Rhododendron Blooms at Newbury

Aidan O’Brien’s Rhododendron got the better of Lightning Spear to land a thrilling Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Despite concerns over the drop back in trip, Ballydoyle’s filly proved she had the ‘zip’, holding off David Simcock’s talented miler by a nose. O’Brien had four runners in the field of 14, and three were prominent from the off. Deauville set the pace followed closely by Lancaster Bomber. Ryan Moore shadowed the pair aboard race favourite Rhododendron, whilst Oisin Murphy was keen to keep tabs on Team Ballydoyle, positioning Lightning Spear alongside the filly.

Moore made his move approaching the two-furlong pole, driving the favourite to the front down the centre of the track, whilst Murphy, possibly travelling slightly the better at that stage, came stand-side to make his challenge. At the furlong mark Rhododendron was half-a-length to the good, but that advantage was whittled away approaching the post. The filly clung on for victory, much to the frustration of Lightning Spear’s connections, who saw their horse clearly ahead just yards past the line.

Lancaster Bomber was outpaced by the front pair, though stayed on well for third, whilst Dutch Connection ran a belter, but ultimately failed to see out the one mile trip back in fourth.

O’Brien said of the winner: “I was delighted, we thought she’d come on from her run last time (fourth to Cracksman) and Ryan’s given her a brilliant ride. It’s a big team effort and we’re delighted.” Of future targets, especially Royal Ascot, O’Brien added: “We were thinking of coming here, then going to Ascot. She would have the option of going the mile (Queen Anne) or the mile and a quarter (Prince of Wales’s Stakes). We’ll have a good chat to Ryan and then the boys will decide after that.”

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Ryan Moore spoke to ITV Racing after the win, saying: “She’s a Group One winner at two, three and now four and she’s had an incredible career. After what happened to her in the French Oaks (bled badly), what Aidan and the team have done with her, it’s a massive turnaround. She was very good at two and could have won a lot more at three. She was unlucky in the Guineas, then ran into Enable in the Oaks. She came back and won the Opera, and had she had a draw at Del Mar she’d have won there.”

David Simcock looked gutted after losing out in the head-bobber yet composed himself and spoke to ITV Racing straight after the race: “I’ve not had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while. I’m just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse. He was given a great ride - I thought he was going to win nearing the line. Oisin Murphy has given him a fantastic ride. It is just so frustrating.

“We're just very fond of him and he's never let us down. He's been placed in so many Group Ones, you just feel we'd like to have won one with him, but he's run a great race. They finished a good two lengths clear of the third. Fair play to the filly. I would say we'll go to the Queen Anne. It's the obvious place to go.”

Of those further back in the field, Addeybb clearly found the ground too lively, fading out of contention in the latter stages. Limato again looked a non-stayer at a mile and will surely drop back in trip with a crack at the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot likely.

Ryan Moore was winning his first Lockinge, with O’Brien landing the event for the first time since Hawk Wing in 2003. Rhododendron’s victory continued the strong trend of success for four-year-olds in the race, with 10 of the last 12 renewals now won by that age group. It is of course yet another Group One for O’Brien and his team, as he sets out on another campaign of top-level dominance.

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