Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 18 February 2018

The Fugue gamble pays for Gosden

The Fugue wins the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown
The Fugue wins the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown


It is hard to fathom how much influence the menacing clouds exercised on the spartan attendance at Leopardstown's bejewelled Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes card yesterday. However, all week it threatened to play havoc with the running plans of the leading contenders in the main event.

If it rained too much some runners would refrain. If not enough, then others might. As the drizzle persisted it must have been a hairline decision to declare The Fugue, a confirmed fast ground specialist. As connections anxiously looked at the sky, they were looking for guidance from beyond the clouds.

The Coolmore judgement to withdraw Declaration of War must have been equally fraught and connections of that horse must only reflect on what might have been as they witnessed The Fugue join a girl elite that includes Indian Skimmer, Triptych and Snow Fairy in putting the boys in their place in the premier championship race on the Irish calendar.

Whilst connections held the faith, the market lost it as The Fugue was deposed even as second favourite by the long-absent O'Brien dark horse Kingsbarns. But mostly the horse the market wanted was triple Group 1 winner and mud-loving Al Kazeem who was deluged into odds-on at the death.

Irish Derby winner Trading Leather kept the race honest from the start and led all the way into the straight. He was tracked closely by Al Kazeem who in turn was stalked by The Fugue as the runners all shunned the inside rail. Kingsbarns was struggling behind and virtually pulled up. As Al Kazeem struggled to master Trading Leather, William Buick's body language on The Fugue signalled he had all angles covered as he drew alongside the colts. And so it proved as the bonny filly lengthened on to win by a snug length and a quarter.

Winning owner Lady Lloyd Webber admitted that she "nearly didn't get on the plane" with the conditions. Trainer John Gosden revealed he was "slightly disinclined" to put her back in a box and reroute her all the way to the Arc trials next weekend. History is made of such hairline choices.

The only filly with a Group 1 victory on her CV prior to yesterday's other premium contest became the filly to emerge victorious in the Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes. Not since the Phoenix Stakes as a two year-old had La Collina tasted success at the highest level and her form this year didn't give the indication she was a Group 1 winner waiting to happen. However, she had run well in the race last year and in a significantly below-standard line-up for the Grade she wouldn't have been the most unfathomable 25/1 winner ever to imagine. The race itself proved a muddling affair with a slow early gallop ensuring those at the rear of the dozen participants (favourite Kenhope and Chigun amongst them) were at a significant. In what developed into a sprint in the straight, the lead changed hands three times with La Collina leading last of all to claim the prize.

It gave young rider Chris Hayes his first ever Group 1 winner who was speechless with emotion, admitting "I can't speak. I'm fully choked" as he wiped away the tears.

At the other end of the maturity scale octogenarian winning trainer Kevin Prendergast was exultant, conceding that "like Clive Brittain, I'm getting better with age".

The winning filly is likely to go to the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket after this – where she finished a close-up fourth last year. And as an irrepressible Prendergast admitted "after that who knows!"

Aidan O'Brien may have suffered disappointment in the featured Champion Stakes but he already had a treble on the board at that stage on the card. Juvenile Australia could hardly be more regally bred - being by a Derby winner (Galileo) out of an Oaks winner (Ouija Board) - but he displayed every inch of royalty in disposing of Free Eagle in the Icon Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Trial.

The expectation beforehand was that the race would have a bearing on the Derby market for next year – and it certainly did – but not in the manner most anticipated. Australia's stablemate Kingfisher set a strong pace tracked by 2/5 favourite Free Eagle with Australia restrained behind. Free Eagle tackled the favourite off the turn but his joy was short-lived as Australia simply swooped past with a turbo-boost change of gear to win pulling up by six lengths.

Joseph O'Brien was all smiles returning to the parade ring and Aidan wasn't making his admiration either as he declared "He could go any way as he has plenty of speed as well. He could be a Dewhurst type or anything. He has some pace and he really turned it on. If he doesn't run again, we will train him for the Classics next year."

Sunday Independent

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