Irish Champion Stakes (Group 1)
IT might have taken place several months later than anticipated but Ballydoyle’s great white hope for 2022, Luxembourg, showed that he was all that with a victory that was brave, enthralling and brilliant in equal measure.
Europe’s top two-year-old made a pleasing and somewhat unlucky comeback to finish third in the 2000 Guineas but an injury sustained in that race meant that Luxembourg was forced to look on from the sidelines as the height of the summer passed by.
Indeed it was only last month that he got to return to action in the Royal Whip Stakes where an apparently hard fought success over Insinuendo left him plenty to do at this level.
As he returned to Group 1 company Luxembourg faced by far the most daunting assignment of his career as he squared off against two outstanding French colts in Vadeni and Onesto as well as the hardened international campaigner Mishriff. However, just like the former Ballydoyle great High Chaparral did 19 years ago, Luxembourg left the form of a solid comeback in the Royal Whip well behind to claim Ireland’s premier flat race.
Ahead lay the prospect of a seismic Arc de Triomphe clash with Baaeed and events last Saturday would suggest that Luxembourg will be a formidable rival to all when the first Sunday in October rolls around. However, the outcome of the Irish Champion Stakes has announced Luxembourg’s arrival amongst the elite and to do this off a badly interrupted season on just the sixth outing of his career speaks volumes about this son of Camelot’s prowess.
As it usually does, the Irish Champion Stakes made for fascinating viewing as the winner’s stablemate Stone Age cut out a decent and unfaltering gallop while Luxembourg looked on from fifth, just behind Onesto.
All to play for
It was all to play for turning for home as Stone Age remained in front but on the outside the brilliant and unflappable Ryan Moore moved Luxembourg into a menacing position on the outer. As the final furlong loomed Luxembourg and Onesto went toe to toe and it was a straight head to head over the last 200 yards.
It always seemed as though Luxembourg had the call over his fellow three-year-old and he got the verdict by half a length. The Eclipse and Prix du Jockey Club winner Vadeni was a further length and a quarter away having never been able to work his way into a challenging position as well as being forced to try to weave his way through the field in the straight.
“That’s unbelievable. Jamie, Derek, Killian, Wayne have all done a brilliant job with him at home,” said a thrilled O’Brien. “This horse had a big problem after the Guineas and our plan for the season went out the window. We didn’t know if we would get him back for the Royal Whip but when we did we knew he would improve 20 or 30% from the Curragh and we felt he was in with a chance.
“He got a brilliant ride from Ryan and the plan, all going well, was to come here and now hopefully he will go for the Arc. He’s a hugely exciting horse and to come back and do this after what happened to him is incredible. He wasn’t surrendering at the line today and he could be better over a mile and a half.
“His head was in the cooker a long way up that straight and he didn’t stop. Ryan was very impressed and he’s not an optimist by nature. Usually if he’s a little bit impressed that will do.”
Ryan Moore reflected: “I’m delighted for the horse as he’s had a tough year. We went a good, even, fair, pace and the race opened up turning for home. He was still raw and babyish but always doing enough when he hit the front. I think there’s more to come. Unfortunately the Guineas didn’t work out, but he’s back now and in a deep race he’s put them away well.”
Although Vadeni could only manage third his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, was far from disheartened with the effort and indicated the Champion Stakes at Ascot next month was a possible target for his charge.
“It was quite a good run. He was in front of Mishriff like he was last time and we can’t win every race. I think he was a bit unlucky but I think the result is correct with a very strong pace in front,” remarked the trainer.