On Champions' Day here yesterday the fixture's title proved more about the human part of any equation than the equine. One master trainer, Henry Cecil, took the day's senior centrepiece, the Champion Stakes, with Twice Over and another, Aidan O'Brien, made the juvenile feature, the Dewhurst Stakes, his own by saddling the winner Beethoven, the second and the fourth. But any horse present was always going to be in the shadow cast in absence by the season's giant, Sea The Stars.
Cecil has been champion of his profession 10 times and, despite a dip in fortunes by his own high standards in recent seasons, remains steadfastly in the public's affection and the emotionally charged reception he was given as he welcomed Twice Over and rider Tom Queally into the winner's circle was straight from so many hearts. It is well- documented that locally-based Cecil, 66, is gravely ill with cancer.
"It's something special riding a big winner here for the boss," said Queally, "I could hear the cheers starting well before I came in."
Twice Over, a 14-1 shot, gave the trainer his 95th top-level victory, a sequence that started with Wolver Hollow in the Eclipse 40 years ago, and his third success in the Champion Stakes after Indian Skimmer (1988) and Bosra Sham (1996). Always close to the pace, the colt forged to the front inside the final quarter-mile of the 10-furlong contest and ran home stoutly to see off Mawatheeq by half a length. The stewards rightly dismissed an objection to the winner for interference by Richard Hills, rider of the runner-up.
Twice Over, a four-year-old son of Observatory, races for Khaled Abdullah, one of Cecil's most loyal supporters during his recent leaner times and, although no champion by any yardstick, was not winning a Group One out of turn. Indeed, his three previous placings in the grade included second in this race last year, albeit trounced six lengths by New Approach.
"He's a better horse than he was last year, getting better with age," said Cecil. "But it doesn't matter how good a horse is, he's got to enjoy his job mentally to do it, and we've brought him along gradually to this day. We all need confidence to get through, don't we? And he's got his back."
According to the Dewhurst Stakes betting, Beethoven, at 33-1, was O'Brien's third string of four, but the master of Ballydoyle was more open-minded than the market about the relative talents of his quartet. "This is why we run them in these races, to find out," he said. "You can't know everything from homework. And what happens one day on the track won't necessarily happen the next day." This time, Beethoven, ridden to perfection by Ryan Moore, came out best, a neck in front of 20-1 shot Fencing Master, with early leader Steinbeck, at 4-1, not much further behind in fourth. The interloper, the Clive Cox-trained Xtension, lost second spot by a nose.
Beethoven, like Fencing Master a son of former Ballydoyle inmate Oratorio, was an all-round family triumph. The colt is not only trained by O'Brien but also bred by him, in partnership with his wife Anne-Marie, and wore a visor for the first time on the advice of their eldest son Joseph, who rides him in his work.
The headgear may have made the difference as Beethoven found a sparky change of gear to get in front when it mattered. "He was always travelling well," said Moore, "and he was actually going away at the end."
Beethoven has now had 10 runs and may not yet have finished his campaign, with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile pencilled in. "He's very tough," said O'Brien, "and although his form figures hadn't reflected it, he's been progressing all the time, just like his dad. We felt there was more in there, hence the visor to sharpen him up."
Despite yesterday's result, the market for the 2,000 Guineas still favours Steinbeck, whose only previous outing had come back in May, over Beethoven. "We were delighted with him," said O'Brien of the handsome son of Footstepsinthesand. "In an ideal world he would have got a lead but he was out of the stalls so quick Johnny [Murtagh] had to let him run."
Though the Dewhurst was a bookmakers' benefit, punters had it right in the Cesarewitch as 9-2 favourite Darley Sun, trained by David Simcock, cruised home by five lengths from his 31 rivals to give apprentice Andrea Atzeni his biggest day.Reuse content