April 20, 2024

Champions Day double for O’Brien: ‘unbelievable’ Magical rebounds, Kew Gardens outduels Stradivarius

Magical was hailed as the "ultimate racehorse" by trainer Aidan O'Brien after her 2019 Champion Stakes victory (Ascot Racecourse)

The Coolmore partners, supersire Galileo, trainer Aidan O’Brien, and his jockey son Donnacha celebrated a Champions Day double at a boggy Ascot on Saturday. Star filly Magical justified favoritism in the signature event, the Champion S. (G1), while Kew Gardens battled back to end the winning streak of odds-on Stradivarius in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2).

Magical, who remains possible for the Breeders’ Cup, was rebounding from a fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) to score another major here. Heroine of the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) on this day last October, when also wheeling back from an unplaced effort in the Arc, the four-year-old tracked pacesetter Regal Reality and took over in the stretch.

Addeybb, in his element on the soft inner course that was riding closer to heavy, threw down a challenge, but Magical kept finding and held him at bay by three-quarters of a length. Japan’s globetrotter Deirdre was a gallant third, heading the supplemented sophomore Fox Tal. Mehdaayih improved from the rear in fifth, followed by Coronet, I Can Fly, Regal Reality, and Pondus.

“Magical is an unbelievable mare,” Aidan O’Brien said after she gave him his first victory in the Champion:

“From the start of her career as a two-year-old, every time she races, she turns out.

“Every morning she wakes up with a total clean sheet, she never holds offense to nobody even if they upset her the day before. She just takes it on the chin and asks ‘what do you want me to do today?’

“Magical is the most unbelievable mare I have ever seen. Her mind is incredible. She gets a mile and a half, but I think a mile and a quarter is her ideal trip. She gets a mile and a half because of her class.

“The Arc was a strongly-run race and she has come out that and won here. She handles ease in the ground, goes on fast ground – what can you say?

“She is the ultimate racehorse – that is what she is.

“It’s hard to say, but it looks like she is still progressing which is amazing.

“I don’t tell the lads anything ever – I learnt that a long time ago! They will decide what they want to do. She is sound mentally and physically. We now have to decide if we go to the Breeders’ Cup with her.

“If she goes to the Breeders’ Cup, I would imagine that she would run in the Fillies & Mares race.

“It would be unbelievable if she stayed in training – she would only be delighted to!”

Addeybb’s trainer, William Haggas, hailed the winner.

“I thought he put in a great effort, but Magical is an exceptional filly – she has shown it all year and is very versatile at every trip and on most ground. Addeybb had conditions in his favor today and has run his guts out.”

Magical was earning her fourth career Group 1, the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) in May and the Irish Champion (G1) in September joining her pair of Champions Day trophies. Her total would have been higher but for Enable, who forced her to settle for second in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and this season’s Eclipse (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1). Magical’s other top-level placings include the 2017 Moyglare Stud (G1) and the June 19 Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot.

Magical’s victory clinched the British champion owner’s title for Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor, and brought O’Brien closer to John Gosden in the race for champion trainer of 2019. At the conclusion of the Ascot card, Gosden’s seasonal earnings stood at £7,665,333.18, with O’Brien’s runners racking up £7,553,251.92. Thus the British training title will go down to the wire.

Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens snapped Stradivarius’ 10-race winning streak in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (Ascot Racecourse)

The trainers’ battle was a subtext in the Long Distance Champions Cup, where Gosden’s defending champion Stradivarius attempted to extend his winning streak to 11. But the ground was a concern. Stradivarius would have gotten away with it on sheer class, if not for the presence of Kew Gardens.

The 7-2 second choice, Kew Gardens brought top credentials as the 2018 St Leger (G1), Grand Prix de Paris (G1), and Queen’s Vase (G2) winner. After his runner-up performance in the May 31 Coronation Cup (G1), he was to take on Stradivarius in the Gold Cup (G1), but pulled back muscles sidelined him. Kew Gardens returned with a tune-up second in the Irish St Leger (G1) and made the requisite improvement to hand Stradivarius his first loss in two years. That last loss came in this very race in 2017, won by another Ballydoyle standout in Order of St George.

Stradivarius bravely rallied in the stretch, and even headed Kew Gardens, only to have that foe come again to prevail by a nose. Although the conditions blunted Stradivarius’ kick, the battle prompted thoughts of what might have been had they met during the Royal meeting.

Donnacha O’Brien, who capitalized on jockey Ryan Moore’s absence in Australia, admitted to thinking that Stradivarius might have nabbed him:

“Kew Gardens is so genuine – these Galileos just don’t know when to lie down. I thought when Frankie (Dettori) came to me (on Stradivarius) that he was going to go past me, but this fella found another gear and battled real hard.

“Seamie (Heffernan) rides him work at home, and both him and Dad were very happy with him. I felt he was the one horse in the race where you could not have been sure that Stradivarius is better than him.”

Aidan O’Brien indicated that there was a “strong chance” that Kew Gardens would be back in action in 2020, setting the stage for another tilt at Stradivarius in the Gold Cup.

Team Stradivarius, already looking forward to a rematch, cited the going as the decisive factor.

“We came fairly close to pulling out,” Gosden said, “but it’s Champions Day and you let the day down if you don’t run Stradivarius. He was only beaten a nose, so no disgrace in that, and it’s just not his ground.”

“It was much too soft for him,” Dettori said. “He couldn’t use his turn of foot and the other horse outstayed him on the ground.

“He tried, he always tried. He’s like a lion.”

Gosden also noted that Stradivarius was unbowed in defeat.

“He came back and had a whinny, so he’s happy.”

Read how Gosden and Dettori struck back next on Champions Day