Overseas horses continued their dominance of the ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ feature event when Decorated Knight led home a 1-2-3 for the raiders in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday evening.
The 25-1 shot was the longest priced winner in the history of the €1.25 million highlight and stretched the gap from the last home trained victor - So You Think - to six years.
Churchill started an 8-11 favourite to bridge that gap for Aidan O’Brien but Ryan Moore’s mount faded to seventh after a less than clear run in the straight as he struggled to challenge.
At that stage Frankie and Dettori and Eminent were the target. They’d led from the start and briefly it looked like a record-equalling seventh win in the race for the Italian jockey.
However, his fellow Sardinian, Andrea Atzeni, who'd adopted contrasting tactics, launched Decorated Knight from the back of the field.
With another English horse, Poet’s Word, giving him a perfect tow, the pair swept by Eminent and it was Decorated Knight who had half a length in hand at the line.
The 33-1 shot Moonlight Magic was first of the Irish home in fourth on a day which turned into something of a bookmaker benefit with the 20-1 shot Hydrangea beating her stable companion Winter in the other Group One prize, the Coolmore Matron Stakes.
Despite the unlikely placings, it still represented a 1-2 for the Ballydoyle team but presumption that Churchill would complete an O’Brien Day One ‘Champions Weekend’ top-flight double was dramatically disabused.
Out of luck of Winter, and having encountered repeated interference on another hot favourite Sir John Lavery in the Group Two Boomerang Stakes, Moore missed out again on the day's supposed headline act.
Churchill appeared to be all out in his efforts to chase down Eminent and looked to be struggling to take a gap behind him when he made contact with Success Days. Moonlight Magic’s challenge then looked to leave Churchill short of room although his chance by then looked to be gone.
In contrast Decorated Knight came wide and handsome to secure a second Group One of the year in Ireland. In May he’d won the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh but had finished behind Churchill at York last month.
"We rode for luck, dropped him out, and he's finished it out amazingly," said Decorated Knight's trainer Roger Charlton. He nominated next month's English Champion Stakes at Ascot as a next target for which the five year old is now 8-1.
The Englishman was fulsome in his praise of Atzeni and the rider reported: “He had a bad draw and we thought the ground would be too soft. There was no pressure. We didn’t know whether to run him or not but it’s actually nice ground out there. When I pulled him out I knew I had them covered. He was so full of energy.”
Charlton added: “He’s tough, consistent and very sound. He’s produced an amazing turn of foot and ran right to the line. There’s nothing flukey about it.
”He’s been a bit unlucky in his last couple of races. He hated the ground at York. He got bashed about at Sandown in the Eclipse and he ran a great race at Royal Ascot. He’s been on the go since March and to keep going all season is a tribute to the horse.”
Earlier Hydrangea made it ‘Lucky 13’ when springing a shock 20-1 defeat on her illustrious stable companion in the Coolmore Matron Stakes.
She was the only one of the Ballydoyle quartet in the race not to have won at the top level before but after a season mostly spent chasing the shadow of Winter, Hydrangea turned the tables on her regular work companion.
It was her 13th career start and if there was initial bemusement at the result, hindsight did point to something of a Leopardstown factor.
Hydrangea had after all beaten Winter a head in a Guineas trial here in April. Winter may have progressed to four Group One victories since then - all of them with her stable companion in behind- but a return to Dublin produced a turn up for the formbook.
Wayne Lordan rode Hydrangea for the first time and the man who steered Legatissimo to Matron glory in 2015 nabbed a second Group One of 2017 by a head.
”It’s great to get it. They’re hard to get. She’s been running well all year and she’s had her day now. She (Winter) went a length clear but in the last 50 yards she was coming back to me and my one was going forward,” he said.
Lordan’s other top-flight success of 2016 came on Winter in the Newmarket 1,000 Guineas in May.
”I’m delighted for the filly, and for Wayne. She is Winter’s work partner all year and maybe she turned around and said ‘Hydrangea, you can have this one today!! O’Brien joked.
We felt that Winter was going to improve a bit from the run. She was carrying a little bit of a tummy but she need to run. The winner will stay further. She could go for the Prix de l’Opera,” he added.
O’Brien indicated Winter could enter the mix for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and predicted this run will have left her right after having missed some work prior to her latest race.
”She won over a mile and a quarter at Goodwood but wasn’t ready to go that distance here and that should leave her right,” he said.
Asked about the dual-Guineas heroine stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time in the Arc, O’Brien added: “She’s in it and the lads (owners) will decide what they want to do.”
British trainer Roger Fell landed the concluding handicap with the 7-1 shot Burnt Sugar and there was another success for the visitors in the Boomerang Stakes when Suedois scored for Cork born David O’Meara.
The supplemented favourite Sir John Lavery looked an unlucky loser, repeatedly switched in an effort to find room.
Racing began with victories for a pair of regally bred juvenile progeny from the superstar stallion, Frankel.
Nelson is as low as 20-1 for next year’s Derby after making all to lead home a 1-2-3 for Aidan O’Brien in the Group Three Champion Juvenile Stakes.
O’Brien’s son, Donnacha, made all the running on the 11-2 shot who had the race in safe-keeping by the time his stable companions, Kew Gardens, and the 11-10 favourite Delano Roosevelt began to run on in the final furlong.
Nelson is a son of the Irish Oaks heroine Moonstone, and is a half brother to US Army Ranger, who finished runner up in last year’s Derby.
”He’s a horse to really look forward to. He stays well and looks a Racing Post Trophy type horse,” O’Brien said.
”Ryan’s horse (Delano Roosevelt) had only one run so he was always going to be green. In an ideal world we would have liked to have two runs coming here.
”He was very raw and Ryan said he got a big disorganised early and he had to take him back a bit,” he added.
Lightening Pearl remains Ger Lyons’ sole top-flight winner to date and her daughter Lightening Quick looks to have Group One potential after a winning debut over seven furlongs.
The dam won the Cheveley Park over six furlongs but the evidence of this 6-1 head defeat of Bye Bye Baby suggests Lightening Quick won’t drop in trip.
”We’ll have to sit down and decide about the Cheveley Park. Right now I’d say it’s unlikely as she needed every yard of the trip to get up. But we’ll see.
”She’s very like her mother. She gave me the impression she wanted a mile after her first start and she got faster and faster. It’s a lovely high class problem to have,” Lyons said.
Dermot Weld has dominated the Group Three Enterprise Stakes since it came under the 'Champions Weekend' umbrella and won it for a fourth year in succession with the 9-10 favourite, Eziyra.
”She’s a very consistent filly and we could look at the Filly & Mare race on Champions Day at Ascot for her. That’s a distinct possibility,” he said. Eziyra was cut to 10-1 for the Ascot race.
Leopardstown’s Champions Weekend crowd crowd reached 13,689, a drop of almost 1,000 on last year’s figure.