Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Rock rolls for Weld but Gleneagles is out of tune

Ian McClean

Published 18/10/2015 | 02:30

Pat Smullen and Fascinating Rock after winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot yesterday
Pat Smullen and Fascinating Rock after winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot yesterday

America has its Breeders' Cup day. France has Arc day. And Britain has Champions day. By contrast to the others, the Qipco-sponsored British initiative is still a relative fledgling, yet in just its fifth year it brought the curtain down on the 2015 championships with the richest day's racing ever hosted on the island on a card that featured four Group Ones for the first ever time at Ascot yesterday.

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Both John Gosden, crowned champion trainer, and Godolphin, as champion owner, had a winner apiece on this most prestigious programme.

However, they failed to combine as expected with the high-profile favourite Jack Hobbs for the eponymous Champion Stakes. The gleaming ebony colt just could not repel the pursuing pack after he kicked into a lead soon after the home turn.

Said pack was spearheaded by the Dermot Weld-trained four-year-old Fascinating Rock which, under ideal conditions, grittily overhauled the favourite inside the last furlong whilst rebuffing an audacious last-to-first effort from the Aidan O'Brien mare Found.

John Gosden had fears about the draw before the draw. He had those fears realised after the draw. And he had them confirmed in the race. Following his pacemaker from the two widest stalls of 12 and 13, Jack Hobbs simply had to use too much juice too soon to avoid being trapped on the hair-rail around the sweeping Swinley Bottom. The fact that Ryan Moore saw fit to allow his filly Found sit last of the 13 runners was an ominous enough sign as to the prudence of the pace Jack Hobbs was sitting directly behind. As Godolphin advisor John Ferguson reflected afterwards: "William (Buick) had to do what he had to do. But he was there to be fired at." Ultimately it was Fascinating Rock that brought him down to give Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen their fourth win at the callow Champions Day fixture.

The day's other headline act - the QEII - saw the eventual resurfacing of Gleneagles after another borderline decision on the ground. As the only horse on the day not to have seen a racecourse in the last 100 days, on ground that was far from optimum, just two weeks in advance of a possible Breeders Cup Classic tilt, and very weak in the market, it was disappointing yet hardly the greatest shock that the horse that had passed the post first in his previous eight races could only beat three rivals home yesterday.

It was evident that connections were making the decision to run against their better judgement, and sporting though the decision was, it is ironic that the winner and market rival Solow, which coincidentally had also won his previous eight races, is plagued neither by ground foibles or, as a five year-old gelding, commercial breeding considerations. The Freddy Head-trained Solow has been on the go since March 3 and yesterday was winning his fifth Group One since at venues ranging from Meydan to Longchamp and now twice at Ascot.

Another to follow up a Royal Ascot Group One with another Group One on Champions Day was Muhaarar, which was at least as impressive in very contrasting ground yesterday in disposing of 19 rivals as he had been in winning the inaugural running of the Commonwealth Cup here in June.

The only other Group One prize was presented to the happiest man on the racecourse - Sheikh Fahad. With Qipco sponsoring, he was overjoyed to finally win his first race as an owner at the fixture with Simple Verse in the newly upgraded Fillies & Mares Stakes.

Not only was the winner impressively backing up her St Leger victory without either the turmoil or the controversy of Town Moor, but this time instead of having to jet off prematurely to present the prize at Leopardstown that day Sheikh Fahad could instead linger and savour receiving the prize from - on her second ever only visit to Ascot - his mother.

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