Sunday 21 January 2018

Oz trip earned by Brave deed

Shock win by Mullins horse over favourite in St Leger means a shot at Melbourne Cup

Frankie Dettori celebrates after his horse Wicklow Brave gets the better of Order Of St George in the Irish St Leger
Frankie Dettori celebrates after his horse Wicklow Brave gets the better of Order Of St George in the Irish St Leger

Some of the equine stars past and present of the National Hunt game were on parade at the Curragh yesterday, but so to was the champion trainer of that sphere, as Willie Mullins caused a massive surprise by saddling Wicklow Brave to victory in the Irish St Leger.

A field of just four runners went to post, but there was high drama as the 11/1 shot, ridden by Frankie Dettori, made most of the running to deny last year's winner and the highest-rated horse in Ireland, Order Of St George, by half a length.

Order Of St George was sent off the 1/7 favourite, but on the day was just no match for Wicklow Brave, who incidentally three years ago won the bumper at the Listowel Harvest Festival, which began yesterday. The horse is now Melbourne Cup bound, according to the trainer.

"I think the pace of the Melbourne Cup will suit him and he goes on the ground," a thrilled Mullins said.

"His owner, Nick Peacock, said to me to do whatever I could to get him to Melbourne as he is probably going to be the last horse he owns to go down there, so we are on our way."

Aidan O'Brien could offer no excuses for the runner-up.

"He's run a good race and just got beat. We'll get our breath back after today and make a plan after that."

It was still a day to remember for the O'Brien family as 20 years after Aidan saddled his first Group One win in the National Stakes, his son Joseph saddled his first as a trainer, ridden by his 18-year-old brother, Donnacha.

As a jockey, Joseph O'Brien won 31 Group One races, the last of which was on day two of Irish Champions Weekend a year ago, but 12 months later the 23-year-old sent out Intricately to win the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

Unheralded before the race as a 25/1 shot, Intricately just got up to claim the Group One honours under Donnacha O'Brien, the claiming apprentice enjoying his first Group One success, and beating their father's Hydrangea by a shorthead.

"I never thought she got up," admitted the winning trainer afterwards, who was surprised that his charge could be sent off at such big odds.

"She had run well in two trials for this race and was less than a length and a half off the favourites in two of her runs, so I couldn't believe what price she was."


Making the comparison of training the Group One winners as opposed to riding them, O'Brien added: "It's ten times more enjoyable training a Group One winner. A lot of work goes into each individual horse every day."

The master of Ballydoyle wasn't going to leave Champions Weekend without a Group One success and his came courtesy of what looks to be a very special two-year-old, as Churchill continued on his winning ways with an emphatic win in the National Stakes.

At one stage it looked as if Mehmas was going to put it up to him, but Churchill quickly put the contest to bed, sprinting away in the last furlong to win by four-and-a-quarter lengths.

"You'd just love him," O'Brien enthused. "Frankie's horse (Mehmas) just leaned in on him and gave him a bump and it woke him up. He'd every chance to give in, but he just shrugged them off and away he went."

O'Brien added: "Ryan said he would have no problem going a mile and a quarter next year, but he's a horse that doesn't have to because he has so much speed. We always viewed him as a Guineas horse.

"I don't know if we'll go again, or not, this season. He doesn't have to, but we'll chat to the lads and see what happens."

Dermot Weld was among the winners as Shamreen won the Group Two Blandford Stakes and the Epsom Derby winning trainer had an update on Harzand, following his exploits in the Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday.

"Harzand got badly chopped down and is pretty sore and lame on his right hind leg," Weld reported. "I haven't had a chance to review the race, but I spoke to the stewards today and they have told me that the incident is very clear and I thought it was quite a brave performance by the horse considering what had happened so early in the race."

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe remains very much the target for Harzand, but Weld insisted: "We'll just see how he is next week before we make any definite plans."

A crowd of over 23,000 attended Irish Champions Weekend, which saw 14 trainers enjoy winners across the 16 races and while more has to be done, it is a weekend that is certainly working.

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