Certain triumphs will always stand out above others and James Doyle will never forget the day Noble Mission emulated his superstar brother Frankel in the 2014 Champion Stakes at Ascot.
Having lived much of his career in the shadow of the 10-times Group One winner, the son of Galileo finally gained the recognition he deserved when ending his career with victory in the same Group One contest his illustrious brother had claimed on his final start in 2012.
Any victory at the top level is special, but this one was made all the more poignant as it came a year after Noble Mission and Frankel’s trainer, the great Sir Henry Cecil, lost his brave battle with cancer.
Doyle – one of the stars of the saddle this season – said: “It was a hugely important win for me and I won three Group One races on Noble Mission that season.
“It was quite an emotional day, winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot, as it was a two years after Frankel won the race.
“It is very tough when you have to follow in the hoofprints of Frankel, but Noble Mission was a champion in his own right, for sure.
“It is 100 per cent definitely a day I won’t forget. Walking back everyone seemed to be happy – but in tears at the same time. It was without doubt a very special day.”
While Frankel entered the mile-and-a-quarter prize on the back of an emphatic seven-length success in the Juddmonte International at York, it was a very different story for Noble Mission, who turned up on the back of a surprise odds-on defeat in a German Group One.
Despite being sent off a fourth-choice 7-1 shot behind 2011 winner Cirrus Des Aigles, there was an air of optimism in the corner of the Lady Cecil-trained runner that the defeat in Germany could be forgotten – with no one more confident than Doyle.
He said: “It was atrocious ground and they were talking about changing the track and whether to go on the jumps track. It was not so much a worry, as we were confident our fellow would handle the deep ground.
“We changed the hood on him. He used to wear a silicone one, but we changed it to a very fine material and although it probably still felt like a hood he could hear a bit more and it was quite a good idea by Lady Cecil and George Scott, who was her assistant at the time.”
Over the years Ascot has hosted some of the most memorable finishes seen on a British racetrack, and this was to be another with Noble Mission getting the better of a pulsating battle with multiple Group One winner Al Kazeem by a neck.
Recounting the race, Doyle said: “The way the race panned out was very straightforward. He was a pretty straightforward ride, as he liked to bowl along and use that big stride he had.
“We waited a bit longer on him than in previous races, as he pulled up a couple of times in front, including in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud when he was about three lengths clear.
“He jumped well from a wide draw and ended up leading early in the race, then he had that good old tussle with Al Kazeem down the straight.
“It really was a ding-dong battle, but Noble Mission was a proper grinder. He did have a turn of foot, but ultimately he had a stride that made him hard to peg back. He kept plugging away and toughed it out very well.”
That final season for Noble Mission proved to be his best after claiming three Group One victories – but it could have ended differently had it not been for the input of his owner and breeder, Prince Khalid Abdullah.
Doyle added: “It was Prince Khalid’s idea to try to make the running on him. The first time I rode him was in the Prix Dollar on Arc weekend the previous year. The plan from a low draw was to make all the running, but he missed the break that day.
“At Newbury on his first run of the next season he did the same, but then on his next start he managed to get out in front. Prince Khalid’s idea to make the running was definitely career-changing for the horse.”
In every valiant battle there has to be a loser and in Al Kazeem it was not just any old horse, it was one that had helped Doyle become the celebrated rider he is today.
Doyle remembered: “It was mixed feelings pulling up, as Al Kazeem really was a massively important horse to me and played a great role for me in my early career.
“It was great to see him run so well, but he was not the horse I wanted to beat like that. I knew Al Kazeem would dig deep and I was a bit worried about him, but luckily Noble Mission found enough when it mattered most in that last furlong.”