Things We Learned » Eagle dares

Eagle dares

Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen had another Qipco British Champions’ Day to remember, with Forgotten Rules winning the Long Distance Cup and Free Eagle running a cracker to finish third in the Champion Stakes.

Remarkably, Weld has sent just five horses to race on British Champions’ Day in its four years of existence: three of them have won, one has finished third and one has finished fourth. Sapphire and Rite Of Passage – the trainer’s only two runners in 2012 – both won, the Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes and the Long Distance Cup respectively. Pale Mimosa, his sole runner in 2013, finished a close-up fourth in the Long Distance Cup, and now Forgotten Rules and Free Eagle have further enhanced Rosewell House’s record this year. And Pat Smullen rode all three winners to see him join Johnny Murtagh as the joint winning-most jockey on British Champions’ Day.

Forgotten Rules has deservedly received all the accolades. If he can cope with good ground, he could remain at the very top of the stayers’ tree for some time. By contrast, however, the performance that Free Eagle put up in finished third behind Noble Mission and Al Kazeem in the Champion Stakes seems to have gone a little under the radar, perhaps because of the Grundy/Bustino-esque duel, perhaps because of the Frankel connection, perhaps because of Lady Cecil. Newspapers can only accommodate a finite number of column inches you know.

The decision to allow Free Eagle take his chance in the Champion Stakes was a marginal call. Even in confirming that he would run, his trainer assured us that the ground was not ideal. Despite this, he ran a monster race. In a race in which it was difficult to make ground from the rear, Free Eagle was the only horse in the race who was able to get close to Noble Mission and Al Kazeem, two battle-hardened multiple Group 1 winners who were proven on soft ground and who raced handily from flagfall.

Not only that, but Free Eagle closed all the way to the line. Pat Smullen was not unduly hard on him once it was obvious that he could not win, but he still closed on the leaders from the furlong pole under just a hands-and-heels ride to finish within a length and a half of the winner Noble Mission, and clear of the rest of the field. Interestingly, he was actually in front 100 yards after they had passed the winning post.

The Moyglare Stud horse enhanced his reputation in defeat. He is only three, and this was just his fourth ever race, his first Group 1. He still has bundles of scope to progress further.

We knew before Saturday that the High Chaparral colt goes on good and fast ground, and now we know that he can operate under testing conditions as well. It is unlikely that he will encounter conditions as soft as Saturday’s conditions at any stage next summer. Also, he stayed on really well at the end of a truly-run 10 furlongs on heavy ground on Saturday. He has never run over a mile and a half, but, on Saturday’s evidence, he could improve again for a step up in trip.

All going well – and he did have a serious setback at the start of this season, so you have to hope that all continues to go well – you can set out his races next year and tick the boxes beside them. Maybe start off in the Mooresbridge Stakes, or just start off in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. After that you can travel, choose your races.

Choose from: Coronation Cup, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Eclipse, King George, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes, Arc, Champion Stakes. There are nine Group 1 races there, so maybe choose five or six of them, incorporate breaks. And Dermot Weld being Dermot Weld, don’t be surprised if there is a trip to America in there somewhere, perhaps for the Breeders’ Cup Turf at the end of the year. It’s a long way off, of course, but it’s still exciting. He is a hugely exciting colt.

Viva Vega

Future Champions Day at Newmarket last Friday was a great day for the freshman sire Lope De Vega.

The Ballylinch Stud stallion had just two runners on the day, and both of them won. His son Belardo won the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, one of the most important races on the European juvenile racing calendar, while his daughter Royal Razalma landed the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes.

Royal Razalma sprang a 16/1 shock in the Cornwallis, but it is difficult to argue that she was not the winner on merit. The Jonathan Portman-trained filly picked up nicely out in the centre of the track at the furlong pole and, despite drifting to her left, she kept on well to win nicely.

Belardo was also a decent price, but he was quietly backed on course, from a morning price of 14/1 to an SP of 10/1, and Roger Varian’s colt ran out a really impressive winner of the Dewhurst from Kodi Bear, who was in turn nicely clear of the rest of the field. He could be an under-rated Dewhurst winner.

Then, just to put the cap on the week, another son, the Ger Lyons-trained Endless Drama, ran out a really impressive winner of a maiden at Naas on Sunday.

Lope De Vega is now leading the first-season sires’ table in terms of prize money won, and he has several really exciting juveniles. The Richard Hannon-trained Burnt Sugar won the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes at Kempton last month, while, further afield, Hero Look won a Group 2 race in Italy two weeks ago and Baltic Comtesse was beaten just a half-length in a Group 3 race at Deauville on Wednesday.

Also, the Kevin Ryan-trained Flaming Spear was really impressive in winning his maiden at York in July, the same maiden that the trainer won with The Grey Gatsby last year. There could be more big days in store for the juvenile colt and for his young sire.

Dewhurst v Middle Park

If you got muxed ip between the Middle Park and the Dewhurst Stakes before, does it help or hinder now that they are run on the same day, an hour and five minutes (and one furlong) apart?

Here’s the difference. The Middle Park, the six-furlong race, has been won in the past by horses like Royal Applause, Bahamian Bounty, Oasis Dream, Dream Ahead and Reckless Abandon. July Cup winners and Sprint Cup winners and Cork and Orrery Stakes winners of the future. Sprinters mainly. The last Guineas winner who had won the Middle Park was Rodrigo De Triano in 1991, and before Rodrigo De Triano, you have to go back to Known Fact in 1979, who needed the help of the stewards to de-throne Nureyev in the Guineas.

By contrast, the Dewhurst, the seven-furlong race, has been won by Nijinsky and Mill Reef and Grundy and Wollow and The Minstrel and El Gran Senor and Generous and Dr Devious and Rock Of Gibraltar and New Approach and Frankel and Dawn Approach. Guineas and Derby winners, milers and middle-distance horses.

There is a difference of just one furlong in the respective distances of each race, but there is a significant difference in the respective paths to which each race can provide a gateway. So be sure to include that factor in the mix when you are contemplating possible targets for Charming Thought and Belardo for next season.

Family tree

There was something satisfying about seeing Qipco’s Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani receive the trophy after his horse Charm Spirit had won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by Qipco) at Ascot on Saturday, and the sheer delight with which he did so, surrounded by his family members.

There are several key players in the bloodstock industry among the Al Thani family. Sheikh Abdullah’s brother is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose horses race in the blue silks with the white stars, like Vorda and Flotilla and Hermival have. His son is Sheikh Fahad, who was really the conduit for his family’s involvement, and who originally raced his horses in the yellow Pearl Bloodstock colours (ref. Lightening Pearl, Side Glance). The majority of Sheikh Fahad’s horses now race in the maroon colours of Qatar Racing, in which his brothers Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh Suhaim are also involved.

Their cousin (Sheikh Abdullah’s nephew) is Sheikh Joaan, in whose silver Al Shaqab colours Treve and Olympic Glory and The Wow Signal and Toronado and a whole host of others race. Sheikh Joaan’s father (Sheikh Abdullah’s brother) is Sheikh Hamad, who was Emir of Qatar until 2013, when he abdicated to his son, Sheikh Tamim, Sheikh Joaan’s brother (Sheikh Abdullah’s nephew, Sheikh Fahad’s cousin).

The Al Thani family’s involvement in thoroughbred racing is obviously really significant now, and it is a huge fillip for Ireland and Britain and France and the other countries in which they are involved. Signs are, however, that they are still just laying the foundations, that their involvement is set to grow even stronger, and that is a hugely exciting prospect.

Rules is rules

If you had applied a zero-tolerance approach to whip and interference rules, Forgotten Rules would have been placed eighth in the Long Distance Cup, Madame Chiang would have been disqualified from first place in the Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes, Night Of Thunder would have been disqualified from second place in the QE2 and Noble Mission would have been disqualified from first place in the Champion Stakes. What would the headline-writers have written then?

© The Irish Field, 25th October 2014