Sunday 22 October 2017

The Fugue victory questions War call

Delighted owner Madeline Lloyd-Webber leads The Fugue and jockey William Buick into the parade ring after the filly's thrilling victory in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown
Delighted owner Madeline Lloyd-Webber leads The Fugue and jockey William Buick into the parade ring after the filly's thrilling victory in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

A combination of Declaration Of War's defection, another subdued turn from Al Kazeem and the dreary weather resulted in The Fugue storming to Irish Champion Stakes glory in front of a largely indifferent Leopardstown crowd on Saturday.

The feeling beforehand was that this was a second successive edition of the Red Mills-sponsored Group One that had the potential to enthral.

It proved unexpectedly one-sided, as The Fugue obliged emphatically for the wily John Gosden before returning to a muted reception that was a world apart from the jubilant scenes that greeted Snow Fairy in 2012.

With Kingsbarns also misfiring spectacularly, there is no denying the occasion failed to match the expectation, though that isn't to take from the winner.

William Buick gave the 4/1 shot a peach of a ride en route to a length-and-a-half verdict, ensuring that each of the 10 Group Ones run in Ireland this season has gone to a different stable.

In the context of Ballydoyle's domination in recent years, that is a remarkable and welcome statistic.

Having won the Yorkshire Oaks, The Fugue was the one horse that went into the race in form, the big question mark over her being whether the ground had gotten too soft.

She is an established fast-ground performer, so that she was able to win in slow conditions threw the cat among the pigeons.

Hindsight is a fine thing, but the chances are that if the going was decent enough for the The Fugue, Aidan O'Brien's Declaration Of War would have coped too. As for Al Kazeem, the way he cocked his head to the side when James Doyle turned the screw, just as he did at York, suggests that he has either fallen out of love with the game or that he is feeling the effects of his earlier heroics on ground that Roger Charlton says was unsuitably fast. Either way, you wouldn't be rushing to back him again any time soon.

Trading Leather emerged with plenty of credit in keeping on for third, though it is now back to the drawing board for leading O'Brien juvenile Kingsbarns.

A similar comment applies to Free Eagle after he was thrashed by Australia in the big juvenile race, as he found nil off the bridle in the straight.

Dermot Weld's colt went into the race as ante-post favourite for the Epsom Derby, a title that now deservedly belongs to the long-striding O'Brien-trained Australia.

POPULAR

As the only Group One winner in the Matron Stakes, Kevin Prendergast's La Collina helped to maintain some semblance of respectability for the fillies' mile contest by edging out Lily's Angel.

Her gallant 25/1 triumph was her first since that famous 33/1 Phoenix Stakes coup in 2011, and it was her 81-year-old handler's first at the top table since then.

More pertinently, it was a debut Group One for the hugely popular Chris Hayes, who has taken full advantage of the opportunity afforded him by Declan McDonogh's defection to the ultimately thankless Aga Khan gig.

A three-time champion apprentice, Hayes has been a loyal deputy to Prendergast for 10 years so this was a fully deserved breakthrough. When his boss was asked about bridging the gap since his last Group One success, he responded simply: "You can't win the battles if you haven't got the troops."

That's a sentiment that was also to the fore after My Titania's impressive victory under McDonogh.

A daughter of the mighty Sea The Stars, she wore her sire's Christopher Tsui colours with distinction, and it tells you something of the support that prevails for John Oxx right now that the maiden winner received by far the most vocal welcome of the entire day.

Time will tell if My Titania is the horse to carry Oxx back to the big time, but rest assured that the Currabeg wizard's distinctive dignity remains intact despite his current adversity.

"It has been a bad year," he conceded, "but it's only a temporary little difficulty."

Amen to that.

BYRON SPRINTS TO HAYDOCK VICTORY

Johnny Murtagh continued his sensational campaign by driving Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron to a resounding triumph over Eddie Lynam's Slade Power in Saturday's Sprint Cup.

Murtagh's fifth Group One of 2013 was his mount's career second, following last year's famous Foret win on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe day.

The five-year-old revelled in the rain-softened Haydock ground to score by three lengths, bringing his earnings to €755,000, a stunning return on the €2,000 that he cost Morgan Cahalan as a foal.

TURF CLUB SENDS OUT MESSAGE WITH BIG BAN

The Turf Club has added further substance to the notion that it is becoming increasingly diligent by acting swiftly to strip Cork trainer Lawrence Walshe of his licence for two years following an inspection of his premises on August 6.

It has been suggested that the regulator's upsurge in activity, which has focused largely on small trainers' technical infringements and house-keeping irregularities, was prompted by the cost-cutting recommendation in the government-ordered Indecon report that it relocate its offices down the road to Horse Racing Ireland's Ballymany headquarters just off the Curragh Plains.

There is certainly a sense that the governing body has been busy, and last week's trip to the High Court to defend its right to quiz northern trainer James Lambe and Co Kildare jockey Eddie O'Connell in relation to suspicious betting patterns surrounding Yachvili's controversial Downpatrick run in 2011 also suggests that it is now policing betting exchange activity more assiduously.

Still, the exclusion that Walshe has been dished out appears quite excessive, with his solicitor Andrew Coonan describing the decision to take away his primary source of income as disproportionate.

The Buttevant-based handler – who has trained just three winners since 2000 and none since 2010 – was found guilty under the catch-all rule of behaviour prejudicial to the proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing for breaches relating to passport irregularities, lack of a proper medical registrar, horses not being returned in and out of training and a failure to wear approved safety equipment while riding out.

It is quite possible that this was a more nuanced case than the bare facts in the Turf Club's report can convey, and it did imply that Walshe was less than co-operative.

If there were something more sinister, though, you would imagine it would have taken longer than a month to investigate, and it would surely be preferable to outline the complexities in detail.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"All's been well since about 10 days ago and he's at the top of his game at the moment," – revealed Jim Bolger of Dawn Approach ahead of the Godolphin-owned colt's comeback run in the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot next month.

NUMBERS GAME

10,000 Sum of money that was donated to a fund to assist the paralysed amateur rider JT McNamara by guests at the recent wedding of his old colleague Paul Cashman of Rathbarry Stud and Susan Crowley.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND

"Ah no, draw in All-Ireland hurling final. Will replay be next Sunday?" – asked Curragh manager Paul Hensey shortly after the full-time whistle at Croke Park, clearly worried that a big next Sunday would affect the attendance at the Irish St Leger meeting. But he need not have worried as the Curragh supremo was quickly told that the hurling replay between the warriors of Clare and Cork won't take place until Saturday, September 28.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport