Saturday 24 March 2018

Cape Blanco hits summit

Stablemate Rip Van Winkle finally put in the shade, writes Ian McClean

It is safe to say that the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes has, since its inception in 1984, become the pre-eminent Flat race of the Irish calendar.

Beginning appropriately with super-stallion Sadler's Wells right up to the victory of super-horse Sea The Stars last year, the race's roll of honour boasts a booty of talent richer than any other race run in the Irish pattern, and the equal of any race anywhere in the world. In recent years it has become synonymous with epic finishes. Galileo and Fantastic Light. High Chaparral and Falbrav. Hawk Wing and Grandera. Dylan Thomas and Ouija Board. All in the last ten years left onlookers gasping and enraptured right to the line.

Yesterday's renewal was no different. Two short-heads separated three previous Group One winners as they fought like dragons to the line. However, the difference yesterday was that they were all competing for second. And second arrived a yawning five and a half lengths behind the winner Cape Blanco.

Cape Blanco is the Michael Caine of the current era. Back in the sixties Caine was a struggling actor with talent who shared a flat with icon of the time Terence Stamp. Everything he attempted was overshadowed by his housemate. Cape Blanco has simply never been box office. Even whilst returning unbeaten from three runs to winter quarters, he was at the hind end of Ballydoyle dispatches for the 2010 Classics behind the fashionable St Nicholas Abbey and the thinking man's Jan Vermeer.

When he returned to win the Derby's premier trial at York he started a relatively unfancied 9/2 shot. Even in the afterglow of that Dante victory, Johnny Murtagh's only thoughts were for St Nicholas. And when St Nicholas Abbey couldn't make the Epsom date, Cape Blanco was overlooked and sent to the inferior prestige of France.

In spite of a Dante win, a subsequent Irish Derby win and a King George second when he had many Group One winners behind, he was still overlooked by both the stable jockey and the market. His five and a half length demolition of a high quality field at Leopardstown rang out like Russell Crowe asking the baying hordes in Gladiator "Now, are you entertained?"

For a race whose destiny has frequently been decided by tactics, this was a triumph for the winner above all in that department. Never headed throughout, it looked through the early half of the race as if an Irish Derby winner was being sacrificed by Ballydoyle for the sake of their very own Terence Stamp, Rip Van Winkle.

Even the miler Sea Lord was struggling to go the pace under Kieren Fallon who had expected to lead. But by the time the field was heading into the crown of the bend the reality of events was beginning to truly unfold. Seamie Heffernan on Cape Blanco was still comfortable.

Sea Lord had given way to Twice Over but Tom Queally was closer to Tom Queasy as he began to squirm in the saddle even before they straightened up.

Meanwhile the typical purr of Rip Van Winkle was turning to a whine. For a brief moment a furlong and a half out it appeared as if Cape Blanco might blow out.

But it was simply imaginary as he maintained his relentless momentum to record a time just one hundreth of a second faster that Sea The Stars last year.

To Rip Van Winkle's credit he gritted it out to pip Twice Over by a short head for second to uphold the Juddmonte form with Beethoven (again O'Brien) running above himself to finish a further short head behind fourth.

Aidan O'Brien afterwards claimed the winner got a mile and half "more through courage than stamina" and that the step back to a mile and a quarter really suited, particularly in the ground. The going -- described as soft by the trainer afterwards -- was the debilitating force against the favourite.

Indeed, it was significant to observe the facial wince any time O'Brien mentioned "Rip" in the same sentence as the ground who went so far as to declare that "if we thought conditions were going to be like that then we wouldn't have been here".

Henry Cecil's presence added to the atmosphere in Foxrock as he was besieged with well-wishers and fans seeking autographs. Indeed it was amusing to see Henry lose his way between the pre-parade and the parade ring after saddling Twice Over, only to be guided to the entrance by some do-good racegoers. A suitable metaphor for his career?

Received wisdom isn't always received, it appears. And so it proved in the day's other (fillies') Group One -- the Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes -- which provided Aidan O'Brien with a Group One double on the day (four winners in total on the card).

It was widely anticipated that Spacious would get a solo lead -- unlike the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket when she was hassled throughout at the head of affairs and had no answer to the three-year- old Music Show's final finishing burst. As a consequence of the perceived change in race pattern, Spacious was supported very heavily in the ring from an early 4/1.

However no one included Kevin Manning who shot Gile na Greine straight into an early lead, stealing Spacious thunder, and setting the race up nicely as at Newmarket for a closer.

Having just won the previous Group 3 Kilternan Stakes Johnny Murtagh was confident enough to sit out the very back on Coronation Stakes winner Lillie Langtry.

However, she picked up in a way that Rip couldn't and returned to the form of her Coronation to seal a well-timed win. Lillie already had her Coronation; yesterday Cape Blanco got his.

Sunday Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport