Adamant that King of Change’s runner-up effort at 66-1 in the 2000 Guineas (G1) was no fluke, trainer Richard Hannon saw his judgment vindicated in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot. The 12-1 chance upstaged a competitive cast on Champions Day to stamp himself as a leading miler to follow in 2020.
Although untested on anything softer than “good,” King of Change adapted to the heavy going well. Sire Farhh had plowed through the soft to crown his career in the 2013 Champion S. (G1) here in 2013, and half-brother Century Dream was a close third in last year’s QE II. Century Dream tried again on Saturday but wound up seventh behind his sophomore half-brother.
King of Change, reserved not too far off the pace by Sean Levey, got a terrific gap at the right time. Seizing the opportunity, the Ali Abdulla Saeed colorbearer rolled past early leader Veracious and put the race away. Well-backed French mudlark The Revenant, who didn’t have the easiest passage into the clear, gave chase too late. King of Change wandered toward the stands’ side late, perhaps inconveniencing The Revenant, but he was arguably doing enough regardless.
Longshot Safe Voyage rallied to snatch third from Veracious. Three-year-old Mohaather checked in a useful fifth in his first start since April. Next came Happy Power, Century Dream, Lord Glitters, Raising Sand, Phoenix of Spain, Accidental Agent, Move Swiftly, King of Comedy, Magna Grecia (who’d beaten King of Change in the Guineas), Imaging, and slight favorite Benbatl, who backpedaled to finish a long-way last.
While some didn’t give their true running in the conditions, King of Change’s record on quicker ground suggests he’d have turned in a top effort regardless. The bay dominated a Nottingham novice in fast time on good-to-firm in April, beat all bar Magna Grecia at Newmarket, and captured Sandown’s Fortune S. in his only ensuing appearance September 18.
Levey offered King of Change a stunning compliment, comparing him favorably to the yard’s past mile stars:
“The way he’s been working. I thought all he had to do was to handle it, and the other day I said to Richard that although I’d ridden Toronado, Sky Lantern and the rest of them at home, none of them gave me a feel like him.”
Hannon was rightly savoring the moment:
“People thought I was a little bit petulant after the 2000 Guineas for not celebrating being second, but we’ve always thought the world of this horse, and to be second in the Guineas is a great run, but you don’t remember those. Now he’ll be remembered, and it was all about next year anyway.”
Considering that King of Change was making just his sixth start, he brings loads of promise into next season. The course-and-distance Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot is the obvious target.
One race earlier in the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1), sophomores fought out the finish as favored Star Catcher just pipped pacesetter Delphinia. Winning trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori were gaining quick revenge after their Stradivarius missed in a photo to Kew Gardens, who shares the same Ballydoyle connections as Delphinia.
Overlooked in the market despite excellent seconds in her last two, Delphinia nearly pulled off a wire job. Four-year-old Sun Maiden was the first to make a move, but Star Catcher grittily advanced between them to join the fray. Sun Maiden yielded in deep stretch, and just when Delphinia appeared to be hanging on, Star Catcher summoned one final surge to head her on the line.
The troubled Fleeting, who had the door close on her on the inside, altered course to the outside and finished fourth. Anapurna wound up 11th of 12 in a toss-out, with Gosden reporting she lost a shoe and “was skidding all the way.”
Dettori, who was celebrating his 250th career Group 1 win, still had Stradivarius on the brain:
“I am still a bit sour about Stradivarius, but the ground is a lot worse than we thought. I am pleased this filly won. Like you said, from crying to smiling in half an hour! She’s lovely, she’s tough, and I think she is going to stay in training.”
Star Catcher worked hard for her fourth win in a row, a sequence including the course-and-distance Ribblesdale (G2), the Irish Oaks (G1), and the Prix Vermeille (G1). Sir Anthony Oppenheimer’s homebred daughter of Sea the Stars was at one point flirting with the Breeders’ Cup, but Gosden confirmed that her season is over.
“It was extraordinary to see three fillies fighting it out together, but she was determined to get her head in front and you cannot doubt her courage. She’s a wonderful filly and now she can have a winter off.”
Champions Day began with an upset as King Power Racing’s Donjuan Triumphant signed off on a high note in his fourth attempt at the British Champions Sprint (G1). Making his final start before retiring to stud in France, the 33-1 shot (47-1 in North America) overcame a traffic snarl and swooped in time with Silvestre de Sousa.
Well-backed One Master, who had to muscle her way out of a pocket too, was beaten for finishing speed on the cutback in trip. Sophomore filly Forever in Dreams (like Donjuan Triumphant by Dream Ahead) stayed on best of the forwardly placed in third, edging Brando. The supplemented Make a Challenge loomed before fading to fifth in a creditable Group 1 debut.
Advertise, co-favorite with One Master in the British market (and favored in North America) was seventh, and fellow three-year-old Hello Youmzain also retreated in a subpar eighth. Cape Byron, who’d beaten Donjuan Triumphant in the Bengough (G3) last out, checked in 12th, followed by past British Champions Sprint heroes The Tin Man, Sands of Mali, and Librisa Breeze. So Perfect was another who didn’t do herself justice in last of 17.
Donjuan Triumphant was scoring a poignant win for King Power, approaching the first anniversary of the tragic helicopter crash that claimed its Chairman and CEO, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Ironically, the Andrew Balding trainee had been King Power’s first winner after his death last fall, when taking the Wentworth at Doncaster.
Trainer Andrew Balding commented on the connection:
“He was the first horse the Chairman ever bought, the first horse we had for him, and he would have been so proud of him right now. There were a couple of anxious moments today, but Silvestre managed to get himself out. I am just so thrilled for the horse.
“Historically, Donjuan Triumphant has always come good in the autumn, and I thought he ran a really good race last time out (second) behind Cape Byron because he fluffed the start and things didn’t go according to plan.”
Until Saturday, Donjuan Triumphant’s signature win was the 2015 Criterium de Maisons-Lafitte (G2), but he was second in the 2016 Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) and third in the 2018 edition of this race.
“Andrew loves this horse and has always said that when he gets his ground he can win a big race,” de Sousa said. “Well done to all the Balding team.”
As part of the Champions Day festivities, Oisin Murphy was honored as champion jockey on the Flat – at 24 the youngest to top the standings since Ryan Moore did so at the age of 23 in 2006. Cieren Fallon, indeed the son of that Kieren Fallon, was formally recognized as champion apprentice rider.
While Murphy will winter in Japan again, young Fallon will further his education stateside with trainer Christophe Clement “to get the clock in my head – Dad said that’s a big must.”