Roaring Lion Edges Saxon Warrior Again in Irish Champion Stakes

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September 16th, 2018

A neck. Just a neck. That’s seemingly all that separates the talented three-year-olds Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior when they both run their best race, and that was the margin that separated them in a thrilling renewal of the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) on Saturday at Leopardstown.

The 1 ¼-mile “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) marked the sixth meeting between the two top-class colts, and for the fourth straight time it was the rapidly-improving Roaring Lion who emerged victorious, though Saxon Warrior was undeniably game in defeat.

The race unfolded in a manner that seemed suitable for Saxon Warrior; indeed, with trainer Aidan O’Brien starting four of the seven horses in the race, Saxon Warrior and his stable companions were able to control the race from the start. Deauville was charged with carving out the pace, Saxon Warrior and Athena employed tracking tactics, and Rhododendron rated toward the rear of the field, saving ground while keeping Roaring Lion off the rail.

Despite having an O’Brien quartet seemingly playing strategic games in front of him, jockey Oisin Murphy aboard Roaring Lion was content to let his mount settle well off the pace early on while racing wide and in the clear, knowing very well that Roaring Lion would produce a strong challenge when asked. Finally, as the field entered the lengthy homestretch, Murphy gave Roaring Lion his cue and the gray colt responded with a burst of acceleration that carried him right into contention.

But Saxon Warrior, who showcased enough speed and class to win the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I) going a mile back in May, was in full flight as well, seizing command from Deauville to open up a seemingly insurmountable advantage. He might have been home free except that Roaring Lion—stretching to his limit, carrying his head low, and closing with powerful strides—found another gear in the final hundred yards to catch and pass his rival in the shadow of the wire, prevailing by a neck in an epic finish.
Roaring Lion stopped the timer in 2:07.21 seconds over a course labeled “good to firm.” The tight finish marked the third time Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior have finished a neck apart at the conclusion of a Group 1 test; Roaring Lion edged his rival by that margin in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) earlier this summer, while Saxon Warrior had the advantage in the Racing Post Trophy Stakes (Eng-I) last October.

For Roaring Lion, one of many top-class horses in the stable of trainer this season, the October 20th QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot looms on the horizon, with the November 3rd Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs still a possibility as well. Unfortunately, his rivalry with Saxon Warrior has come to an end, for Saxon Warrior suffered a tendon injury during the Irish Champion Stakes and has been retired, an unfortunate footnote to what was otherwise an unquestionably spectacular showdown.