There is a tale told that Aidan O'Brien was overheard on his mobile phone at the racecourse one day. "Hello Joseph," he said, "can you let me speak to Mary?" Of course, he was talking to his children, but you feel that a man whose charges enjoy the sort of fortune that enabled High Chaparral to win and then keep the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown yesterday may indeed have a hotline to heaven.
But then, luck is supposed to be made, not granted from above, and Mick Kinane, oft-criticised lately, rode a thoughtful race on last year's Derby winner round the tricky, turning Foxrock track. The Ballydoyle pacemaker France set a true gallop in front of Moon Ballad; Kinane played the percentages, keeping close to the pace and the favourite, Alamshar, between himself and the infield rail.
As Moon Ballad led into the short straight space, even though there were only five horses in contention, was suddenly at a premium. A furlong out, High Chaparral became the tip of the arrow; just behind him to his right Moon Ballad's blinkered head was going up and Alamshar was failing to quicken through a gap along the fence while behind Islington, from off the pace, had grabbed the outside pitch, with Falbrav going strongly but trapped in the leader's wake and Darryll Holland, in his saddle, desperately looking for escape.
When it came, it was too little, too late. Ten strides out Moon Ballad and Alamshar faded just enough to enable Holland to send Falbrav diving towards daylight on the far rail but as he did High Chaparral drifted that way, compromising his progress if not by contact then certainly inhibition. Falbrav finished full of running but a neck down, with Islington, who had maintained a straight course, only a head behind. Alamshar was fourth and Moon Ballad a close fifth.
A lengthy stewards' inquiry and an objection by Holland had no effect on the result. "We think we were the moral winner," said the runner-up's trainer, Luca Cumani, "but that doesn't put bread on the table."
It was the ninth victory from 11 starts for High Chaparral, and the fifth at Group One level, rewarding a fine training performance on a colt who has been beset with physical problems for most of the year and was running on ground firmer than ideal. The son of Sadler's Wells is now 7-2 favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which he was third last year before winning the Breeders' Cup Turf. "He may have won only narrowly today," O'Brien said, "but he's a horse who does what he has to do and no more."
The rain may have missed Co Dublin, but as it drifted across Haydock so did the price of the hot favourite for the Sprint Cup, Oasis Dream, and the market proved a reliable seer. Once the chips were down through the final furlong Oasis Dream, who started at 8-11, floundered on the softened ground and had to settle for second place, a length and a quarter behind confirmed mudlark Somnus. Airwave, also unhappy with underfoot conditions, came in a creditable third, three-quarters of a length adrift.
As a two-year-old Somnus was near the top of the tree without ever contesting a Group race but, as a gelding, was never going to be considered a Classic aspirant. It took him until July to get off the mark this term and yesterday's contest was his first race at the top level, but he relished the underfoot conditions to power to a decisive victory under Ted Durcan.
Until yesterday the ground had been fast in Lancashire and the winning trainer, Tim Easterby, had been in two minds about running his charge, but an observation from his father, Peter, and a certain amount of trust in the fates convinced him to do so.
"Father saw him work on Wednesday morning," the trainer said, "and he said, 'by heck, that Somnus can gallop'. The horse does go on quick ground, but he's a lot better on soft. I wasn't going to declare him but I left him in and hoped it rained. And it did."
It was a second Sprint Cup success for Tim Easterby, after another mud-lover, Pipalong, three years ago. "Soft ground was the answer for her, just as it's the key to Somnus," he added.
Oasis Dream may have failed to join Habibti, Ajdal and Dayjur as a winner of Britain's longest-standing Group One sprints but will try to put the record straight in France's flyers' feature, the Prix de l'Abbaye on Arc day. "The original plan was to go for the Abbaye and then the Breeders' Cup Mile, and nothing has happened to change that," said Teddy Beckett, racing manager to the three-year-old's owner, Khaled Abdullah. "We did not know if he would handle ground like today's, because he'd not raced on it before. Perhaps it wasn't the best time to find out."Reuse content