Declan Rix

Declan Rix talks the St Leger, Irish Champions Stakes and National Stakes in this week's column after a brilliant four days at Doncaster and Irish Champions Weekend.

  • Monday 16 September
  • Blog
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After four days at Doncaster for the St Leger Festival and two days on the Emerald Isle for Irish Champions Weekend, there were any amount of talking points that could’ve been covered. From brilliant juveniles to top-class staying performances, below are what stood out most for me.

CLASSY LOGICIAN A BUDDING 2020 MIDDLE-DISTANCE STAR AFTER LEGER ROMP

John Gosden’s strapping grey Logician ran out a comfortable and exciting winner of the William Hill St Leger Stakes on Saturday, putting 2¼ lengths back to the runner-up, Sir Ron Priestley. The well-backed 5/6 favourite stamped his class on the field under Frankie Dettori, breaking the track record and opening the door for what could be a dreamy 2020.

As the winning distance suggests, backers of the unbeaten-in-five colt had little to worry about in the closing stages of the 1m6.5f contest; although, the opening furlong got off to a less than ideal start. Having jumped swiftly from the stalls, Logician was nearly in front running keen; not ideal tackling a proper staying trip for the first time.

The son of Frankel proved to be beautifully tractable under his master Italian rider however, consenting to race more kindly, dropping back through the field, getting a lead and cover but still going with an infectious enthusiasm.

While a big brute of a horse that wouldn’t look out of place at a Cheltenham Festival, there is an intelligent and laidback demeanour about Logician, among his raw power. Said to be a relaxed and placid horse at home, these are characteristics that will allow this beautiful grey to fulfil whatever potential he may have.

For many, I suspect that potential is high, although it has to be recognised we are already dealing with a top-class horse, but a top-class horse with significant scope for more, and that makes the Juddmonte Farms-bred exciting.

A horse pushing the 120-rated barrier at three with the physique, pedigree and trainer to get better, Logician will keep those at Clarehaven Stables warm over the winter, in the knowledge that there will be no Crystal Ocean or Enable to fend off in the top-class 12f contests.

The route Khalid Abdullah and John Gosden take next season, all being well, will be interesting, because Logician doesn’t look the type of horse, on current evidence, that will have the versatility of a Crystal Ocean or Enable in competing with the best over 10f.

Twelve furlongs will prove to be the grey’s optimum, leaving races like the Coronation Cup, the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as prime Group 1 targets, but the first-named comes relatively early in the season at Epsom, a course that could potentially see Logician all at sea.

Crystal Ocean has used the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes (12f) at Newbury as a stepping stone to the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, in building to a King George and that may well be how connections go with Logician.

I am obviously guessing, but it will be interesting to see what route connections take in maximising the abilities of this handsome grey. Despite the likely retirement of his stablemate Enable, the famous Juddmonte silks will still be ably represented in the 12f division in 2020.

MAGICAL BALLYDOYLE TACTICS AID IN CHAMPION VICTORY

A well-made tactical plan helped Magical to dominate in the closing stages of Saturday’s Group 1 QIPCO Irish Champions Stakes, the four-year-old mare going on to record a dominate 2¼ lengths victory over stablemates Magic Wand and Anthony Van Dyck, giving trainer Aidan O’Brien an incredible 1-2-3.

Off what were maybe slack Group 1 fractions, Ryan Moore bounced his uncomplicated mount into second behind the pace-setting Hunting Horn. From quite early in the race, Magical was in pole position from a tactical point of view. Go hard, her class and stamina over further will kick in. Go slack, she’s in the best tactical position and the best horse in the race.

The resources that Ballydoyle have in being able to shape races like this is a significant advantage and where the Irish Champion Stakes is concerned, they made no mistake. Yes, Magical was the best horse in the race, but going into the contest I had felt she could potentially be vulnerable on quick ground over 10f.

We saw earlier in the campaign she was out of her comfort zone in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, albeit against Enable, but with John Gosden’s stable star skipping Leopardstown, along with Crystal Ocean, Saturday’s race was in some ways a drop in class.

Magical wins the Irish Champion Stakes
Magical (right) coming clear of Magic Wand (left) and Anthony Van Dyck (centre)

While the case, Sandown over 10f is a stiffer test of stamina compared to Leopardstown and with me being confident Magical is at her peak over 12f, I felt at the prices she was worth taking on. In the end, it was Japan’s first ever runner in Ireland, the mare Deirdre who took my each-way money at 14/1.

I still can’t believe how I didn’t at least make a small profit from the bet; Deirdre was a pretty luckless fourth and should’ve at least been second, especially when you consider she looked on fantastic terms with herself, travelling strongly throughout and into the straight.

It’s not a ride Oisin Murphy will look back on with great fondness, but the fine Ballydoyle tactics contributed in forming a traffic jam up the straight, of which Magical was clear of. It looked sublime tactical work from Ryan Moore and co. 

Runner-up Magic Wand got right back to her very best here, building on her effort in the Arlington Million and will now be of interest going forward, granted quick ground, for races like the Prix de l'Opera Longines on Arc weekend and the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders’ Cup.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf could well see Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck get back into the Grade 1 winners’ enclosure, the son of Galileo running a career best here, for me, a pound better than his Derby victory.

In terms of Magical, this win tees her up perfectly for a crack at the Arc.

FREAKISH PINATUBO ANNIHILATES NATIONAL STAKES RIVALS

The performance of the weekend came in the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday, when Charlie Appleby’s Pinatubo blitzed his rivals by a monster 9 lengths. Over 7f on quick ground, that is a colossal margin of victory from what is a monster juvenile.

I choose those words wisely, because too often in sport we get far too excited, too early – sport has become depressingly short-termism or I depressingly grumpy – but if none of us can’t dote on potentially seeing Flat racing’s next superstar, after that performance, then we are in the wrong game.

Literally everything about the son of Shamardal’s victory stacks up; the form, the time, the sectionals and the visuals. What we saw on Sunday was simply breath-taking. Timeform have given the colt a rating of 134, meaning his sits ahead of the likes of Xaar (132), Armiger (130), Dream Ahead (129) and Frankel (128), and only behind Celtic Swing (138), in their respective juvenile careers of the modern era.

The Dewhurst is said to be next for the Godolphin-owned horse, but understandably thoughts are already looking to 2020 and the 2000 Guineas. On what we saw in the National Stakes, all being well, if Pinatubo doesn’t win the 2000 Guineas it will be a huge disappointment.

I don’t mean to put pressure on Charlie Appleby and his team saying that, but such is the level the unbeaten-in-five juvenile is already at, the likelihood is Pinatubo wouldn’t need to improve to win the first Classic of next season, although he does need to prove he stays a mile.

Given how precocious Appleby’s inmate is, you can be sure the chasing pack will close the distance over the winter months, but will it be enough? Going forward, it is natural for us to wonder if Pinatubo will “train on”, but that phrase likely has a different meaning to different people.

I have given Pinatubo a rating of 125, if in 2020, granted favourable conditions over ~7f, he couldn’t perform within 6-7lb of that level, I’d consider he hasn’t “trained on”, but hopefully this isn’t a conversation we as racing fans will be having.

It would be funny, for example, if Pinatubo won the 2000 Guineas running to 115 but then I considered a Classic winner to not have trained on! The whole “training on” conversation is an interesting one and people will have different views. Those are mine.

In the meantime, let’s hope Pinatubo continues his rise to stardom. We are dealing with a very rare commodity, who looks machine-like, but we have to remember we are dealing with flesh and blood, an animal, and who knows how it will all play out.

Let’s hope he’s our next star. You can never have enough of those.

Declan Rix
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