Things We Learned » Eagle soars I, Eagle soars II

Eagle soars I

There was a feelgood factor about Free Eagle’s victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday. The Moyglare Stud’s colt has had his frustrations, but he has long since been regarded as top class by trainer Dermot Weld and rider Pat Smullen. Favourite for the 2014 Derby after he won his maiden on his racecourse debut in August 2013, he had only run three times between then and last Wednesday.

During last season, when Weld was banging in winners a-plenty, in winners’ enclosures all over the country, when it was put to him that he was having a great season, he often mentioned the fact that his team was playing without their star player. Kilkenny without Shefflin. Barcelona without Messi. That type of thing.

Before Wednesday, Free Eagle had never won a Group 1 race. Now, not only has he won a Group 1 race, a regular Group 1 race, he has won a Prince of Wales’s Stakes, and all is right in the world.

Smullen was at his brilliant best on Free Eagle. When the replays of this win are broadcast in the weeks and months and years to come, it is the last two furlongs or thereabouts that will generally be broadcast. And Smullen was great in the finish, delaying his request for maximum effort from his horse for as long as he could, aware of what was going on behind him, The Grey Gatsby in a pocket. The rider waited until he felt that he had enough horse under him to get him to the line, and he did. Just. Judged to perfection.

When you see the replay, however, you probably won’t see what went on about six furlongs from home, when Smullen – no doubt aware of the tactical nature of the gallop – moved his horse up into the box seat, on the outside of the leader Gailo Chop, into a position from which he could dictate the race. The winning of the race could have been right there. These are the things that Pat Smullen does, largely unnoticed, usually unheralded, but they are the things that top class riders do, the things that can make the difference between winning and losing.

It was also a huge training performance by Dermot Weld. Rakti in 2004 was the only horse previously to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes without a prep run that season. It wasn’t the plan to go there without a run, he missed a couple of engagements along the way. Weld said that, ideally, he would have had another two weeks. So he improvised.

It was also a fantastic success for Free Eagle’s owners Moyglare Stud, who also bred him, and for the Irish National Stud, who will stand Free Eagle at the end of his racing career. And it was a great Irish success. Feelgood all over the place.

Eagle soars II

We probably didn’t learn too much about Gleneagles from his victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes that we didn’t know already, he probably didn’t have to do much more than he did at Newmarket or at The Curragh. But he did it well.

The temptation to run the Galileo colt in the Derby must have been strong, but the decision to stick to the original plan was vindicated with his imperious display on Tuesday. He is a miler, a multiple-Group 1-winning-at-a-mile-and-at-seven-furlongs son of Galileo. It would be difficult to put a value on him now.

In landing the St James’s Palace Stakes, he was emulating his maternal uncle Giant’s Causeway, with whom comparisons are largely unavoidable now. The Iron Horse ran next in the Eclipse before going on to the Sussex Stakes, but it looks like Gleneagles will skip the Eclipse, go straight to Glorious Goodwood. That’s fair.

He has won all he could win over a mile against him contemporaries, so a foray into the open waters of all-aged competition will be fascinating now, especially if Queen Anne winner Solow also runs in the Sussex. We could have another Duel on the Downs. That must be about 10 or 11 of them now.

Flames burning brightly now

Aidan O’Brien’s horses are often a relatively slow burn from the start of the season, and this season has not really been exceptional in that regard. Strange, for sure, with two Guineas and an Oaks already in the bag before Royal Ascot. That’s barometers for you.

Signs are that the Balydoyle flames are burning ever brighter now though. The champion trainer had six runners over the course of the first two days at Royal Ascot: Cougar Mountain belied morning odds of 40/1 to finish third, just a length behind Solow in the Queen Anne. Air Force Blue finished second in the Coventry Stakes, Gleneagles won the St James’s Palace Stakes, Washington DC won the Windsor Castle, and Sir Isaac Newton may have been an unlucky loser in the Jersey Stakes. All six runners recorded either the joint best or the best RPR of their respective careers, several of them by some way.

On Thursday, Waterloo Bridge put up a career-best in winning the Norfolk Stakes, War Envoy put up a career-best in winning the Britannia, and Kingfisher was at least a little unlucky not to win the Gold Cup, probably bettering the performance that he put up in finishing second to his erstwhile stable companion Australia in the Irish Derby last year.

It doesn’t happen by accident. Royal Ascot is a massive week for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore/Ballydoyle team, and you can be sure that the trainer’s strategy for the week has been months in the planning. And it is no hindrance to have the gale force wind that is Ryan Moore fanning the flames instead of trying to extinguish them.

Still one day to go then. The inferno burns on.

Norfolk blues

To lose one high-class ride in the Norfolk Stakes may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like, well, frustrating as hell.

Quote of the week

Trainer Wesley Ward on his filly Acapulco, impressive winner of the Queen Mary, the two-year-old fillies’ highlight on Wednesday:

“She looks more like a four-year-old than a three-year-old.”

© The Irish Field, 20th June 2015