They’d been doing it all season, so no one should have been surprised to see Muhaarar and Solow come out on top in their respective Champions Day events.
Charlie Hills’ outstanding sprinter may have run his last race, but if that is the case he certainly ended his racecourse career in style. Storming to the front nearing the furlong pole, he quickly put the race to bed with Henry Candy’s previously unbeaten Twilight Son the best of the rest.
“I just want to do it again. It went in a flash. I think that was his best performance,” was the reaction of jockey Paul Hanagan. A thrilled trainer commented: “He’s been a privilege to train. He has the will to win, the most beautiful temperament and great looks.”
Another who scores highly on the good looks chart is French sensation Solow. The strikingly powerful grey was again far too good for the opposition in winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Never flashy, the five-year-old merely does enough to win and was recording his ninth victory on the bounce, five of those at Group 1 level. Hitting the front a furlong from home, he was always doing enough, and had around a length to spare at the post.
The race had been billed as a showdown with the 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles, but sadly the match-up never fired. Months on the side-lines, coupled with unfavourable ground conditions prevented the colt from showing his best. Once again the antics of trainer Aidan O’Brien will not have endeared him with race fans. ‘Will he run or won’t he run’, has become a tedious side show during the summer, and the trainer dragged out the latest decision virtually until the opposition were heading to the stalls.
In his piece in the Racing Post, Alastair Down called it ‘as unfathomable as it was irritating’. Such ‘dilly-dallying’ has clearly not helped the horse. Continually being ‘stoked up’ ready for a run, to then be ‘eased off’ after yet another withdrawal, has been one of the few disappointments of the Flat season.
Just half an hour later, the Ballydoyle team suffered further frustration when yet again Ryan Moore gave Found a mountain to climb in the Champion Stakes. As in the Arc a few weeks earlier, Moore decided that his best chance of success was to place the filly plumb last and wait as long as possible before making any kind of forward move. The tactic failed at longchamp, and failed again at Ascot. Dermot Weld wasn’t about to complain as his Fascinating Rock took full advantage.
His successful colt, ridden by a man at the peak of his powers in Pat Smullen, found plenty in the final stages to hold off O’Brien’s filly along with favourite Jack Hobbs. Smullen made his move two furlongs out and crucially got first run on Moore. The four-year-old never looked like being caught, appreciating both ground conditions and the trip.
Weld has become a master at landing such a successful foray. “I like this place,” he said after the win. “Fascinating Rock is a very good horse. He always had the potential to do what he did today. I have been planning this race for about six months.” With the plan landed, sights will now be set on a similar plot next season.
For Jack Hobbs the future also looks bright. Unable to fend off a more mature winner, he looks sure to be at his best after a winter of strengthening into that powerful frame. “He’s a big overgrown kid, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with him,” said Gosden after the loss.
Simple Verse took the female lead role on the day, with a thrilling success in the Fillies and Mares. It took every yard of the mile and four furlongs to get on top, but her win backed-up the terrific victory in the St Leger. Her improvement throughout the season has proved nothing short of staggering, though we should not be surprised as trainer Ralph Beckett is as good as any in producing top class fillies.
An excited trainer said after the win: “I’m thrilled for all the team. We were worried that the track doesn’t really suit her, because the straight is too short.”
Hugo Palmer pointed to conditions being against his star filly Covert love, when saying: “She’s been beaten two and a half lengths on ground she loathed. The world will be her oyster next year.” In all fairness the Prix De l’Opera winner has had a busy campaign, and may not have been at her absolute best on Saturday. She has proved to be one of the leading lights during a dazzling summer.
The weather gods played their part in delivering a wonderful Champions Day. Scheduling will always be a contentious issue, but all would agree that Saturday’s spectacular proved to be exactly that.