Saturday 17 March 2018

Mullins denies O'Brien Leger glory as Order gets toppled

Wicklow Brave and Frankie Dettori (left) edge out Order Of St George. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Wicklow Brave and Frankie Dettori (left) edge out Order Of St George. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

Churchill was set to dominate the headlines after a superb National Stakes win until the shock Leger defeat of Order Of St George became the main talking point at a windswept Curragh.

In beating the 1/7 favourite by half a length, the Willie Mullins-trained Wicklow Brave - brilliantly steered by Frankie Dettori - denied the only player left in the Tote's Pick Six pool a life-changing win. The pool stood at €420,000 and now rolls over to Gowran next Sunday.

Dettori made all in a somewhat ridiculously small field of four and the patiently ridden Order Of St George could never quite reel him in, prompting trainer Aidan O'Brien to comment: "These things happen."

Mullins said: "I spoke to Ruby [Walsh] earlier and we didn't see any pace so we decided to make the running.

"His plan all along has actually been the Melbourne Cup," he said after a win that evoked memories of Dettori's Irish Oaks win aboard Vintage Tipple for Willie's father Paddy.

Irish Champions Weekend had its fair of shock results and it almost seemed an affront to the narrative that Churchill did what the market expected in the National Stakes. Briefly threatened by Mehmas, the gorgeous son of Galileo soon had that foe in his pocket and was slashed into as short as 5/2 favourite for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.

Aidan O'Brien was not afraid to purr affection: "I love him - you'd have to love him. He's very exciting.

"He settles, quickens and went like a real miler. And he's really lazy. He's very idle when he gets there so [Mehmas] leaning in on him worked out lovely."

If days such as this are too many to count for Aidan O'Brien at this stage, consider what it meant to sons Joseph and Donnacha, who combined to beat their dad in an otherwise unsatisfactory Moyglare in which hot favourite Promise To Be True bombed. It was the legendary trainer's sons' first taste of Group 1 glory - not a bad achievement at 23 and 18 respectively - and the elder brother, Joseph, felt that the odds were all wrong about the winner.

He said: "This means the world to me and it's ten times better than doing the same thing when I was riding. It's Donnacha's first Group 1 and my mum bred her too.

"I can't believe she was 25/1 as she was only a length behind the second favourite [Rhododendron] the last day."

Ryan Moore had some frustrating defeats this weekend and another when Shamreen, on which Pat Smullen excelled, rallied to beat Best In The World in a gripping finish to the Group 2 Blanford Stakes. Dermot Weld, her trainer, had words about Champion Stakes also-ran Harzand. "He was badly chopped early on. He was very sore this morning and lame.

"His right hind leg is badly bruised and it was a brave performance considering. We will have to see how he is before making any decision on the Arc."

There was a huge British challenge yesterday and, predictably, the raiders were among the winners. Orewa was too strong in the lucrative sales race for Brian Ellison and Chris Hayes, while New Bidder popped up at 22-1 in the opening sprint handicap for David Barron.

The crowd of 9,255 was down from last year's figure of 10,343. Considering the lack of counter-attractions, this will disappoint Curragh personnel, who can only hope that its redevelopent starts as soon as possible.

The Listowel harvest festival commenced with Hidden Cyclone gaining a much-deserved win over hurdles at short odds under Danny Mullins for trainer Shark Hanlon.

Trainer John Ryan employed Mullins in the €40,000 feature chase and the pair combined for an excellent win with 100-30 favourite Kylecrue.

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