It was supposed to be little more than a paid piece of exercise, but in the end So You Think had to work for victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown yesterday evening. It was by only half a length that the imposing black five-year-old repelled the gallant filly Snow Fairy to take the £377,826 prize for Ireland's premier 10-furlong contest. Still, earnings of about £2,000 a stride as a shake-down before a tilt at even more valuable prizes later in the autumn can count as a good night's work.
So You Think, the pride of Australia before his transfer to Ballydoyle and the Coolmore partners' colours for this year's Northern Hemisphere campaign, swept past his pacemaker Roderic O'Connor after the turn to the straight with just the contempt that a seven-time top-level winner and 1-4 favourite should display.
Rider Seamie Heffernan was almost motionless at that point, but had to get animated as Snow Fairy – another top-class globetrotter – delivered a spirited and determined challenge under Frankie Dettori through the final furlong. So You Think, though, has determination as well as class – as he showed when defeating Workforce in the Eclipse Stakes two months ago on his previous outing – and Aidan O'Brien's seventh victory in the Group 1 race was secure.
"It was a long time since he'd run, and we were a bit worried about that," said O'Brien, "and we knew he'd be there to be shot at and that Snow Fairy would stalk. But he was very professional when she put it up to him."
So You Think is among the favourites for next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but Coolmore boss John Magnier is keeping options open, one of them thoroughly tantalising. "He's the kind of horse that spoils you for choice," said Magnier. "There is the Arc, but there's also the races at Ascot, the mile race or the mile and a quarter. But a return down under is not imminent." The 'mile race' is the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on the inaugural Qipco Champions Day in October, which would involve a clash with mighty Frankel.
Snow Fairy, six lengths clear of Famous Name, bounced back to the form that brought her four top-level victories, including in Japan and Hong Kong. "I'm very proud," said trainer Ed Dunlop. "Arguably, that was the best run of her life."
The six Group 1 sprints run in Europe so far have not revealed a clear-cut champion but the best of a closely matched bunch is probably Dream Ahead, who yesterday afternoon became the first to win two at the top level this term when he added the Sprint Cup at Haydock to his July Cup.
But only just; as at Newmarket, the runner-up was Bated Breath, though just a nose behind this time, rather than half a length. And only a head adrift came Hoof It.
Tall, muscular Dream Ahead, who dwarfs most of his rivals physically, may well be the nearest equine embodiment of Usain Bolt, but one thing the big dark brown colt lacks is the 200 metres world champion's co-ordination and concentration. And it nearly cost him yesterday's Betfred-sponsored £133,722 prize.
While he was chasing the pace, Dream Ahead, the 4-1 favourite, was patently going best of all, galloping smoothly and powerfully. But once William Buick sent him past Wootton Bassett and Sole Power and into the lead inside the last quarter of a mile, he began – not for the first time – to veer this way and that.
A swerve in the last half-furlong across Hoof It prompted an inquiry by the stewards, but the finishing order remained unchanged. "If he'd got beat," said Buick, "I would have had to say to him 'you threw it away'. But he did hold on. He's got a big head and that must help in a photo-finish."
The first three all drew a line under previous disappointments. Dream Ahead, trained by David Simcock in Newmarket had flopped at even–money behind Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville. "After France we were scratching our heads," said Simcock, "so this has been a massive relief."
Bated Breath's defeat was offset by two items of solace for owner Khaled Abdullah. In the morning in Newmarket, his St Leger favourite Sea Moon produced a stunning workout ahead of Saturday's final Classic. In the evening at Leopardstown, the filly Emulous saw off the Ballydoyle pair Together and Misty For Me to notch her first Group 1 success in the Matron stakes.