May 25, 2024

St Mark’s Basilica prevails over Tarnawa in Breeders’ Cup WAYI Irish Champion

St Mark’s Basilica with Ryan Moore aboard beats Tarnawa in the Irish Champion (Courtesy Horse Racing Ireland - photo credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Odds-on favorite St Mark’s Basilica survived an inquiry in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Irish Champion (G1), but otherwise upsets were the order of the day at Leopardstown. Five winners went off at double-digit prices Saturday, including fellow Breeders’ Cup Challenge scorers No Speak Alexander and Atomic Jones.

Irish Champion (G1)

St Mark’s Basilica quickened best in a tactical race, while carrying Tarnawa a good way across the course in the stretch. The stewards conducted an inquiry before confirming the order of finish, and St Mark’s Basilica’s fifth straight Group 1 tally.

Under Ryan Moore, the Aidan O’Brien colt was reserved in third in the four-horse field, trailed by Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) heroine Tarnawa. Longshot Patrick Sarsfield tried to steal it on the front end, but couldn’t hold off his superior rivals when the tempo lifted down the lane.

Although the stalking Poetic Flare was the first to strike, St Mark’s Basilica covered his move. Tarnawa was then increasing her momentum on the outside to challenge, only to be herded ever wider out by the drifting St Mark’s Basilica. The contending trio ended up spanning nearly the width of the course while separated by less than a length at the wire.

St Mark’s Basilica bested Tarnawa by three-quarters of a length in 2:11.19 for 1 1/4 miles on good turf. The mare still managed to snatch second from Poetic Flare by a nose, despite her difficult passage. Poetic Flare, who was racing in isolation toward the far side, stayed on gallantly in his first attempt beyond a mile. Patrick Sarsfield reported home another 7 1/2 lengths back in last.

According to the stewards’ report, Tarnawa’s rider, Colin Keane, believed that she would have won if not for being taken off her true line by St Mark’s Basilica. Moore countered that his colt was keeping Tarnawa at bay regardless. The stewards came to the same determination that the result wouldn’t have changed, but handed Moore a one-day suspension for careless riding.

“It was great because it was tactical,” O’Brien commented. “They sprinted up the straight and he did well. One thing we know he does is quicken. He really quickens. His strong qualities are that he relaxes and can really turn it on. He has done that in every race.”

While St Mark’s Basilica earned a free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Siyouni colt is untested over 1 1/2 miles. Postrace, O’Brien mentioned that cutting back in trip was among his range of options. Tarnawa’s agenda, however, is well known, with trainer Dermot Weld setting her for the Oct. 3 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).

St Mark’s Basilica’s winning skein began in the Dewhurst (G1) at two, and he was earmarked for the French classics this spring. After turning the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1)/Prix du Jockey Club (G1) double, St Mark’s Basilica readily defeated Addeybb and Mishriff in the July 3 Eclipse (G1). A hind leg infection ruled him out of the Juddmonte International (G1). The Irish Champion advanced his record to 9-6-1-1.

Out of the Group 3-winning Galileo mare Cabaret, St Mark’s Basilica was bred in France by Robert Scarborough. The 1.3 million-guineas Tattersalls October yearling is a full brother to highweight miler Magna Grecia, hero of the 2000 Guineas (G1) in 2019.

Matron (G1)

Earlier in the Matron (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), it was Ballydoyle’s 6-5 favorite Mother Earth who suffered interference, and the 25-1 No Speak Alexander who kept her victory in the stewards’ room.

Trained by Jessica Harrington and ridden by Shane Foley, No Speak Alexander was nestled just behind the pace in third before angling out to take charge in the stretch. Mother Earth, with Moore up, initially raced in the winner’s slipstream on the inside. When No Speak Alexander made her move, Moore sent Mother Earth in pursuit between foes, muscling past the early leaders and trying to exploit the seam. But No Speak Alexander shut the door as she dove back toward the rail, and Mother Earth had to check. As the 7-1 Pearls Galore rallied on the outside, No Speak Alexander held on by a neck.

Moore ended up wrapping up on Mother Earth, who crossed the wire another 1 1/4 lengths astern. She just salvaged third by a neck from her fast-finishing O’Brien stablemate, Empress Josephine. Next came Epona Plays, defending champion Champers Elysees, Acanella, Belle Image, Dreamloper, pacesetter Shale (who was hampered in the chain reaction), Flirting Bridge, and Friendly.

The stewards’ inquiry included Foley, Moore, and three other jockeys involved in the tightening incident. Allowing the result to stand, the stewards found Foley guilty of careless riding and suspended him for five days.

No Speak Alexander had a better chance than her odds implied. A Mountarmstrong Stud homebred for Charles, Noel, and Paul O’Callaghan, the Shalaa filly captured the May 3 Athasi (G3) and finished third in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1). Her only interim start was a troubled 10th behind Mother Earth in the Aug. 3 Prix Rothschild (G1).

Harrington has yet to map out a fall campaign for No Speak Alexander. Considering she’s unraced past a mile, and that her stakes-winning dam, Rapacity Alexander, is a full sister to Hong Kong champion sprinter Peniaphobia, the 1 3/8-mile Filly & Turf doesn’t appear an enticing spot. Del Mar is not at all on the radar for Mother Earth, who is instead ticketed for Sydney’s Carnival.

No Speak Alexander was one of Harrington and Foley’s three winners on the Irish Champions Weekend opener, along with the 14-1 Real Appeal in the Boomerang Mile (G2) and the 17-2 Ever Present in the 1 5/8-mile premier handicap. Real Appeal clocked 1:41.23, faster than No Speak Alexander’s 1:41.98 over the same distance in the Matron.

Champions Juvenile (G2)

The 10-1 Atomic Jones was the highlight of a banner day for hot trainer Ger Lyons, who won four of Saturday’s eight races. Swooping late, the son of Wootton Bassett headed O’Brien’s co-favorite Stone Age on the line to finish the mile in 1:42.75. Absolute Ruler and Howth were a close third and fourth, respectively, while co-favorite Buckaroo was an inconvenienced sixth, and Maritime Wings a subpar ninth.

Lyons indicated afterward that Atomic Jones would likely call it a season, and if so, he’d decline his fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

“He’s done for the year I’d say,” the horseman told “He’s a real horse for next year over a mile plus.

“He’s a big huge baby and I didn’t even expect to be running him this year, never mind winning two.”

Atomic Jones also scored narrowly in his only other start at the Curragh June 27. The French-bred is out of the Turtle Bowl mare Loyale, a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Little Treasure (herself the dam of Grade 2 vixen More Chocolate). This is the immediate family of Group/graded scorers Rhythm of Light, New York Girl, and Go Athletico, and further back, multiple Group 1-winning highweight Bigstone.

Keane piloted Atomic Jones and two other Lyons winners, 11-1 Panama Red in the Ingabelle S. for juvenile fillies and the 11-2 Masen in the nightcap.

Gary Carroll masterminded the front-running coup aboard Lyons’ 18-1 shot Camorra in the Paddy Power (G3). The race was marred by the injury to O’Brien’s 5-2 favorite Innisfree, who tragically had to be euthanized according to social media reports.

Owned by the same partnership as Atomic Jones – Sean Jones, David Spratt, and Mrs. Lynne Lyons – Camorra just lasted from a trio of fillies. Stablemate Thunder Kiss completed the Lyons exacta, edging Forbearance and Zarawa.

In a tragic irony, Camorra was fourth to Innisfree in the 2019 Beresford (G2) in his only previous Group appearance. The gelded son of Zoffany and Grade 1-winning millionaire Mauralakana was completing a big-race double for breeder Scarborough, following St Mark’s Basilica.