March 3, 2024

Roaring Lion outduels Saxon Warrior, survives inquiry in Eclipse

Roaring Lion got the better of Saxon Warrior up the rising ground in the Eclipse (Photo courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter)

In a tussle that elicited flashbacks to last October’s Racing Post Trophy (G1), Roaring Lion accosted Saxon Warrior down the stretch of Saturday’s Eclipse (G1) at Sandown – only now the result was reversed. This time Qatar Racing’s Roaring Lion kept his narrow advantage to the wire, in the process making contact with Saxon Warrior, and having to withstand a stewards’ inquiry before the placings were confirmed.

The Eclipse showdown would have been even greater if Derby (G1) hero Masar, who had left Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior back in third and fourth at Epsom, renewed rivalry as expected. But the Godolphin colt had to be scratched with a setback. Trainer Charlie Appleby reported that Masar developed inflammation in his right foreleg Friday, and plans are on hold until he’s sound again.

Both Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, topping the Eclipse market as the 7-4 favorite and 9-4 second choice, appreciated the cutback in distance. Roaring Lion’s stamina was under suspicion ahead of the Derby, so the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse was the natural follow-up for the John Gosden pupil.

In contrast, Saxon Warrior’s presence here was the result of an Aidan O’Brien audible. The odds-on favorite at Epsom after another victory in the 2000 Guineas (G1), he turned in a lackluster effort in his first try beyond a mile, bringing the stamina question forward. Saxon Warrior was given another chance in the Irish Derby (G1) just last week, but again failed to show his old sparkle and finished a no-excuse third. Shortening up was the obvious answer, but wheeling back on short notice was a plot twist.

Masar’s older stablemate Hawkbill, who captured the 2016 Eclipse on soft going, sought to make it a true test by winging it from the start. Forest Ranger stalked in second, Saxon Warrior traveled with his former zest in third, but Roaring Lion found himself parked wider out by another O’Brien runner, the filly Happily.

When Saxon Warrior made his move in the stretch and struck the front, Roaring Lion loomed wider out, and the battle was joined. The further they went, the more Roaring Lion appeared to get the upper hand. But the left-handed urging from regular rider Oisin Murphy had the additional effect of encouraging him to veer onto Saxon Warrior. If Saxon Warrior had any ideas of trying to come again as he did after being headed in the Racing Post Trophy, the incident may have put paid to it.

Yet Roaring Lion was not yielding an inch himself, and eight months on, the son of Kitten’s Joy is a more finished article. A neck up on the line, the gray clocked 2:04.04 on the good-to-form course.

O’Brien’s Cliffs of Moher rallied from last to take third, the best finish by an older horse who was spotting the sophomores 10 pounds. This was a happier Eclipse for him than last year’s running, when he was a badly hampered fourth as the favorite.

Hawkbill, like the winner a Kentucky-bred by Kitten’s Joy, was outkicked late in fourth. Next came Happily, the non-threatening Raymond Tusk, and Forest Ranger.

The stewards called an inquiry into the contact between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. As they took their time gathering testimony from Murphy and Saxon Warror’s rider, Donnacha O’Brien, the trainers commented on the scene.

The result stood in a decision explained by the British Horseracing Authority:

An enquiry was held to consider the placings in this race after interference on the run to the line when the winner, ROARING LION (USA), ridden by Oisin Murphy, drifted right-handed, away from the whip, giving SAXON WARRIOR (JPN), placed second, ridden by Donnacha O’Brien, a slight bump and taking it off its intended line. The Stewards considered that the interference had not improved ROARING LION (USA)’s placing as it always appeared to be holding the runner up and the distance at the line was a neck. Murphy was suspended for 4 days for careless riding as he had allowed his horse to drift right without sufficient correction.

Roaring Lion was earning his first Group 1 laurel. The winner of his first three career starts, including the Royal Lodge (G2), before his Racing Post Trophy near-miss, he took a couple of starts to regain top form this season. Roaring Lion was a ring-rusty third behind Masar in the Craven (G3), and fifth to Saxon Warrior in the Guineas, but imperious on the step up to about 1 5/16 miles in the Dante (G2) at York. Now he’ll likely return to that track and trip for the August 22 Juddmonte International (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

That’s also a possible port of call for Saxon Warrior, whose scorecard with Roaring Lion is all tied up at two apiece. But O’Brien raised the idea of putting the Guineas winner back at a mile.

Bred by RanJan Racing in the Bluegrass State, Roaring Lion was sold for $160,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is the first registered foal from ill-fated Vionnet, who sadly died earlier this year after fighting laminitis. She was a Grade 1-placed daughter of Street Sense and Santa Anita downhill maven Cambiocorsa, also the dam of Grade 2 winners Moulin de Mougin and Schiaparelli as well as stakes scorers Alexis Tangier and Bronson, most recently third in the May 19 Louisville H. (G3). Cambiocorsa is herself a full sister to 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint star California Flag.