Sky’s the limit now as Free Eagle takes flight

You’d imagine that just about anything is now possible as far as Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle is concerned for the rest of the season.

Sky’s the limit now as Free Eagle takes flight

He may have only landed his first ever Group 1, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, by a short head from the Grey Gatsby at Royal Ascot on Wednesday, but it was a stunning display by the son of High Chaparral.

There is little doubt that Free Eagle has been difficult to train, this was only his fifth ever outing, but there is nothing delicate about him when hitting the track.

To do what he did on Wednesday, even if a little lucky, doesn’t half augur well for the four-year-old going forward.

Maybe, the Grey Gatsby would have nailed him with a clear run, but he has developed into a bit of a character and I doubt will ever get anywhere near Free Eagle again.

Free Eagle, of course, was deprived of challenging for last year’s Epsom Derby because of injury and didn’t make his seasonal debut until strolling away with a Group 3 at Leopardstown in September.

But it was his subsequent effort at Ascot in October, in the Champion Stakes, which revealed that this was a serious machine.

He was beaten a neck and a length and a quarter into third behind two battle-hardened older horses in Noble Mission and Al Kazeem.

The bare form was nothing to be getting too excited about, but it was the manner in which the relatively inexperienced Free Eagle stuck to his task in the straight, on unfavourable heavy ground, that was so impressive.

Then, of course, he has to miss his intended reappearance at the Curragh last month and so headed to Ascot without a prep run and absent for 242 days.

On the back of that it might have been anticipated Free Eagle would be a drifter in the market, but such thinking was miles off target.

He left the gate as one of the best backed horses of the week and landed the wagers, despite tiring somewhat through the final hundred yards.

Free Eagle is by High Chaparral, who was an exceptional racehorse and a son of the legendary Sadler’s Wells. High Chaparral was a six times Group 1 winner, which included the Epsom Derby and the Irish equivalent.

It is probably fair to say he was a far better racehorse than stallion and died last December at the age of 15.

In Free Eagle, however, he has produced something particularly exciting and there seems no doubt that both Weld and jockey, Pat Smullen, have the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe very much in their sights.

Hopefully, Free Eagle will remain fit and well through the campaign and, if you were with him on Wednesday, you will surely want the horse on your side no matter where he turns up in the coming months.

*******

Well, there is no doubt that Gleneagles is the best three-year-old miler in Europe - and by a fair way to boot.

Brilliant winner of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he made less of an impression, on a rain-softened surface, when taking the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh.

But back on fast ground at Ascot on Tuesday, in the St James’ Palace Stakes, he showed his true colours with a smooth performance.

Gleneagles has so much class and speed and, unlike most horses, sweating before a race, often profusely, is almost a prerequisite to success.

We now know that he is very good indeed, but will only find out for sure just how good when he takes on the older horses.

He was one of many success stories this week for Aidan O’Brien and we can only continue to marvel at what an extraordinary trainer this man is.

*******

Many of us thought Jim Bolger’s Round Two was one of the bets of the week, in Tuesday’s Coventry Stakes.

To see him run no sort of race, trailing home a bad seventh behind Buratino, was a bitter, and costly, pill to swallow.

As a son of Teofilo the lightning fast ground should have been in his favour but, you suspect, that was far from the case.

He had been very impressive in both his wins in Ireland, but they came with cut in the ground.

Perhaps, he will always want some give underfoot, or did we just simply completely overrate him? Surely not!

The plot thickened, however, later on Tuesday when Washington DC, outclassed by Round Two at the Curragh previously, landed the Windsor Castle Stakes. This game would, indeed, tame lions.

******

I have to smile when reading regular criticism of Channel 4’s coverage of English racing.

Watching their Royal Ascot performance this week, you would have to conclude they do a bloody good job and provide a terrific terrestrial service to the game.

Yes, they do have a presenter, or two, more than capable of asking the most banal of questions, but overall the coverage was rather good.

Brian Gleeson’s interview with the little old lady, who celebrates her 100th birthday later this month, was priceless.

His sensitivity and Irish brogue got the very best out of her and, as a result, she wasn’t found wanting.

It was good television, and no I am not going soft!

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