Mud proved no obstacle, as Harry Angel routed the opposition to take the Group One Spring Cup at Haydock.
I along with others had dared to doubt him, instead pinning my hopes on proven mud-lark Tasleet. And though Hamdan Al Maktoum’s colt ran a cracker to finish second, he proved no match for Harry, once Adam Kirby turned on the taps aboard the favourite.
For much of the race Godolphin held the front two spots, with Blue Point and Harry Angel matching strides. But just inside the two-pole Kirby shook the reins and the contest was pretty much over. The Clive Cox trained three-year-old shot clear of the chasing pack, with Tasleet faring best of the rest, a yawning four-lengths adrift.
Speaking immediately after the stunning success, the winning jockey said: “I'm a believer in a proper champion can win on any ground, but he's so fast I was a little bit concerned. It's a great team effort and all credit to Clive. I knew he'd won as soon as he picked up. He's a machine. He's got speed to burn, he's there now mentally and he'll keep on getting better.”
There were doubts over whether the winner would even make the start, but Cox was clearly pleased and relieved by his stable-star’s performance, saying: “We had the same decision to make with Lethal Force a few years ago and he hated the ground. He's so good on fast ground there had to be a chance he wouldn't go on it, but he's proved he goes on any ground now. He's a champion on fast ground and he's proved a champion on easier ground now, I'm so pleased.”
The trainer added: “Thank goodness we made the right decision, he's maturing all the time and now we know we can head to Ascot without worrying what the ground does.”
Both Tasleet and Saturday’s third home The Tin Man, will also head to Ascot for Champions Day, though it’s hard to envisage them gaining their revenge. Caravaggio won at the Curragh yesterday and having defeated Harry Angel in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting will possibly lay-down the toughest challenge come October. Though he also will surely find it tough to beat such an improved sprinter.
It came as no surprise to see numerous victories for Aidan O’Brien as Ireland celebrated Champions Weekend at Leopardstown and the Curragh.
The aforementioned Caravaggio, swept to success in the Flying Five Stakes yesterday, though his defeat of 50/1 shot Alphabet by a length is unlikely to give Clive Cox any sleepless nights between now and Ascot. Order St George romped to victory in the Irish St Leger, and Ballydoyle’s dominant juvenile fillies filled the first three places in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
At Leopardstown on Saturday, Team O’Brien were again among the winners, though there were surprises along the way. Winter’s defeat in the Matron was certainly unexpected, yet Aidan still landed the prize with the ultra-consistent Hydrangea getting her head in-front when it mattered.
Jockey Wayne Lordan was thrilled with the win, saying: “She's very consistent and has run well all year. She really likes this track and likes turning. It's nice for her, she's been beaten four or five lengths in a number of Group One races this season and now she's had her day. I didn't think I'd get there, but she put her head down and she tries very hard.”
O’Brien said of the win: “She was the only one of the four fillies that had not won a Group One. We felt that Winter was going to improve a bit from the run. She was carrying a little bit of a tummy, but needed to run. The winner will stay further. She could go for the Prix de l'Opera. Winter is in the Arc, and the Opera is another option.”
Of the five Ballydoyle victories over the two days, Ryan Moore was only aboard a couple. The biggest disappointment would undoubtedly have been the failure of Churchill to capture the main event, the Irish Champion Stakes.
It proved a tough race for Moore, who failed to learn from the mistakes of 12 months ago. When heading down the inner on Churchill turning for home, he had clearly forgotten making a similar decision a year earlier when aboard outstanding filly Minding. At some point he must have had a severe bout of déjà vu. ‘Oh dear, not again,’ would have been the overwhelming feeling, as Churchill first pinned in by Success Days and then Moonlight Magic was gradually eased by the luckless jockey.
To rub salt into the wounds, Andrea Atzeni and James Doyle had clearly watched re-runs of last year’s race, and decided to sweep wide and late, and in doing so finished first and second on-board Decorated Knight and Poet’s Word.
The winner had underperformed on soft ground in the Juddmonte at York, but clearly appreciated the return to a sounder surface. He’d finished runner-up to Highland Reel in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes back in June, a place ahead of Ulysses, and was therefore entitled to run much better than his 25/1 odds suggested.
Roger Charlton had expected Churchill to take all the beating, but had fancied his own fella to run well, saying: “I thought Churchill would be favourite, and we’d have a good chance of being placed. I thought realistically he was more of a 12-1 shot, but he’s tough and consistent and he produced an amazing turn of foot. Three furlongs out, it looked like he was too far back and the others were quickening, but Andrea said it was never in any doubt as far as he was concerned. He knew he’d got them covered, and what a great jockey and what a great ride he gave him.”
He looks sure to head back to Ascot for Champions Day, and depending on the ground, again looks a solid each-way proposition.