There have been some near misses, but yesterday, at last, Pride came before all. The mare from Chantilly produced a scintillating display to take the Champion Stakes by an easy three lengths, a year after finishing second in the same Group One feature and 13 days after her narrow defeat in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Jockey Christophe Lemaire went past the post with his forefinger raised in the time-honoured number one gesture and it is difficult to disagree with his assessment of the six-year-old.
Behind her, Rob Roy belied his 20-1 starting price as he proved best of the trio from the Sir Michael Stoute yard, a head in front of Hurricane Run. Sir Percy, running for the first time since winning the Derby, was an abject disappointment, beating only one home. "I thought it might be easy," said Lemaire, "but not that easy." The key to Pride, who has now won eight of her 25 starts and nearly £1.5 million for her owner-breeder Sven Hanson, is the ground. She has a prejudice against fast underfoot conditions and although the sky was bright and the air warm yesterday, the rain had done enough for her earlier in the week.
Viewed from ground level by the winning post, the straight, undulating 10 furlongs here has a barely visible vanishing point. As the eight runners broke from the stalls as a tiny, distant speck, the 9-4 favourite Hurricane Run took on the trailblazing role. Lemaire kept Pride towards the back of the pack, behind Sir Percy.
The group of horses, galloping down the centre of the track, came into focus, acquired individual identities. For a stride, the pale mauve jacket worn by Martin Dwyer on Sir Percy was in front, but only for a stride, and the roar from the stands for the Epsom hero died in so many throats. Then it was apparent that one entity had detached itself from the rest and Pride danced up the hill with her ears pricked.
"I was confident all the way," added Lemaire, "I was always travelling well behind Sir Percy, and he did a good job for us, kept going long enough. I pulled her out 300 metres from the line and she immediately came on the bridle. She is a delight. She is only small, but she is well made and rides like a much bigger horse. In the past she has been difficult, she used to get anxious and pull, but this year she has grown up in her mind and is very relaxed, a complete professional. When she gets her ground she is very tough to beat but today she was quite magnificent. And bravo to the team who got her here. To bring a horse back to 100 per cent after a tough race like the Arc is some achievement." Pride is trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre. "Maybe," he said, "I at last understand her, now that she is six." The mare was, in fact, the oldest post-war winner of the Champion Stakes.
One man dominated the part of the day devoted to the teenage equine athletes, the stars of the future. Teofilo, the colt, and Finsceal Beo, the filly, both hail from Jim Bolger's Kilcullen yard in Co Kildare and both produced remarkable performances.
The Dewhurst Stakes had been perceived as a match between Teofilo and his old rival Holy Roman Emperor, from Ballydoyle, and so it proved. Teofilo led before the furlong marker; Holy Roman Emperor, after some traffic problems, joined battle and poked his nose in front. But Teofilo packs some punch and landed the knockout blow to prevail by a head in the final stride. The pair were two an a half-lengths clear of the highly regarded Strategic Prince.
Bolger and Aidan O'Brien, Holy Roman Emperor's trainer, walked out together to welcome the protagonists, vying for favouritsim for next year's 2,000 Guineas. "Game still on," said O'Brien, with a twinkle in his eye. For Teofilo, the Triple Crown has been mooted. "I hope he'll come back for the Guineas," said Bolger, "But you won't see the true horse until he goes over a mile and a half. He's improving all the time; he eats, sleeps and majors in temperament, he just doesn't do worry." Finsceal Beo, carrying her Group 1 penalty for winning the Prix Marcel Boussac, ran right away from her rivals in the Rockfel Stakes and, all being well, will be back for the 1,000 Guineas in the spring.
Earlier, Jamie Spencer completed the Autumn Double, adding the Cesarewitch on favourite Detroit City to his Cambridegshire on Formal Decree.
BETS OF THE DAY
Giveusaclue (Carlisle, 5.15) can build on his first, apprentice-ridden, appearance and cap a good day for his in-form yard.
Stoutly bred Ambition Royal (Carlisle, 4.40) will strip fitter after his recent seasonal debut, and the marked step up in trip should help.