Aidan O’Brien handed John Gosden the trophy to mark his third British trainers’ championship after Cracksman’s emphatic success in the Champion Stakes here on Saturday, and though officially the season does not end until 31 December, there was no point in waiting any longer. Three winners on Champions Day confirmed that Gosden is now as pre-eminent among British trainers as O’Brien has long been in Ireland, and though two of Saturday’s winners are now going to stud, it is easy to see the next generation at Gosden’s stable picking up where the current one left off.
Cracksman had not been seen on a track since his defeat at odds-on in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, but Gosden had him primed to perfection for the last race of his career and with a set of blinkers added for the first time. The four-year-old took a little time to settle, but accelerated six lengths clear of Crystal Ocean once Frankie Dettori gave him his head with two furlongs to run.
Dettori was playing to the crowd as he came past the grandstand with victory already secure for the 5-6 favourite and it is likely to be many years before another horse wins consecutive runnings of the Champion Stakes by a combined total of 13 lengths.
“He was very lethargic in the summer,” Dettori said. “Like one of those ponies of your kids’ that you have to drag everywhere. Cool weather, autumn and a bit of rain and he was back to his best today.
“I was able to put him where I wanted him, usually he makes my life difficult but today I had a beautiful position.
“As the race developed, more and more he came on the bridle, and turning for home, he couldn’t wait to go. When he accelerated, not many horses can do that [on such soft ground], I was able to really enjoy the screams of the crowds in the final furlong and raise my arm in the last 100 yards.”
This was Cracksman’s third Group One win of the season and took Gosden’s prize-money total in Britain to £8,240,761, within sight of O’Brien’s record total of £8.34m last season and almost double the earnings of Sir Michael Stoute, the next British-based trainer in the list, with £4.5m.
With Dettori, Gosden has formed an irresistible partnership over the past four seasons, adding a win in the Derby and three in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and Saturday’s treble on British racing’s most valuable afternoon sealed the best season of his 39 years with a licence.
Gosden’s outstanding stayer Stradivarius, an even-money chance, opened the card with victory in the Group Two Long Distance Cup under a brave ride by Dettori, who worked his way around the inside on the home turn before holding off Thomas Hobson in the closing stages. Dettori’s mount leaned into the runner-up and the rider picked up a three-day ban as a result, but it will not start until the day after he rides Enable, this year’s Arc winner, at the Breeders’ Cup on 3 November.
The bookies were spared a potential catastrophe when Lah Ti Dar, the even-money favourite for the Champions Fillies & Mares’ Stakes, was third behind O’Brien’s Magical, but Gosden still dominated proceedings on Champions Day as few have done in the past as he ended with a 10-1 treble.
“The fillies [Coronet and Lah Ti Dar] ran blinders and Aidan’s was just too good for them,” Gosden said. “How Frankie wriggled through that little Houdini hole on Stradivarius, I don’t know.
“Roaring Lion was beyond brave because he was never enjoying the ground and had the guts to win it. Cracksman had been showing this at home. The vibes have been pretty strong. I just knew that if we focused his mind he would fly, and he flew. When Cracksman is in the zone, he is a very good horse. He is Frankel’s best son and it is good to see him back with a bang.”
Lion roars to QEII victory
Oisin Murphy was close to tears as he was led back to the winner’s enclosure after the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes here as joy mingled with relief and sheer nervous exhaustion.
He had to nurse and coax Roaring Lion over every inch of the straight mile on soft ground that the three-year-old clearly loathed, but Murphy knew that he was on the best horse and made it count as he finally edged ahead of I Can Fly, a 33-1 outsider, to win by a neck.
Roaring Lion will now retire to stud at the end of a sequence of four Group One wins with his versatility underlined by this successful drop back from 10 furlongs to a mile for all that it was hard work throughout. Murphy, meanwhile, has his first Champions Day winner, and in the colours of Sheikh Fahad al-Thani, the owner who retains him.
“I was never on the bridle throughout the race but he wanted it and showed his toughness and resolution,” Murphy said. “What a fantastic stallion he’s going to make.
“I didn’t really get to enjoy it today because it was nip and tuck through the last furlong and my horse had no petrol left. But he stuck his head out and I’m just very relieved we could get the job done.”
John Gosden, Roaring Lion’s trainer, turned to a different kind of horsepower to sum up the performance: “He showed his class, and his jockey showed his class,” he said. “Oisin didn’t panic. He could have panicked at the two and started throwing everything at it, but he nursed and nursed and got him there.
“The horse and he have grown in confidence together. It’s like a motor racing driver with his car, when they get in tune with one another, and he knew that the horse was not travelling at any stage. But he produced him beautifully to win the race.”
Greg Wood’s tips
2.00 Quel Destin 2.30 Tikkinthebox 3.05 Itchy Feet (nap) 3.40 Triple Chief (nb) 4.10 San Benedeto 4.45 One Of Us 5.15 Admiral Barratry
2.10 Iskabeg Lane 2.45 The Lincoln Lawyer 3.20 Absolutely Dylan 3.50 Kajaki 4.25 Easy Street 4.55 Sonic 5.30 Emma Lamb