes

Twelve months after a narrow defeat in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes, Snow Fairy returned to Leopardstown yesterday and, under the expert guidance of Frankie Dettori, went one better, wearing down the gallant Nathaniel deep inside the final furlong to record a famous victory, and smashing the track record for good measure.

But that is just the capped tip of the Snow Fairy story.

Tell the tale of a €1,800 yearling who had earned over €3 million in prize money even before yesterday’s near half-a-million purse was added, seven Group 1 wins in five different countries, a tendon injury this year that really should have de-railed her racing career, and you start to fill the pages.

If you suspected that Ed Dunlop’s filly was brave, simply because she came back from serious injury to win a Group 1 contest at Deauville on her return to the racecourse last month, you saw the hard evidence of same with your own eyes at a sun-drenched Foxrock yesterday as the race unfolded beneath you.

Daddy Long Legs took the field along, as you suspected he might, at more seven-furlong than 10-furlong pace. And they stretched out like football jerseys on a washing line down the back straight, Nathaniel, Light Heavy, Snow Fairy, St Nicholas Abbey, Born To Sea, Indian file behind the leader.

It was when they neared the end of the back straight that Dunlop turned to his wife and opined quietly that they were going very fast, that the pace that Daddy Long Legs was setting would suit the stayers, the 12-furlong horses Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey. He worries when his filly races these days, he would say later. He is just happy when she returns from combat safely.

The trainer’s worries were ultimately poorly sourced. From the time that they turned into the home straight, and Nathaniel went on from the long-time leader, it always looked likely that this remarkable filly would prevail. She picked up nicely when Dettori gave her a squeeze, with the result that the rider could ease off for a second or two. Not yet. He didn’t want to hit the front too soon and get mugged by St Nicholas Abbey close home.

When Dettori did lower his frame into that familiar drive position, which had driven to Group 1 glory 197 times before, the response from the filly was impressive. She took it up from Nathaniel just inside the furlong pole, and powered away to win by a long-looking length.

“The race went exactly to plan,” said a jubilant Dettori after performing his trademark 10-out-of-10 flying dismount. “I didn’t realise how popular this filly was. When I hit the front, I couldn’t believe the roar. Ed forced me to come and ride her work last week, and I didn’t really know why, I had ridden her many times before. But I think he just wanted to re-assure me that the filly was well after her injury. It was a fantastic training performance by Ed to get her back.”

Dunlop had gone close to landing the Irish Champion Stakes twice before, when Ouija Board went down by a neck to Dylan Thomas in 2006, and last year, when So You Think beat Snow Fairy by a half a length, so this was a particularly sweet victory.

“No disrespect to her other wins,” said the trainer, “but this is probably the best yet. For the filly to come back as she has, from such a serious injury, was unbelievable. She is a special filly. She is in the Arc and the Champion Stakes, and we have the Breeders’ Cup option, but we really do have to take it one race at a time with her after her injury. We’ll see how she is after this before we make any plans.”

The fairy tale continues.

There was a dramatic conclusion to the other Group 1 race on the card, the Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes, in which the David Wachman-trained filly Duntle passed the post first, a short head in front of the Sir Henry Cecil-trained Chachamaidee.

However, it had been a messy race, there were several fillies with chances and searching for racing room from the top of the home straight. Wayne Lordan on Duntle had engineered a passage for himself but, in so doing, in easing Alanza to his right, that filly had interfered with Chachamaidee, who was in the process of delivering her challenge down the outside under Tom Queally.

At the ensuing inevitable enquiry, the stewards decided that the interference was sufficiently significant to have cost the runner-up more ground than the short head by which she was beaten, and promptly reversed the placings of the first two, placing Chachamaidee first and Duntle second.

“It’s not the way you want to win a Group 1 race,” said Queally, “but I think the stewards got it right. My filly deserved this win, she has been knocking on the door for long enough. I’m sure Henry will get a great kick out of this. The flag is flying in Warren Place, and long may it continue to do so.”

© The Sunday Times,  9th September 2012