Things We Learned » Lion king

Lion king

Roaring Lion was very good in winning the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday, and Oisin Murphy was very good on him.

Of course, it helps (a) when you have the best horse in the race on the day and (b) when the cards fall your way.  On the run around the home turn, John Gosden’s horse had a nice position, on the inside, fifth of the eight runners, travelling well.  Favourite Poet’s Word just in front of him and towards his outside.  Then Christophe Soumillon on the leader Thunder Snow took the field across the track and towards the stands rail, not down the middle like you (and the riders in behind) might legitimately have expected, and the complexion of the race changed.

They usually race up the centre these days in the home straight at York when they race over middle distances.  That usually fans the field out and gives every horse a chance.  But there was muffled talk of a possible golden highway along the stands rail at York early on Wednesday afternoon.  The winner of the opening sprint handicap had come up the stands rail.  The winner of the Acomb Stakes had come up the stands side.  And Christophe Soumillon is not one to shirk a golden highway if there is a chance that such a thing exists.

The net result of Soumillon’s move was that the whole field converged along the stands rail.  It left favourite Poet’s Word in traffic along the rail, in behind horses, and it left his main market rival Roaring Lion in prime position, coasting up on the outside of the field. 

Oisin Murphy had daylight and options.  He had a hold of his horse and space in front of him which he could use as he wished.  The only decision he had to make at that point was when he would use it.

He bided his time, left James Doyle on Poet’s Word struggle to find racing room for a little while.  He allowed his horse move up smoothly on the outside of new leader Benbatl at the two-furlong marker, conserving energy, and he sat, happy that he had the measure of the horse on his right and happy that the favourite was behind him, using up his reserves.

It wasn’t until after he had allowed his horse ease to the front, until after he had gone about a neck up and the furlong marker was fast approaching, that Murphy asked his horse to lengthen.  When he did, Roaring Lion’s response was good.  He picked up nicely, moved towards the stands rail and bounded away, putting more than three lengths between himself and Poet’s Word, who kept on bravely to take second place.

There is no doubt that the race did not pan out ideally for Poet’s Word, but there is also little doubt that the result would not have been different if it had. 

Poet’s Word was officially rated 8lb superior to Roaring Lion going into Wednesday’s race.  So did Poet’s Word under-perform or did Roaring Lion improve?  Probably a little bit of the former and a lot of the latter.

Poet’s Word had a hard race in winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, and Sir Michael Stoute’s horse had an even harder race in winning the King George back at Ascot in July.  He had to dig deep to catch his stable companion Crystal Ocean at the end of a stiff and fast-run mile and a half.  And he was racing at York for the first time on Wednesday.  Not all horses perform up to their best on the Knavesmire.

By contrast, Roaring Lion was proven at York, he was one for one there.  The Qatar Racing colt won the Dante by four and a half lengths on his only previous run there, over the Juddmonte International course and distance.  He has been brought along patiently by John Gosden and his upward trajectory continues.

It would have been surprising if the Irish Champion Stakes had not been on his radar, the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes but, even so, it was good that Gosden mentioned the race as a likely target in post-race dispatches.  It will be great to see him at Leopardstown.

Murphy comes of age

Roaring Lion’s victory was another step up the ladder for Oisin Murphy.

There have been many rungs on that ladder.  There have been many milestones.  There was his first winner, Imperial Glance at Salisbury in June 2013.  There was his first big winner, Highland Colori in the Ayr Gold Cup in September 2013, and a 9,260/1 four-timer on the day. 

There was his first Group race win, Hot Streak in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock in May 2014, and his first Group 1 win, Aclaim in the Prix de la Foret in October 2017.  Before this year began, that was his only Group 1 winner.

The young Kerryman has recorded five Group 1 wins this year so far: Benbatl in the Dubai Turf and the Grosser Dallmayr Preis, Roaring Lion in the Eclipse and now in the Juddmonte International, and Lightning Spear in the Sussex Stakes. 

There was a confidence about that ride on Lightning Spear at Goodwood four weeks ago.  Murphy had the option to go outside Expert Eye at the two-furlong pole that day, and you would have understood it if he had.  Goodwood is a tricky track and the gaps do not always appear.  You would have forgiven the young rider if he had come outside and got beaten. 

That would have been the safe route.  Strangely, racing fans are usually much more forgiving of a rider who goes outside and gets beaten than a rider who tries to go the efficient route and doesn’t get there.  Perhaps it is because they see the former as the fault of the horse and the latter as the fault of the rider.  Perception is reality sometimes.

There was pressure on Oisin Murphy at Goodwood for sure.  Group 1 pressure.  And his ride on the same Lightning Spear in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May, when he was beaten a short head by Rhododendron, did not gain universal praise.  But the rider was obviously mindful of the fact that he had hit the front with more than a furlong to run in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, racing on the wing, and got run out of it.  He chose to bide his time on the Pivotal horse at Goodwood, go among horses, inside Expert Eye.  The brave man’s route.  

It is not always the case, but in that instance, the brave man’s route increased Lightning Spear’s chance of winning the Sussex Stakes, and he did.  He came a length and a half clear of Expert Eye.  David Simcock’s horse had run 15 times before in Group 1 races, and he hadn’t won one.  It was a landmark day for the horse and it was another one for his rider.

There is a confidence about Oisin Murphy now.  He is a Group 1 rider and he is flowing.

I Can Fly back on track

Aidan O’Brien did not have a winner at York on Wednesday, but Kew Gardens ran a good St Leger trial, finishing a close-up third in the Great Voltigeur, carrying a 5lb penalty, and Fairyland was a game winner of the Lowther Stakes on Thursday. 

Also at Killarney on Wednesday, 40 minutes after the Great Voltigeur, I Can Fly ran out an impressive winner of the Listed Racing Post Vincent O’Brien Ruby Stakes.  She travelled well and she came nicely clear of Rionach, who had run a cracker in the Colm Quinn BMW Mile at Galway on her previous run, when she didn’t have the run of the race at all.  And the winning time was good, unsurprisingly the fastest of the six races that were run over a mile on the day.

That was I Can Fly’s first win since she won her maiden on her racecourse debut at Dundalk last September.  She was well beaten when nicely fancied for both the Guineas and the Oaks, but she had run a really encouraging race over seven furlongs in a listed race at the Galway Festival on her previous run, doing best of the hold-up fillies and finishing well to get to within a length of the winner Yulong Gold Fairy. 

The Fastnet Rock filly is back on track now, and she will be interesting when she steps back up into Group race company.

Ayr raid

It may have gone a little under the radar, away from centre court, but Gordon Elliott sent seven horses to Perth last Saturday, and five of them won. 

Also, the Cullentra House trainer sent four horses to Carlisle on Wednesday and two of them won: a six-furlong juveniles’ maiden and a 14-furlong handicap, and he had two winners on the flat at Ayr the previous weekend, and he had a winner on the flat at Musselburgh the previous Friday.  

Elliott’s five winners at Perth were ridden by Richard Johnson, who has had winners at Southwell and Bangor and Worcester and Fontwell in the interim, which leaves him clear second in the 2018/19 jockeys’ championship in Britain, now just 20 behind Harry Skelton, who had just two winners during the same period.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Rachael Blackmore continues to set a searing pace – another winner at Killarney on Thursday took her tally for the season to 30, just four off her best ever for an entire season – but Ruby Walsh is, characteristically, cutting ominously through the pack, with two winners from two rides at Tramore on Sunday, another two winners from another two rides at Sligo on Tuesday, and one winner from two rides at Killarney on Thursday. 

Stratum in

So Stratum got into today’s Ebor, number 19 of 20, by the skin of the 8lb penalty he got for winning the JLT Handicap.  If he had got 7lb, he wouldn’t have even been a reserve.  Then they gave him stall four, which is not ideal in a race in which the last 10 winners at York were drawn, respectively, 18, 15, 6, 16, 18, 16, 10, 22 and 16.  Just in case you thought that getting into the race was the difficult part.

© The Irish Field, 25th August 2018