Had his career taken a conventional route, Wicklow Brave may well have been spending Champions’ Weekend Sunday limbering up for this week’s Listowel festival, but convention would be far too restrictive for all-conquering, globe-trotting trainer Willie Mullins, who saddled the now seven-year-old, winner of a bumper at the Kerry venue in 2013, to land in the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger at the Curragh.
In anticipation of a Sunday stroll for reigning champ Order Of St George, a paltry four-runner field went to the start for the €400,000 feature, but such numerically challenged contests can turn into tactical affairs, and in such circumstances who better to call upon than evergreen rider Frankie Dettori?
Aboard the 11-1 chance, without a win since a qualified riders’ race at Listowel in May of last year, Dettori set out to make the running, and was allowed to do so unchallenged.
A master on the front-end, as evidenced on numerous occasions, including aboard Galileo Gold in the St James Palace Stakes earlier this season, the 45-year-old rider upped the tempo off the final bend, and immediately had 1-7 favourite Order Of St George in trouble. Making ground as a gale blew across the track was never going to be easy and, try as he did, the market leader could not get to Wicklow Brave, who pulled out extra close home to secure victory.
Not only was it a blow to connections of Order Of St George, but also to the holder of the one remaining Pick 6 ticket, which would have earned a gross pool of €432,400.
It was a second classic winner for the Dettori-Mullins family partnershil, after the Italian rode Vintage Tipple, trained by Willie’s late father, Paddy, to win the 2003 Darley Irish Oaks at this venue.
We expect Ruby Walsh to be in the saddle on the big days for the Closutton stable and, while participating in classics stretches beyond his remit, Mullins revealed the champion jump jockey had a hand in this success.
“Ruby was riding Westerner Lady in Listowel and I just asked him had he a minute to talk about Wicklow Brave, and what tactics we would use for him,” explained Mullins. “Ruby had ridden his last piece of work and said to me he didn’t think there was anything there to make the running, so why not make it. I said ‘you know what, that’ll be plan A’.
“And, for luck, no-one wanted to make it. It worked out fantastically. And Frankie was fantastic - as he always is.”
The future holds a trip to the Melbourne Cup for the winner.
Dettori, seldom short of a word, was clearly surprised at the result.
“I didn’t expect it ... honestly,” insisted the former champion jockey of Britain. “He was very brave, and Willie gave me free rein to go to the front and do my stuff. I was quite surprised I didn’t hear anybody coming until the furlong pole, but we ground it out until the end.
“In most of the races today it paid off to be close to the pace, and we were in the perfect spot.”
Having enjoyed his first winner with Justice Frederick in June, Joseph O’Brien has made giant strides in his short time as a licenced trainer, and Intricately gave him, and younger brother Donnacha, their breakthrough success at the top level when touching off Hydrangea in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
Second early, she moved upsides Hydrangea two out, and, in a finish of bobbing heads, was shown to have put her nose on the line ever so marginally in front of the filly trained by Joseph’s father, Aidan.
Coincidentally, it was on this card, 20 years ago, that O’Brien senior secured his first Group 1 victory, when Desert King won the National Stakes, a race which, yesterday afternoon, he won for the tenth time when Churchill stormed clear of British raider Mehmas.
“I love him, I love everything about him,” gushed the Ballydoyle maestro. “He’s sleepy, he’s lazy and he loves to be battling. He was snookered today, cornered between two, so he had every chance to quit and all he did was shrug him off and away he went.
“He’s a very exciting horse. He settles, he quickens … I thought he went like a real miler but Ryan (Moore) was very adamant
that a mile-an-a-quarter would be no problem. He’s very idle when he gets there but when Frankie came and lay in on him, it woke him up and that’s what he wanted.”
A typically accomplished ride from Pat Smullen earned an all-the-way victory in the Group 2 Moyglare ‘Jewels’ Blandford Stakes on the Dermot Weld-trained Shamreen, whose next target is the Prix de l’Opera.
Referring to stable star Harzand, who finished unplaced in Saturday’s Champion Stakes, Weld said: “He got badly chopped down. I haven’t had a chance to review it, but he’s pretty sore this morning, and lame. I thought it was a brave performance, considering. We’ll see how he is before we make a decision (about the Arc).”
There was an upset in the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five when the Ger Lyons-trained Ardhoomey (16-1), ridden by Colin Keane, got the better of Washington DC.
Talking to the assembled press, Lyons said: “You guys stand around the trainer wanting to know, but we haven’t a clue! I didn’t want to run that horse.
We were adamant, because of his issues, that he wants top of the ground so we were hoping that no more rain would fall. We’ll see him in the big races on fast ground in England next year. The dream is still alive.”
In autumnal conditions, the crowd was, unsurprisingly, down on last year, with 9,255, compared to 10,343.
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