Things We Learned » Headline acts

Headline acts

The headline acts made the headlines all right.  Which is as it should be.

Roaring Lion v Saxon Warrior (Round 6) lived up to its billing.  It was a race that warmed the heart and raised the roof.  It was the featured clash in the weekend’s featured race, and it didn’t disappoint.

Watching the race live, you sensed that the pace was not overly strong.  As they exited the back straight with three furlongs to run, Aidan O’Brien-trained horses occupied the first three places, Deauville from Saxon Warrior from Athena, with Roaring Lion back in sixth place, about three lengths behind Saxon Warrior.

Three lengths is a mountain at that level when they haven’t gone fast. 

The over-riding thought as they wheeled around the top turn, and Saxon Warrior moved up on the outside of the leader, was that Roaring Lion was going to have to be a hell of a horse if he was going to catch a horse of Saxon Warrior’s class in a sprint finish, giving him a start of two and a half or three lengths.  And that sentiment remained steadfast when Ryan Moore gave his horse a kick and the Deep Impact colt quickened impressively to the front inside the two-furlong marker.  It was probably at around that point that he traded at 1.5 in-running.  It was surprising that he didn’t trade at shorter.

We don’t know when Saxon Warrior suffered his injury, but we know that he did, because he hung towards the rail so badly that Ryan Moore couldn’t take his hand off the right rein or use his stick.  If he had done either, there is every chance that his horse would have gone through the inside rail.  He actually squeezed against the rail twice inside the final 200 yards.

It is a real shame that the Deep Impact colt suffered that tendon injury on two counts.  Firstly, we won’t see him race again, and there is a sense of unfinished business about that.  He may have been a miler after all.  He may have been competing over his optimum distance when he put up that scintillating performance in the Guineas, not over a distance that was shorter than ideal, as we all suspected.  We would have got a better handle on that hypothesis in the QE2.  Lamentably, we won’t now.

And secondly, it would have been fascinating to see a peak-health Saxon Warrior and a peak-fit Roaring Lion go toe-to-toe again.  It was enthralling as it was.  It gave the weekend its roof-raising climax.  And Roaring Lion was exceptional again.  He came from behind Saxon Warrior and beat him by a neck, and he came from behind Deauville and beat him by three lengths.  John Gosden’s colt is one of the stars of the season, a triple Group 1 winner now, an Eclipse winner, a Juddmonte International winner.  He is a worthy Qipco Irish Champion Stakes hero.

Downer of the weekend

Of course, the downer of the week was Alpha Centauri’s racing career-ending injury.

They packed deep at Leopardstown to see the Niarchos family’s strapping grey filly.  They lined the length of the pre-parade ring’s rail just to see her being saddled.  Most would not have backed her, but they still willed her home.

Laurens was gutsy, and she provided a measure of Karl Burke’s ability as a trainer, returning, as she was, from an abject performance in the Yorkshire Oaks over a mile and a half, dropping all the way back to a mile and winning another Group 1.  The Matron Stakes can now go on the mantelpiece beside the Fillies’ Mile and the Prix Saint-Alary and the Prix de Diane.  That’s four Group 1 prizes that John Dance’s filly has landed.

However, Alpha Centauri’s defeat took the wind out of the day’s sails.  There was a sense of mild incredulity afterwards.  Then the announcement was made that she was found to be clinically abnormal after the race, so at least you knew that something was amiss.  It wasn’t until that evening that we learned that she would not race again.

Colm O’Donoghue and Jessica Harrington and her team were characteristically pragmatic afterwards, choosing to focus on the journey that they have travelled with Alpha Centauri.  A first Classic, a first Royal Ascot winner, a Royal Ascot track record, four Group 1 races on the spin.  She is a horse of a lifetime.  The goal now is to find another.

Time discloses all

You can be sure that sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands has more scientifically-produced sectionals elsewhere in these pages, but even a crude time assessment armed with a stopwatch and a video replay can give a rough estimate of the manner in which the Irish Champion Stakes was run.

There were three Group races run on the outer track at Leopardstown on Saturday: the Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes and the Group 2 Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes as well as the Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes.

According to this rudimentary measuring tool, it took just over 52 seconds for the Irish Champion Stakes runners to get from the path in the back straight, just over seven furlongs out, to the red mark on the rail around the three-furlong pole.  It took the Matron Stakes field around 50 seconds to cover the same distance, while it took the Clipper Logistics field approximately 48 seconds.  Okay, so the Irish Champion Stakes runners had been racing for two and a half furlongs before they reached the path, whereas the runners in the one-mile races had been racing for just over a half a furlong, but it still gives an indication of how sedate the early pace in the feature race was.

The Irish Champion Stakes runners picked up a little from the three-furlong marker, but they still lost ground on the Matron Stakes and Boomerang Stakes runners, before the sprint finish burst into being.  Around 22.5 seconds for the final two furlongs, compared to just over 23 seconds for the Matron Stakes and a veritably pedestrian-by-comparison 25 seconds for the Boomerang Stakes. 

It all confirms what your eyes told you: that Roaring Lion put up some performance to make up the ground that he did into a sprint finish.

Gardens emulates previous Leger winners

Aidan O’Brien had trained five winners of the St Leger before last Saturday and, a little bizzarely, Kew Gardens emulated all five in different ways.

The 2001 winner Milan and the 2003 winner Brian Boru had, like Kew Gardens, both run in the Great Voltigeur Stakes on their last respective runs before their Leger victories.  Milan won the Great Voltigeur, Brian Boru finished second in the race, Kew Gardens finished third.

The 2005 winner Scorpion had won the Grand Prix de Paris before he won the Leger.  Kew Gardens won the Grand Prix de Paris this year.  The 2013 Leger winner Leading Light won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot over two miles before going on to Doncaster.  Kew Gardens won the Queen’s Vase this year over the shorter distance of a mile and six furlongs.  And the 2017 St Leger winner Capri ran in the Epsom Derby, finishing unplaced at 16/1.  Kew Gardens finished unplaced in the Epsom Derby this year at 16/1. 

One difference between the sixth Aidan O’Brien-trained St Leger winner and the previous five is that the previous five had run five, four, five, three and four times in their respective three-year-old seasons before they went to Doncaster.  Kew Gardens raced six times this season before Saturday.  More times than any of his predecessors. 

One other trait that all six have in common: Sadler’s Wells.  Milan and Brian Boru are by Sadler’s Wells, while Scorpion and Leading Light are by Sadler’s Wells’ son Montjeu, and Capri and Kew Gardens are by Sadler’s Wells’ son Galileo.  Incidentally, Flag Of Honour’s win on Sunday took Galileo to 73 Group/Grade 1 winners.  The same as the number that his sire Sadler’s Wells’ has.

Thought for the week

The last filly to win the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, the Group 2 Debutante Stakes and the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes was Maybe in 2011, and Maybe was sent off as the 13/8 favourite for the 1000 Guineas in 2012.  Skitter Scatter has now gone up those same steps, Group 3, Group 2, Group 1, and Patrick Prendergast’s filly is available at 16/1 for the Guineas.  She may still be an under-rated filly.

© The Irish Field, 22nd September 2018