Leopardstown: Golden Horn swerves to Irish Champion Stakes

Frankie Dettori survived a stewards enquiry to win race for sixth time ahead of Free Eagle

The QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes - Frankie Dettori onboard Golden Horn celebrates winning. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes - Frankie Dettori onboard Golden Horn celebrates winning. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho


Over an inch of overnight rain diluted the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes by removing Gleneagles from the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes but the €1.1 million highlight ultimately got distilled into 200 metres of high drama as Golden Horn’s shock swerve across the track meant he had to survive a stewards enquiry to give Frankie Dettori a sixth win in the race.

If the inaugural Champion Stakes under the ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ banner provided controversy due to Australia’s surprise defeat by The Great Gatsby, it paled compared to this as Free Eagle, who was challenging for the lead, got wiped out by Golden Horn’s violent swerve into him inside the final furlong.

Dettori was powerless to prevent the collision which Golden Horn’s trainer John Gosden was inclined to blame on his Derby winner shying away from a shadow - possibly of the Leopardstown grandstand - but the Italian jockey ultimately gathered his horse to win by a length from Found with Free Eagle half a length back in third.

Quite what would have happened had Free Eagle finished runner up would have been an intriguing question for the officials but despite a lengthy enquiry, there was little surprise, although quite a lot of relief for favourite backers, when Golden Horn was allowed keep the race, something which for some again pointed to the merits, or lack of, in terms of the interference rules in this country.

Whatever chance Free Eagle had of winning, or finishing second, were badly compromised, if not destroyed, by Golden Horn. But on a day when the Doncaster St Leger was decided in the stewards room, with Aidan O’Brien’s Bondi Beach promoted to first, the fireworks again extended far beyond the track.

“It’s a shame that happened because he’s beaten a stellar field,” said Dettori. “He’s a fantastic horse. All you have to do is look at the horses who’ve finished behind him.”

The jockey explained: “Pat (Smullen) came to me. I’ve given my horse a couple of cracks, and he’s taken a right turn. He must have seen something.”

Golden Horn had his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe odds halved to 5-1 on the back of his third Group 1 success which he achieved the hard way by making most of the running. Gosden warned that Leopardstown’s officially “yielding” ground is as soft as the colt likes however.

“He’s a Derby winner and we didn’t want any problems with pace so he’s had to do it the hard way. He’s never done anything like that (swerving) before and a photographer just told me he figured he shied away from the shadow of the grandstand,” Gosden said.

“Frankie was aware of it and tried to straighten him down the shoulder and I think he was going away again at the end. I thought beforehand Found was the danger and Free Eagle ran a very good race too,” he added.

Found’s Arc odds were also cut - to a general 10-1 - and Aidan O’Brien said: “The plan was to come here or the Vermeille and then the Arc. Here was easier. She’s run a great race.”

The Free Eagle team of Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen came into the big race in flying form after wins for Fascinating Rock and Silwana but their luck ran out in a major way after their top colt briefly looked to be going best of all at the top of the straight.

“Everything was going to plan to the furlong pole. He gave me a lovely ride. The interference took my momentum away but we’ll put it behind us and move,” said a magnanimous Smullen. “It just would have been nice to have had clean run and find out where we stand.”

O’Brien revealed he planned to give Gleneagles a canter at the track after racing and said the Breeders Cup Classic on dirt in Keeneland at the end of next month remained on the colt’s radar although this was the fourth time in a row he had missed a race due to unsuitable ground.

Gleneagles was one of three Ballydoyle horses taken out on the day due to the change in going compared to declaration time, with nine horses in total taken out of the card. On “yielding” going the Gleneagles decision was all but inevitable.

“We have to do what’s best for the horse and the going is just a bit on the wrong side for him. I’m sorry for everybody, everybody has done their best and I know they’re disappointed, but it’s the right thing for the horse.

“We always thought a mile was his trip, but we were going to give him a chance at a mile and a quarter - we were nearly there, but that’s the way it is. He was ready today, as ready as he possibly could be,” O’Brien said.

Any brief hopes that Found might pick up the Champion Stakes in the stewards room were quickly dashed but earlier the officials worked in O’Brien’s favour as he enjoyed a dramatic and controversial fifth English St Leger triumph at Doncaster when Bondi Beach got the world’s oldest classic in the stewards room after narrowly finishing second to Simple Verse.

The Qatar owned filly passed the post a head in front of her Irish rival but twice bumped Bondi Beach in the final two furlongs and after a lengthy stewards enquiry Colm O’Donoghue’s mount got the verdict.

It was a second English classic for the Co. Cork rider after Qualify’s Oaks in June and back at Leopardstown, O’Brien was quick to praise the jockey.

“I’m sorry for the connections of the second. It got messy in the straight and we were closing at the line,” he said, pointing to how Bondi Beach didn’t get any favours in the stewards room at York after finishing runner up in the Great Voltigeur last month. “He was unlucky at York, got two proper bumps and got carried across the course.”

The Qatar team looked stunned after the stewards decision and Simple Verse’s jockey Andrea Atzeni, who won the following race, admitted to crying in the stalls before that race.

“I’m down, still feel low and felt like going home. I was crying in the stalls, but at the end of my day it’s my job. That’s what that’s what I get paid for. That’s racing,” said the Italian rider. “It’s done, it’s over. It’s a shame for the boss (Sheikh Fahad.) He deserves a big winner and it’s a shame for all the team.”

Simple Verse’s trainer Ralph Beckett, who also lost out on a top-flight prize when Qatar’s Secret Gesture was thrown out of the Beverly D in Chicago last month, was furious.

“I’m astonished, apart from anything else. There’s no consistency in the rules,” he said. “We lose the race when clearly both horses leaned on each other. Can you say it was entirely her fault? It’s absolutely certain we will appeal.”

In comparison, the day’s other Group 1, the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes, was completely straight-forward as the favourite Legatissimo outclassed her opposition in some style to earn a third top-flight prize of the season.

David Wachman and Wayne Lordan missed out on the 2012 Matron when Duntle got thrown out in a stewards enquiry but Legatissimo was dominant in this race. She is now as low as 5-4 for the Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders Cup.

“She’s been on the go all season but she’s a very good filly, quickens and is versatile with trip,” Wachman said.

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