Magical lands first Champions Stakes success for O’Brien at Ascot’s British Champions Day
Magical lived up to its name to give trainer Aidan O'Brien a first success in the Champion Stakes at Saturday’s British Champions Day meeting at Ascot.
With son Donnacha in the saddle, O’Brien saw Magical justify the pre-race favouritism by beating Addeybb in second and Japanese entry Deirdre in third.
A crowd of just under 30,000 turned up in bright autumn sunshine to witness the ninth edition of Britain’s richest raceday which sees Europe’s leading horses, jockeys, trainers and owners come together for the finale to the Flat season. The day was also once again the culmination of the season-long QIPCO British Champions Series, with £4.2m of prize money on offer across the six-race card.
With conditions dictating that Ascot’s inner Flat course being used, Magical showed no signs of the exertions of running fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe just a fortnight ago as she recorded her most valuable success to date from her 21 career outings. The trip to Longchamp had been preceded by victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, where she set up a Champion Stakes double that was completed in straightforward fashion.
For most of the race, the feature on the Ascot card, Magical sat in second but when she was asked to step up the gears halfway up the home straight she responded in style, beating Addeybb by three-quarters of a length, with Deirdre completing her European stay with an excellent third.
Speaking afterwards, trainer O’Brien said, “When you ask Magical a question she always says yes,” said O’Brien. “She says yes to everything. Mentally she has never carried a grudge. She is unique. She gives her all and really is the most unbelievable filly.
“The Arc was a strongly-run race and she has come out of that and won here. She handles ease in the ground and goes on fast ground. What can you say? She is the ultimate racehorse – that’s what she is.”
The success also means O’Brien has now won every British Group 1 with exception of the King’s Stand Stakes and Haydock Sprint Cup.
Victory for Magical also made it a fine double for O’Brien after Kew Gardens beat Stradivarius by a nose in thrilling Long Distance Cup earlier in the afternoon. And once again it was son Donnacha in the saddle – standing in for the absent Ryan Moore – as Kew Gardens brought the successful ten-race run of last year’s winner Stradivarius to an end.
The marathon contest, the second race on the card, was the first of three races to be run on what is Ascot’s jumps track and it was just a nose that separated the front two at the line after a battle from the furlong pole.
Kew Gardens sat off the pace for much of the one mile and seven and a half furlong slug before striking for home early in the straight. Frankie Dettori, who was sitting in fifth for much of the journey on Stradivarius, followed last year’s St Leger winner through before moving ahead inside the final furlong.
In the end, the ground, which was changed to soft from good to soft, soft in places, proved the decisive factor as and Stradivarius could not find anything extra in the closing stages, allowing Kew Gardens to get back up and take victory by the closest of margins.
In the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, King Of Change settled an old score with 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia and eclipsed 14 others when landing his first win at the highest level in the mile championship.The winner gained a bit of revenge in style to give Richard Hannon a first win in the feature with Magna Grecia only able to come in 14th.
The early pace was set by eventual fourth Veracious but King Of Change appeared from the pack two furlongs out even if jockey Sean Levey looked to have gone for home too early considering the conditions when going to the front below the distance. However Levey’s decision proved a good one as his mount held off the late surge of the fancied French horse The Revenant by a length and a quarter with Safe Voyage in third.
Frankie Dettori may have been denied by Magical in the day’s feature but he did earn himself an 18th Group 1 triumph in 2019 as Star Catcher won the Fillies & Mares Stakes in a close finish. The winner secured a third Group 1 for the year with a short head success from Delphinia in second and Sun Maiden a further length back in third. For Dettori it was another landmark with his 250th Group 1 victory.
Donjuan Triumphant provided connections with a poignant success in the Champions Sprint
Victory by a length was not only a landmark occasion for the horse giving owners King Power Racing their breakthrough at the highest level, it came on the anniversary of Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s tragic death in a helicopter crash last October.
Donjuan Triumphant was the first horse ever purchased by King Power as they continue to build into a dominant force within British racing and this victory by a length from joint favourite One Master and Forever In Dreams in second and third respectively only goes to serve that.
Escobar cruised past his rivals to comfortably win the day’s finale, the Balmoral Handicap. The David O’Meara-trained horse found an extra gear under Adam Kirby a furlong from home to down well-fancied favourite Lord North by two and a quarter lengths. Outsider Mitchum Swagger stayed on well to take third a length behind Lord North for Ralph Beckett, with Glen Shiel claiming fourth.