Cape Blanco in stunning tour de force
A second Group One triumph for Seamie Heffernan in a week and a sea change in the pecking order of the middle-distance inmates at Ballydoyle resulted from the tour de force that saw Irish Derby victor Cape Blanco upstage the presumed Irish Champion Stakes principals.
Rather than odds-on stable companion Rip Van Winkle and the top English raider Twice Over dominating the finish, they were left to scrap for the place money behind a Galileo colt that simply blew them away from the outset on rain-softened ground at Leopardstown.
The unscheduled morning downpour that left the going on the easy side of good again for the Tattersalls promotion clearly didn't play to the strengths of Rip Van Winkle, which still managed to confirm York form with Twice Over by a whisker in their scramble for the runner-up berth.
But in essence, this was simply a one-horse race as Heffernan's mount set and maintained a seeming breakneck gallop that left the 6/1 partnership in splendid isolation throughout to make it a half-dozen successes in this prestigious race for a rampant Aidan O'Brien.
The champion trainer racked up four winners from the five races he contested in front of 7,723 spectators and is now pondering a late-season campaign overseas for Cape Blanco and Lillie Langtry, which also hit form in the Coolmore Matron Stakes.
The English Champion Stakes won a year ago by Twice Over and the Breeders' Cup, which has been moved from California to Kentucky this November are under active consideration by O'Brien and the Coolmore partners for Cape Blanco, which has handsomely repaid the €330,000 he cost as a yearling at Goffs.
Described as "a mile-and-a-quarter horse that gets a mile and a half on his class and courage", Cape Blanco was much happier on the altered surface than Rip Van Winkle, which O'Brien insisted would not have been declared had the going been similar at Thursday morning's deadline.
Heffernan reported, indeed, that his mount was in his element from flagfall. "Aidan told me to bounce him out, drop my hands and let him bowl along. Half a mile out I gave him a squeeze and he quickened, so I knew we would take some catching."
On the previous Sunday at the Curragh, the Kildare jockey likewise profited from pace-forcing tactics on another of Galileo's progeny, Misty For Me from Ballydoyle in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, and his career tally of Group One victories now stands at 11.
Former senior stable jockey for O'Brien, Kieren Fallon, had a rear-view sighting of Cape Blanco most of the way until Mark Johnston's supplemented Sea Lord faltered early in the straight and has little doubt the winner is out of the top drawer.
"Cape Blanco has some gears -- I rode a horse that was able to travel well and win a Group Three over a mile at Salisbury but we couldn't get near him. He's a serious horse when you think how he beat Workforce in the Dante at York and finished in front of him again at Ascot behind Harbinger," said Fallon.
Next time out we can expect the year-older Rip Van Winkle to revert to a mile, quite possibly in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, with the prevailing going invariably one of the major factors that will influence his immediate future.
In contrast, stablemate Lillie Langtry appeared to relish the easier ground on this occasion after disappointing behind Music Show and Spacious on a fast surface at Newmarket in the Falmouth Stakes.
She bounced back to her Royal Ascot pomp in the Coolmore Matron Stakes as she flashed up on the outer under Johnny Murtagh in the closing stages to deny Spacious a breakthrough at the highest level that's always eluded this Nayef mare.
Third-placed favourite Music Show was unable to raise her game when it mattered most in this mostly tactical affair and may well have peaked for the current campaign as Lillie Langtry heads next to Paris for the Prix de l'Opera during "Arc" weekend.
O'Brien's monopoly of the Group races was initiated in some style by the unexposed Await The Dawn in the Kilternan Stakes as the Giant's Causeway colt stepped up markedly on his previous form to run away from English raiders South Easter and Nanton.