Wednesday 22 November 2017

Decorated Knight swoops late to claim Champion Stakes

Andrea Atzeni celebrates winning the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes with Decorated Knight
Andrea Atzeni celebrates winning the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes with Decorated Knight

Greg Wood

Backers were left poorer and wiser after the first two Group One events of Irish Champions Weekend, as Decorated Knight, at 25-1, took the featured Irish Champion Stakes for Roger Charlton following the 20-1 victory of Hydrangea, one of four Aidan O'Brien-trained runners in the Matron Stakes.

Churchill, the 2,000 Guineas winner, was sent off at odds-on to give O'Brien a 16th Group One success of the season, but after being caught in a pocket at the top of the straight, he faded when asked for an effort by Ryan Moore and finished unplaced as Decorated Knight stormed down the middle of the track under Andrea Atzeni to overhaul Poet's Word and win by half a length. Eminent and Frankie Dettori, who had enjoyed a soft lead in the early part of the race, finished third.

Decorated Knight's win was the biggest shock in the history of the Irish Champion Stakes but Atzeni said that from two furlongs out he was confident of success. "At the two, as soon as I had a bit of daylight, he was picking up well and I could see I had them covered. It shows how good a race it was [that he was such a big price] but last time on soft ground he didn't handle and the time before was a messy race, but before that he beat Ulysses [the Eclipse and International Stakes winner, when Decorated Knight was second in a Group One at Royal Ascot]."

"I couldn't believe it," said winning trainer Roger Charlton. "He's tough, consistent and very sound. He produced an amazing turn of foot and ran right to the line. There was nothing flukey about it.

"He's been a bit unlucky in his last couple of races. He hated the ground at York, got bashed about at Sandown in the Eclipse and ran a great race at Royal Ascot."

Hydrangea went into the Matron Stakes as the only filly to have beaten Winter, the hot favourite, in 2017, and she emerged with her record intact thanks to an unexpected 20-1 defeat of her galloping companion, the winner of four Group Ones this year.

O'Brien had warned that Winter had missed a few days' work after her success in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in early August, but Roly Poly and Rhododendron, both fillies with previous wins at the highest level, were the Ballydoyle runners seen as most likely to cause an upset. Neither could land a blow, however, and while Winter ran well, her usual strength in the finish was missing as Wayne Lordan drove Hydrangea to victory by a head.

"She was the only one of the four fillies that hadn't won a Group One," O'Brien said, "and we felt that Winter was going to improve a little from the run.

"The Prix de l'Opera [at Chantilly on Arc weekend] could be the race for her. We'll have to decide what we want to do [with Winter] but she's in the Arc. She wasn't ready to go that distance today, but that will leave her right. I wouldn't mind if they wanted to float around a mile and a half and see what happens. You can't be sure what's going to happen, but you'll find out."

The Opera is an alternative target for Winter, but she can be backed at 16-1 to successfully step up to 12 furlongs for the first time in Europe's most valuable race.

O'Brien saddled the first three home in the Group Three Champions Juvenile Stakes, but favourite backers were again disappointed. Delano Roosvelt, the 11-10 market leader, showed his inexperience in the first half of the race before running on strongly in the straight to finish third behind Nelson, a son of Frankel who can now be backed at around 20-1 to give his sire a first success in the Derby at Epsom.

At Haydock, Clive Cox felt the need to walk the course before the Group One Sprint Cup after persistent rain turned the going to heavy, but his concern proved unfounded as Harry Angel followed up his July Cup victory with a brilliant four-length success.

The three-year-old was always prominent and travelling strongly, and shot clear of his field with more than a furlong to run as soon as Adam Kirby asked for an effort. With his form now proven on all types of ground, Harry Angel is top-priced at 6-4 for the next race on his schedule, the Champions Sprint at Ascot in mid-October. Observer

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