By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)
On the day Aidan O’Brien sent Kew Gardens over to plunder the St Leger at Doncaster, two English-trained horses took Group 1 honours on Day 1 of the Longines Irish Champions weekend at Leopardstown.
First it was the Karl Burke trained Laurens who deprived the home crowd of a celebration of 5-time Group 1 winning Alpha Centauri, who finished second, who took Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes. Winning jockey Daniel Tudhope only had the ride after regular pilot PJ McDonald was injured, and he took that opportunity with aplomb, guiding the filly to an all the way success.
Then, in a finish worthy of a QIPCO Champions Stakes the John Gosden trained Roaring Lion came late to snatch victory over his main rival all year, the Aidan O’Brien trained Saxon Warrior.
Burke was delighted with the victory of Laurens, which was her fourth Group 1 success and third this season, after she was supplemented for the race. He said, “That was some performance and was probably the highlight of my career so far. She’s a brilliant filly.”
“John (Dance, owner) was keen to come here and the reason we put her in was it was the only Group One fillies-only prep run leading into the Prix de l’Opera.”
“After the Yorkshire Oaks, we were adamant that she didn’t stay. We weren’t going to complicate things. Her main asset is her long stride. We weren’t going to get messed around, we weren’t going to let any team tactics dictate to us. It was perfect. She’s got a huge engine, huge stride and we sort of said we’d kick early, maybe kick a furlong earlier than they might expect us to.”
Winning jockey Tudhope made a beeline for McDonald, who was in a wheelchair in the parade ring when Laurens was guided in, and they shared a nice moment (below).
Burke had nice words for him after the race, “Unfortunately for PJ he got injured but fair play to him for turning up today to support her and Daniel gave her a great ride, he’s a good substitute.”
As for what the plan will be for Laurens going forward, Burke said, “I would be very surprised if John doesn’t want to go for the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket now rather than the Opera. We would be keen to win another UK Group 1 if we can. So I’d imagine after that performance that’s where we’ll go.”
“John did say to me, and you can quote me on it, “if we win one of these big Group 1’s over a mile that she’ll stay in training,” so I might hold him to that. She’s a fabulous filly and if she does stay in training next year, she has a lot of options now over a mile and a mile and a quarter.”
Burke continued, “To win a Group 1, when things were stacked against us a little bit. We thought we’d be coming here with a bit easier ground, it was fast ground, she’s proved shes a really high-class filly. We had the best filly on the day.”
“We didn’t have the best of journeys over here, the M62 was closed and we missed our ferry and it delayed us for 7 or 8 hours. She didn’t eat up as well as she does, but at least she was happy yesterday and today so thankfully it’s all worked out well.”
As for the favourite Alpha Centauri, who was found by the racecourse vet to be clinically abnormal post-race, trainer Jessica Harrington said, “She got to the lead and she took a bad step. Whatever happened she took a bad step and then she took another one towards the end.”
“She went there and whatever happened she did something, I saw it when I was watching it. She actually got to the front and I don’t quite know what happened then.”
In the QIPCO Champions Stakes, all the talk was of the rivalry between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, and that’s exactly how the race turned out. Saxon Warrior went to the front turning for home, taking a 3-length lead, only for Oisin Murphy to guide Roaring Lion around the outside and reign in his rival, after a real ding-dong battle in the final furlong between two juggernauts, at the finish. It was a supremely confident ride by the young Kerryman.
A delighted Murphy said of the winner, “The race changed complexion about three times. Saxon Warrior got a great ride from Ryan and he got first run.”
“It was very tactical and John and I thought it might turn out that way. I just wanted to get into a nice rhythm, get him balanced and then see which was the better horse. I had to get him into top gear and he’s come home really well.”
Murphy, who had only won his first race in Ireland earlier in the day on the Willie Mullins trained Limini, explained, “I don’t have much experience around Leopardstown and I’m learning on the job, but I had the right horse.”
“It means the world to me. It’s one of my best days for sure and one I’ll not forget for a long time. It’s surreal.”
John Gosden wasn’t in attendance in Leopardstown, but his son Thady said, “He had to do it the hard way and come around the field, but he’s got the job done.”
“He and Oisin have gelled incredibly well and it’s been an incredible day for Oisin as he only rode his first winner in Ireland earlier in the day.”
“In terms of where he goes next, we will have to talk to the owners and also see what the ground is like at Ascot for the Champion Stakes. He’s shown today how important good ground is for that turn of foot that he’s got.”
“We were sweating a little bit today, but the horse and Oisin have done it and everyone at home deserves a lot of credit for the job they have done.”
It was a fascinating days racing, which only whets the appetite for more quality racing again tomorrow at the Curragh, when we’ll witness five more Group races, including four Group 1’s.