LION-LIKE ATTITUDE SEES MURPHY ROAR TO FIRST DOMESTIC GROUP 1 SUCCESS
Despite the late absence of Derby hero Masar, the 2018 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown delivered a fantastic horse race with Roaring Lion beating 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior by a neck. In steering John Gosden’s tough grey home, Oisin Murphy bagged a first domestic Group 1 for his current employer Qatar Racing Limited.
Murphy has tasted top-level success internationally over the last two seasons, but winning a ‘home’ Group 1 is now a burden off the 22-year-old’s shoulders. On a lesser scale, Qatar Racing have also relieved some pressure, bagging their first domestic Group 1 since 2015 when Simple Verse won the QIPCO Champion Fillies' & Mares' Stakes at Ascot.
The horse that did it for connections was Roaring Lion, a three-year-old son of Kittens Joy who has done nothing but improve since his disappointing start to the season in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket. John Gosden’s colt took a significant step forward in running fifth in the 2000 Guineas next time out before sparking his season into life with a scintillating four-and-a-half lengths success in the Dante Stakes at York.
Given the ability to travel and turn of foot he showed on the Knavesmire, the Derby test threatened to not show him off at his best; the taxing 12f trip on rain affected terrain had the scope to stretch him to the limits of his stamina and, with hindsight, that’s exactly how it played out when he subsequently ran third in the Derby behind Masar and Dee Ex Bee.
Saturday’s drop to 10f in the Eclipse promised to suit, and in a neck victory over old foe Saxon Warrior, the margin of success underplays his superiority. Having conceded early ground to the runner-up, Roaring Lion would also cover more distance on the Sandown turn into the straight than the entire seven-runner field.
The less than ideal trip didn’t appear to shake the confidence of Oisin Murphy, who never panicked on his mount, although it helped having an inform, willing and classy athlete under him. The ease at which Roaring Lion left multiple Group 1-winning juvenile filly Happily behind half-way up the straight, before tackling her stablemate Saxon Warrior, was impressive.
What also impressed was Roaring Lion’s attitude. They grey is not overly big, but he’s a well-made type with great heart, and it’s this determination that will help him potentially climb the ranks further later in the season.
While I have no doubt the best horse won, the runner-up did take a couple of bumps from the winner in the closing stages of the race. It was disappointing not to see Oisin Murphy try and correct his mount, either through the reins or via his whip, and he was correctly reprimanded by the stewards, receiving a four-day careless riding ban, after a lengthy enquiry.
In finishing second, Saxon Warrior probably increased his stock again after a disappointing run in the Irish Derby just seven days earlier. The son of Deep Impact showed a strong constitution and in going down a neck, didn’t give up the fight.
However, since his impressive 2000 Guineas romp, Aidan O’Brien’s inmate has now been beaten in his three subsequent starts. The potential star of the Classic crop we saw at Newmarket hasn’t materialised, but given he posted an improved effort in the Eclipse down in trip (10f), it suggests he hasn’t been campaigned optimally.
With connections harbouring Triple Crown dreams after Newmarket, and always keen to support their home Derby, that would explain the route taken – the Derby and Irish Derby - since his 2000 Guineas win. Saturday was a step in the right direction and a further drop in distance may see him win another Group 1 in what is an extremely weak older mile division.
The 10f+ category on the other hand is much more competitive with names like Cracksman, Enable and Poet's Word. Derby winner Masar should be respected too, although one would have to think his latest setback is a momentum and progress stopper even should his injury prove minor. For what it’s worth, I fancied him to beat Saturday’s Eclipse field before he was ruled out at the eleventh hour.
Masar’s absence made little difference concerning the clash of the generations, often the most exciting element of the Eclipse every year. In Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, we had two top-class classic generation colts taking on their elders, but despite the presence of Hawkbill, Forest Ranger and Cliffs Of Moher, I’m not sure we learned a lot in terms of generational cross-examination.
Hawkbill is a former Eclipse winner from 2016, but Charlie Appleby’s inmate has been in poor form by his previously lofty standards this season and is better on slower ground. Forest Ranger was last of the seven-strong field, clearly running below par while Cliffs Of Moher finished third. Given he was only beaten 2¾ lengths, despite giving the field a sizable head start - taking no interest in racing as soon as the gates opened - it would suggest this form is nothing to go overboard with.
Alpha Centauri aside, little has got the pulse racing from the three-year-old crop so far this campaign, but at least Roaring Lion is improving and Saxon Warrior is getting back on track while we can only hope to hear positive news about Masar in the coming days.