Golden Horn clips Eagle's wings, but survives inquiry in Irish Champion

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September 12th, 2015

A couple of hours after the dramatic disqualification in the St Leger (G1) at Doncaster Saturday, another eventful stretch run in the Irish Champion (G1) left fans wondering if Golden Horn would keep his front-running victory. The 5-4 favorite veered out abruptly in the stretch, hampering Free Eagle in the midst of a good-looking rally. In another apparent case of discrepancies across different racing jurisdictions, the Leopardstown stewards let the result stand.

Had this infraction occurred in another jurisdiction, Golden Horn may well have been disqualified. For he barreled right across the path of the oncoming Free Eagle, and the two appeared to come into contact. To me, it looked like Golden Horn slammed into his shoulder. Free Eagle had to snatch up and was lucky not to suffer a worse outcome. Meanwhile, the three-year-old filly Found darted to the inside and grabbed second by a half-length from the victimized Free Eagle.

At a bare minimum, Golden Horn cost Free Eagle second. That would have made him liable to demotion here, as Secret Gesture was disqualified in the Beverly D (G1) for the same reason.

But in Ireland, as the GBI Racing commentators explained, the rules take a dimmer view of your grievance if you finish worse than second. So if Free Eagle had somehow held second, Golden Horn's prospects before the stewards would have been in danger. According to this interpretation, the fact that Free Eagle crossed the wire third actually gave Golden Horn the alibi.

If that is the case, the guidelines need a proper review. As is obvious to any observer, from racing's Methuselahs to the newest of neophytes, the blatant interference was costly to Free Eagle. His third-place result was therefore at least influenced by, or likely the direct result of, Golden Horn's vagrancy.

We'll never know if Free Eagle could have had his measure -- he might have kept forcing Golden Horn to find more all the way to the line, and perhaps his younger rival might have cracked. On the other hand, it's worth remembering that when The Grey Gatsby appeared to have Golden Horn in his grasp in the Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, the star three-year-old found multiple sets of gears to zoom right away from him. You could see an almost dejected Gatsby wilt in deep stretch, as if the momentum shift had demoralized him.

Now as a Free Eagle fan, I'd argue that he'd be a tougher customer to treat that way. Note that Golden Horn initially spurted clear at the top of the stretch, but Free Eagle was actually launching a renewed attack when he was butchered. Could Golden Horn have repelled the second challenge? Considering that Free Eagle was spotting Golden Horn seven pounds here, maybe the weight would have told in the end anyway. But the undeniable fact is that Free Eagle was robbed of his chance. Before the incident occurred, he was gaining in the manner of a runner who would have been no worse than second.

See and judge for yourself:


Trainer John Gosden, who said that Golden Horn had never pulled such a stunt before, believes that the colt veered upon seeing the shadow of the grandstand.

Ironically, Golden Horn's jockey, Frankie Dettori, was scheduled to ride in the St Leger as well, until the Irish Champion was moved up and the time crunch prompted him to skip Doncaster. He had been named aboard Bondi Beach, the winner via disqualification in the St Leger. So had it not been for Leopardstown rescheduling, Dettori might have been involved in both inquiries.

The positive out of all of this is that Golden Horn rebounded from his shock defeat at the hands of Arabian Queen in the Juddmonte International (G1), where his experiment with a pacemaker went awry. Interestingly, Dettori reverted to the pacesetting tactics that served him well in the Eclipse. I'd expected him to sit off Highland Reel, who looked for all the world like the front runner here, but Dettori was happy to take the race by the scruff of the neck. 

Golden Horn is now on course for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) -- ground permitting. Softish going is OK, but not desperate.

Although the Irish Champion is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf, I wouldn't be too sure about Golden Horn turning up at Keeneland. Owner/breeder Sir Anthony Oppenheimer sounded very enthusiastic about the October 17 Champion (G1) at Ascot if he doesn't make the Arc. Gosden's more inclined to run Jack Hobbs in the Champion. Keeneland's best hope of landing Golden Horn might be if the weather goes bad in western Europe through the whole month of October, in which case the Breeders' Cup would loom as a more attractive finale. Otherwise, the Derby (G1) hero may stay closer to home before being whisked off to stud.

Free Eagle, on the other hand, has been mentioned as a Breeders' Cup candidate by international mastermind Dermot Weld. The Arc beckons for him in the interim, and for Found, who continues to progress for O'Brien. The other sophomore filly in the field, Pleascach, was a one-paced fourth, suggesting that she might be better at 1 1/2 miles at this point.

Highland Reel wound up fifth, and I'd suspect that ensures his ticket Down Under for the October 24 Cox Plate (G1). The Grey Gatsby was never involved in sixth, and the venerable Cirrus des Aigles trailed in his first start back from an injury this spring.

As widely expected, Gleneagles was scratched on account of the rain-softened ground. But he actually worked over the course after the conclusion of racing. His Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) plans hinge on whether O'Brien manages to find a prep for him.

This opening day of Irish Champions weekend featured two other "Win and You're In" races, and the more compelling of the pair by far was the one-mile Matron (G1). Partly that's because of the depth and quality of the field, but it was made especially so by the virtuoso performance of Legatissimo.

Trained by David Wachman for the Coolmore partners, Legatissimo was merely cantering into contention as the leaders were under pressure, and she bolted home by an emphatic 2 1/4 lengths from French filly Cladocera. There was a similar margin back to Ainippe in third, emphasizing the dominance of the winner.

Legatissimo is now two heads away from a six-race winning streak, highlighted by Newmarket's 1000 Guineas (G1) and an imperious display in the Nassau (G1) last out. Her two narrow losses in this span came in the 1 1/2-mile Oaks (G1), at the upper limit of her stamina, and in the Pretty Polly (G1), where she had a troubled trip.

With a profile like that, Legatissimo would be a massive threat in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), so it was a boon to hear Wachman confirm that Keeneland is on her agenda.

Notable Matron also-rans were Euro Charline (fifth) and Amazing Maria (seventh). Euro Charline once again showed too much zest early and led the way before tiring. If she's to recover her old form, she'll need to relax better -- and get back on firm ground. Amazing Maria gave way at about the same time. Perhaps the chasing tactics backfired, and she may have been better off if held further back early.


O'Brien did win one early on the card in the Juvenile (G3), with Johannes Vermeer springing a mild upset and earning a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). But he wasn't even O'Brien's top entrant in this race: that honor goes to Shogun, who was another withdrawal due to the ground. This was a step up for Johannes Vermeer, a last-out Killarney maiden winner. And for whatever it's worth, neither of O'Brien's past two winners of this race -- John F Kennedy and Australia -- advanced to the Breeders' Cup.

Furthermore, Sunday's Vincent O'Brien National (G1) has three better O'Brien juveniles in Air Force Blue, Painted Cliffs, and Air Vice Marshal. So at this point, it's best to take a wait-and-see approach with the Ballydoyle's possible BC babies.