Monday 17 December 2018

Rhododendron blooms for O'Brien in Lockinge

Rhododendron. Photo: PA
Rhododendron. Photo: PA

Graham Clark

Rhododendron gave Aidan O'Brien a second victory in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes following a thrilling finish to the Group One showpiece over a mile at Newbury. Lightning Spear looked like he just about hit the front under Oisín Murphy and was about to spring a 16/1 surprise, but Ryan Moore had hit top gear aboard Rhododendron (100/30 favourite) in the centre of the course.

There was only a short head between them at the line and it condemned Lightning Spear to second place in the race for the second year running.

Lancaster Bomber, also trained by O'Brien, who won with Hawk Wing in 2003, was two-and-three-quarter lengths away in third.

"We've been very happy with her since the last day and we were hoping she had progressed," said O'Brien. "Obviously we were going back to a mile and she hadn't been back there since she ran in the Guineas last year. We thought that whatever she did today, she would move up a bit.

"We thought we would come here and then on to Ascot. We have the option of a mile or a mile and a quarter. We'll have a good chat with Ryan, the lads (Coolmore team) always talk after the races and we'll see what they want to do closer to Ascot."

Crystal Ocean proved a class above his rivals when taking a step back up in trip in his stride to run riot in the Al Rayyan Stakes at Newbury.

After making a winning a return over 10 furlongs at Sandown last month, the Michael Stoute-trained four-year-old showed his versatility with an impressive display in this Group Three mile-and-a-half prize, better known as the Aston Park Stakes. Taking command inside the final two furlongs, the Sea The Stars colt quickly put distance between himself and his rivals before crossing the line six lengths clear of runner-up Second Step.

Southern France emerged as a potential St Leger candidate in winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Yeats Stakes at Navan.

The son of Galileo took the Listed honours over a mile and five furlongs, just six days after opening his account at Leopardstown, with his racecourse debut coming only last month.

He is likely to head to Royal Ascot next for the Queen's Vase, with connections feeling he could develop into a contender for the Leger at Doncaster in September.

British raider Yabass, trained by Archie Watson, set a steady pace with Donnacha O'Brien never too far away on the 4/7 favourite, trained by his father, Aidan.

He pushed Southern France two-and-a-half furlongs out to make his horse's stamina count. Drapers Guild challenged strongly in the final furlong, but Southern France held the aces to prevail by half a length.

"He stays well," said the winning rider. "We weren't going very quick so I just wanted to make it into a bit of a test. Once he got to the front he had a bit of a look. I think he will be a better horse again next year when he strengthens up a bit more, as he's a little weak behind the saddle."

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