St Mark’s Basilica wins Champion Stakes after controversial finish

Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old holds off Tarnawa and Poetic Flare at Leopardstown

Ryan Moore riding St Mark’s Basilica (right) on their way to winning the Irish Champion Stakes during day one of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ryan Moore riding St Mark’s Basilica (right) on their way to winning the Irish Champion Stakes during day one of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

St Mark’s Basilica gave Aidan O’Brien a 10th Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday but only following a lengthy stewards’ enquiry into a hugely controversial finish that once again spotlighted racing’s interference rules.

Day one of Irish Champions Weekend welcomed back the first significant crowd at an Irish track in 18 months but it felt like the stewards were the busiest people at the course.

Ryan Moore came out the worst in an earlier piece of scrimmaging in the Coolmore Justify Matron Stakes but the English jockey had every piece of good fortune on his side in the €1 million feature.

The long-awaited clash of the ‘Big Three’ in the Champion Stakes lived up to expectations as St Mark’s Basilica, Tarnawa and Poetic Flare quickened in the straight and finished within a length of each other.

However, if Poetic Flare ran straight, St Mark’s Basilica did anything but.

Despite Moore having his whip in his right hand, the 5-6 favourite, persistently hung right for almost all the straight.

Tarnawa, who had launched her challenge on her rival’s outer, was carried completely across the track with her chance of winning appearing compromised.

The pair almost finished on the ambulance road under the stands, prompting some onlookers and photographers to move quickly out of harm’s way.

Three quarters of a length separated the pair with Poetic Flare a nose behind in third.

The first and second didn’t appear to touch but the winner’s wayward passage made for a tense enquiry and obvious frustration in the runner-up’s camp after the placings were left unchanged.

Dermot Weld suggested Moore knew exactly what he was doing

“I just thought that Ryan’s left hand, instead of taking his horse off Tarnawa, he was letting his horse drift. He apologized to Colin (Keane) when he pulled up,” said the trainer who was pursuing a first Champion Stakes victory.

“If you look at where we started and then where we finished…” reported Keane, tailing off as much of the 4,000-strong crowd were engrossed in watching head-on shots of the finish.

On RTÉ, pundit Ted Walsh said he had never before seen flat horses go so far right up the Leopardstown straight on good ground.

However, despite Tarnawa being forced dramatically off a straight racing line in a manner that would have promoted an immediate disqualification in America, St Mark’s Basilica kept the race.

That such an outcome was logical under interference rules that apply here will inevitably prompt renewed focus on laws which too often seem too asinine to ensure a fair result.

Moore, who got a one-day suspension for careless riding, suggested St Mark’s Basilica may have shied from the big-screen on the infield and was pricking his ears in the closing stages.

The net outcome, however, was that Tarnawa seemed to be a hugely unlucky loser having had her chance compromised through no fault of her own.

It was a superb 10th Champion Stakes for O’Brien who was fulsome in his praise for a colt winning his fifth Group 1 in a row.

“It was great because it was very tactical,” said O’Brien.

“They sprinted up the straight and he did well. He had a bit of catch up to do after the last day (missing York).

“One thing we knew is that he does quicken. That’s what he always had - his strong qualities are that he relaxes and can really turn it on.

“They set off a nice pace, Kevin (Manning, on Poetic Flare) was in second and he steadied it down to get himself straightened up and set up.

“When they turned in they burned and I’d love to see what time they did for the last two furlongs.

“He’s just an exceptional horse and we’re very lucky to have him. All the lads at home have done a great job with him to get him back here today after the last day,” he added.

It was a change of luck for the O’Brien team who earlier saw their favourite for the Coolmore Justify Matron Stakes, Mother Earth, finish an unfortunate third after failing to get a run behind the 25-1 winner No Speak Alexander.

Shane Foley on the winner slammed the door on Moore when he was trying to get Mother Earth into a gap early in the straight.

If that looked a legitimate move then his failure to prevent No Speak Alexander veering left inside the final 200 metres steered Foley towards a five day suspension in the subsequent stewards’ enquiry.

Foley got a further three days following Real Appeal’s 14-1 success in the Group 2 Boomerang Mile but it proved a notable day for him and Jessica Harrington nevertheless with Ever Present bringing up their hat-trick in the Petingo Handicap.

“Shane came in and said Real Appeal is 10lb better here than any other racecourse. He’s won three races here now and he does nothing but improve.

“It’s the first time he’s won over a mile and it’s really worked out. He’s a funny horse, when he gets to the front he pulls himself up” Harrington said.

However, Ger Lyons went one better again with an ICW four-timer that that trainer witnessed first-hand on his first visit to a racecourse in over a year.

“I’ve been saying it all my career that you don’t need trainers at the racing, the staff do the job and they’ve proved it.

“We’re here today because it’s the biggest day on the Irish calendar. It’s very important to us and we’ve targeted the meeting,” Lyons said after Panama Red won the opener.

Just how much it was targeted emerged through the day and Colin Keane was also on Atomic Jones who landed the Group 2 Juvenile Stakes in a close finish with Stone Age.

The latter didn’t help his cause when taking a couple of awkward steps crossing the road on the back-stretch.

Keane did the steering as well on Masen in the concluding handicap but picked wrong in the Group 3 Paddy Power Stakes.

The 6-1 Thjnder Kiss just failed by a neck to overhaul his stable companion Camorra (18-1) who made all under Gary Carroll.

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