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Irish Champion Stakes

They billed it in the preamble as a match between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, and that is exactly how the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes played out at Leopardstown yesterday on Day One of Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

These two are old sparring partners.  They have history together.  On the first two occasions on which they met, in the Racing Post Trophy last year and in the 2000 Guineas this year, it was Saxon Warrior who emerged victorious.  On the next three occasions, it was Roaring Lion.  That left the score in their private duel going into yesterday’s contest at 3-2 to Roaring Lion.

And when Ryan Moore gave Saxon Warrior a kick in the belly with two furlongs to run in yesterday’s race, and sent him into a clear lead, it appeared as if he was all set to level the score. Aidan O’Brien’s colt showed that sparkling turn of foot that top class horses possess, which propelled him into what looked like a race-winning lead.  

But Oisin Murphy gathered Roaring Lion and sent him in pursuit.  He had moved into a clear second place by the time they reached the furlong pole.  The John Gosden-trained colt had fully two lengths to make up on Saxon Warrior though, and only 200 yards in which to do it but, gradually an inexorably, he narrowed the gap, joined his rival 50 yards from the winning line and got up to win by a neck.

“The horse showed a lot of guts,” said Oisin Murphy. “We thought that it might be a tactical race, but there wasn’t a lot that I could do about it. I got a little further back than I wanted to and had to come wide.  But I had the ammunition.  My horse showed an unbelievable turn of foot.  How good is he?  I don’t know. He’s an exceptional horse.”

It was a third Group 1 win on the spin for the Qatar Racing colt, and it sent the feature prize on Irish Champion Stakes day for export for the sixth year in a row.

It was a landmark day for Oisin Murphy, who rode his first winner in Ireland just three hours earlier when he landed the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Petingo Handicap on the Willie Mullins-trained Limini, who got home by a head from her stable companion Law Girl.

“It’s one of my best days,” said the young Kerryman.  “I won’t forget it for a long time.”

Inasmuch as the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes followed the script, the other Group 1 race on the day did not.  The Jessica Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri was one of the stars of yesterday’s show.  They lined the pre-parade ring just to see her being saddled and they sent her off a warm favourite for the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes.  But she had to give best in the end to the gallant winner Laurens.

Sent to the front from flagfall by Danny Tudhope, Karl Burke’s filly came under pressure early in the home straight as Alpha Centauri made her ground under Colm O’Donoghue on the outside.  But Laurens dug deep against the inside rail as her pursuer appeared to take a false step close home.  The Mastercraftsman filly was later found to be clinically abnormal post-race.

“That’s one of the highlights of my career,” said Burke.  “Laurens is a brilliant filly.  She’s a filly with a huge long stride, so we were happy to let her go along.  It’s unfortunate for PJ McDonald (Laurens’ regular rider) who’s injured, but Danny has given her a great ride.  We might keep her to a mile now and go for the Sun Chariot instead of the Prix de l’Opera.”

Madhmoon ran out an impressive winner of the Group 2 KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes.  Racing for just the second time in his life, Kevin Prendergast’s colt travelled really well through his race for Chris Hayes just behind the leaders.  He picked up impressively when Hayes gave him a squeeze on the run to the furlong pole, and he kept on well to win by an easy two and half lengths.

“He’s a good horse, he’s the best we’ve had since Awtaad,” said Prendergast, referring to the colt with whom he won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes in 2016.  “He’ll keep us getting up in the morning.”

The latest renewal of the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes was captured yesterday by I Can Fly.  Held up in rear through the early stages of the race, Aidan O’Brien’s filly was delivered with a well-timed run by Ryan Moore – fresh in from Doncaster, where he landed the St Leger on Kew Gardens – to get up close home and beat her stable companion Kenya into second place. 

Jessica Harrington had better luck earlier on the day, when Sparkle’n’joy, owned by the 30 members of the It’s All About The Girls syndicate, battled to a game success in the opening juvenile fillies’ listed race under Shane Foley.  

Chris Hayes completed a double when he drove the Richard Fahey-trained Zap to victory in the concluding seven-furlong handicap.  That made it three wins for British-based trainers, five wins for Irish-based trainers, on Day One of Irish Champions Weekend.

It’s onto The Curragh today for Day Two.

© The Sunday Times, 16th September 2018