Almanzor powered to a stunning success in the Irish Champion Stakes, getting the better of Aidan O’Brien’s wonderful filly Found in a pulsating finish.
This was one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season. A clash of both ages and of nations, saw high-class colts and fillies from France, the UK and Ireland battle for the prestigious prize.
Ebediyin and Success Days set a ferocious pace, such that dual Derby winner Harzand had to be scrubbed along early to maintain a prominent position. Turning for home the front pair paid for their exertions and were swallowed up by a bunch of classy pursuers.
Highland Reel and then New Bay looked to hold every chance inside the two-furlong mark, but it was Found and Almanzor, challenging widest of all, that swept past the pack to fight out the finish. And it was Jean Claude Rouget’s French Derby winner that had the most potent finishing kick. Found gave her all, but for the fifth time in a row, had to settle for the runners-up spot in a Group 1. Almanzor had just under a length to spare at the line.
Ballydoyle’s Classic winning filly Minding, kept on well on the inner for third, without ever looking likely to trouble the front two. Andre Fabre’s New Bay finished back in fourth.
Rouget is having a season to remember, and said of his impressive winner: “He doesn't look very tired. Christophe told me it was quite an easy race for him.We'll see now if he goes to Ascot or to Chantilly for the Arc. We'll decide after a good night!”
Having given the winner a perfect ride, Christophe Soumillon, the man for the big occasion, said: “He's a great horse. I've won on him a few times and I knew today he was going to run a great race. The pace was strong and he was very relaxed at the back. When I asked him to go he had a strong turn of foot.”
Rouget went on to add: “He's a fantastic horse. I was very relaxed like him in the first part of the race. When I saw him coming on the outside I thought he could challenge for the victory and he did. For me at the beginning we chose this race because I thought he was more a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but with the champions you can do anything.”
Reflecting on the victory yesterday, the French trainer appeared to be favouring Ascot with his classy colt, when saying: “He is getting better and better. Since the Prix du Jockey Club he has climbed the steps. Ten furlongs for me is a good trip. For me the option is the English race, because of the distance and we have two weeks more. If he was mine he would run at Ascot. He could run in the Arc next year."
It helps of course that Rouget has a perfect replacement for the Arc, in his talented filly La Cressonniere. Speaking of his French Oaks winner, he said: “She is fine in Deauville with my other horses and is preparing for the Arc. She is very fresh and in very good shape. She is a great champion. All she does comes easy to her."
Harzand’s Arc challenge looks less certain after Saturday. Not only was he somewhat disappointing in the Irish Champion, but the dual Derby winner also picked up a slight injury during the race. Dermot Weld confirmed that plans are now on hold, when speaking to At The Races yesterday: “I've not had time to review the race yet, but he was badly chopped early on. He's very sore this morning and lame. His right hind leg is badly bruised, and it was a brave performance considering what happened. We will have to see how he is before making any decision on the Arc.”
Found now appears Ballydoyle’s main Arc contender, and her consistency at the highest level would certainly give the team hope of another huge run. One O’Brien filly that could still play a major role in the French showpiece is Yorkshire Oaks winner Seventh Heaven. The yard’s Arc challenge looks somewhat threadbare, with the colts in particular appearing sub-standard this year. O’Brien’s fillies have been more impressive, and she looked mightily progressive at York, beating Found comfortably in the process.
The weekends action may well have focused the minds of many, though plenty of tough decisions are still to be made with regards to season end targets.