Rhododendron blooms in Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes

Newbury Racecourse staged its best Flat raceday of the season on Saturday, May 19, Al Shaqab Lockinge Day. The healthy crowd of over 10,000 enjoyed fabulous sunny conditions.

The highlight was the G1 £350,000 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (3.40pm), the second race in the mile division of the QIPCO British Champions Series and celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2018. There was a thrilling finish after a field of 14 lined up.

It was four-year-old Rhododendron (Aidan O’Brien IRE/Ryan Moore, 100/30 favourite) who came out on top in the famous contest run up the straight mile, handing Britain and Ireland’s champion trainer, Aidan O’Brien, a second Lockinge victory after Hawk Wing (2003).

Rhododendron was the first filly to succeed in the race since Red Evie in 2007. It was a third top-level victory for Rhododendron, following her wins in the 2016 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket and the 2017 Prix de l’Opera at Chantilly. The daughter of Galileo was also runner-up in both the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas and Investec Oaks in 2017.

Rhododendron’s stable companions Deauville (Wayne Lordan, 16/1) and Lancaster Bomber (Seamie Heffernan, 10/1) took the field along in the early stages, with Rhododendron settled in third by Ryan Moore.

Rhododendron came through to lead well over a furlong out and managed to hold the strong challenge of Lightning Spear (David Simcock/Oisin Murphy, 16/1) in the final strides by a short-head in 1m 35.07s on good to firm going.

Lancaster Bomber kept on in third, another two and three quarters lengths behind, with Godolphin’s Dutch Connection (Charlie Hills/Jamie Spencer, 50/1), who was slow into stride, a further three quarters of a length in arrears in fourth.

O’Brien said: “The race set up the way we thought it would.

“We thought that Deauville would go on because he wants a strongly-run mile, but we were a bit worried as he missed a bit of time and we thought that he would come forward for the run.

“We knew that Lancaster Bomber would follow him and Ryan was very happy to follow them both.

“We were very happy with Rhododendron the last day and everyone was very happy going into this. We were hoping that she had progressed and we were going back to a mile – she hadn’t been back to that trip since she ran in the Guineas.

“Ryan gave her a brilliant ride and we are thankful to everybody that is closely involved with her every day. It’s a big team effort and the lads have unbelievable patience. Whatever was suggested, they were always very happy to go with it, which made it incredibly easy for us.

“We were thinking of coming here and then going to Ascot. We have the option of going over a mile again or a mile and a quarter. We will have a good chat with Ryan and obviously the lads always talk after the races to see what they want to do close to Ascot.

“I am grateful to the lads to leave her in training. She bled very badly in the French Oaks last season, one of the worst cases I have seen. Maybe it was the heat, as it over 30 degrees that day and it was just a freak thing. All credit must go to John (Halley, vet) and his team for the medical care she received.

“Lancaster Bomber is in a good place. He loves a mile and fast ground. The Queen Anne looks made for him.”

Ryan Moore added: “I thought I was getting there, but I wasn’t really sure. It was hard because I was dead in the middle and Oisin’s horse was under the fence. It’s hard to know really.

“She is a G1 winner at two, three and now four. She has had an incredible career and, after what happened to her in the French Oaks, it’s a massive turnaround from Aidan and the team.

“It’s says a lot about the people at home, to get her back. She was a very good two-year-old and could have won a lot more at three. She was unlucky in the Guineas, ran into Enable in Oaks, and came back to win the Opera. If she had a better draw at Del Mar, she would have won there. This is well deserved.”

David Simcock said of the runner-up Lightning Spear: “I haven’t had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while.

“I am just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse and it was a great ride. We are very fond of him and he has never let us down.

“He has been placed in so many G1s, you just feel you really would have liked to have won one. He has run a great race and the first two have finished a good two lengths clear of the third. Fair play to the filly.

“I would say the Queen Anne is the obviously place to go.”

Back in fourth was Godolphin’s Dutch Connection (Charlie Hills/Jamie Spencer, 50/1) and the six-year-old pleased trainer Charlie Hills on his

Charlie Hills said about Dutch Connection, who was making his seasonal debut: “He slightly missed the break, but travelled well into the race.

“A mile probably stretches him a bit and we will now look at the John O’Gaunt Stakes (G3, Haydock Park, June 9, seven furlongs) for him.”

The 7/2 second favourite Addeybb could only finish eighth and Maureen Haggas, assistant to trainer husband William, reflected later in the day: “I think it was just the ground and James (Doyle, jockey) thought the same too.

“I think in the future we will avoid ground when there is firm in the description, although I think he should be fine on genuine good ground.

“He moved well today, but just couldn’t cope with the ground. We could also look at stepping him up in trip in the future.”

Rhododendron (16) gets up to deny Lightning Spear

Below can be found reports for the other six races on Al Shaqab Lockinge Day. The official going for the seven-race card was Good to Firm.

1.50pm £70,000 Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes (Listed Race) 6f

Never Back Down (Hugo Palmer/Silvestre de Sousa, 25/1) set himself up for a possible crack at next month’s G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot when making all the running to take the opening Listed Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes for three-year-olds over six furlongs.

Partnered by reigning champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa, the Kodiac gelding broke smartly and went straight into the lead. He kept finding out in front and despite facing a sustained challenge from eventual runner-up All Out (Richard Hannon/Tom Marquand, 22/1) over a furlong out, ran on.

At the finish, Never Back Down was three quarters of a length to the good over All Out, with the same back to the third Shabaaby (Owen Burrows/Adrea Atzeni, 8/1).The winning time was 1m 10.27s.

Successful trainer Hugo Palmer said: “Horses normally surprise you when they disappoint, so it’s nice to be surprised in a good way.

“Never Back Down has always had ability and when a 25/1 chance goes off in front, there is always a chance you will be ignored. He didn’t stop and Silvestre has ridden a superb race – he got his fractions spot on.

“I thought it might have been a waste of money putting him in the Commonwealth Cup. He is a three-year-old sprinter and there is now a programme for thee-year-old sprinters so we will follow it. I thought of going for the Sandy Lane at Haydock next week, but reckoned that might be a bit ambitious.

“The owners will be keen to go to Royal Ascot and I have the top hat!

“Gelding has really helped this horse. He was a rig and has a testicle deep in his abdomen. It would have been causing him pain and gelding him means he is no longer in pain.”

Silvestre De Sousa added: “Never Back Down bounced out of the gate and I let him go along – it was very easy.

“It felt as though the ground was quite quick and he could be even better when it is on the easy side.”

Never Back Down (blinkers) on his way to victory

2.25pm £100,000 Al Rayyan Stakes (Group 3) 1m 4f

 Crystal Ocean (Sir Michael Stoute/Ryan Moore, 2/5 favourite) was the easy winner of the £100,000 G3 Al Rayyan Stakes over a mile and a half.

Settled in third of the five runners, the four-year-old Sea The Stars colt made smooth headway to challenge for the lead a quarter of a mile from home and he went clear entering the final furlong.

At the finish, he had six lengths to spare over Second Step (Roger Charlton/Andrea Atzeni, 5/1), who stayed on from off the pace to take second.

The winning time was 2m 35.69s.

Successful trainer Sir Michael Stoute, winning the race for the sixth time, said: “We came here today expecting to win. He is a very consistent, progressive and versatile.

“He has won over a mile and a quarter, a mile and a half and also finished second in a St Leger. He is a joy to train and today was very pleasing.

“He is in the Prince Of Wales’s and the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot, plus the Eclipse. We will work it out what will suit him best, but won’t decide on a target today.”

Ryan Moore added: “He did nothing but improve all last year and it was a very good return to action at Sandown. He has done what he was entitled to do and is just a real, nice progressive horse.

“A mile and a half is his trip. He is a good-moving, straightforward horse and ground isn’t really an issue for him. He enjoyed being on nicer ground today and we can look forward to him for the rest of the year.”

An easy success for Crystal Ocean 

3.00pm £70,000 Al Zubarah London Gold Cup Handicap 1m 2f

Trainer Mark Johnston enjoyed a 1-2 in the richest handicap of the day, the £70,000 Al Zubarah Gold Cup over a mile and a quarter.

It was 7/1 chance Communique (Silvestre De Sousa, 7/1) who came out on top, handing the jockey 207/1 following his success in the opener.

It was Chief Ironside (William Jarvis/Kieran Shoemark, 7/1) who took the field along. He was challenged a furlong and a half out by Poet’s Prince (Mark Johnston/Joe Fanning, 9/1), with the latter looking to have done enough to take the honours.

However, Communique came with a great run from off the pace inside the final furlong and stayed on well to deny his stablemate by a length and three quarters with another two and a half lengths back to Chief Ironside.

The winning time was 2m 5.43s.

Johnston said: “I said to Joe Fanning that I couldn’t believe that Poet’s Prince was 11/1. I thought he was my first string and my more likely winner of the pair.

“With a furlong and a half to go, I thought it was all over as Poet’s Prince was the only one travelling well and Communique appeared to be falling back. I had to make a double-take when I saw something coming out of the pack and realised it was him.

“The other surprising thing coming here was that Communique was still a maiden. I told Silvestre beforehand that it was no reflection on him – he is a very good horse – and so it has proved.

“He was only rated 84 going into this, so we are not thinking about Group races at this stage. Royal Ascot handicaps would be the more likely thing to be thinking of – something like the King George V Handicap. He has seen it out well today and that would be my first thought.

“He is also in the Queen’s Vase (G2), but that is a very different race now – it used to be a race for progressive types, but is now a parallel race to the King Edward VII Stakes.

“As I say, this horse was only rated 84 going into today and, unless the handicapper spoils the party, he will be going for a handicap at Royal Ascot. I am a huge believer in taking one step at a time.”

Silvestre De Sousa added: “I rode Communique last time out, when the ground went against him, and I was very happy when he came into this handicap with a low weight on his back.

“I had a lovely draw – I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything – and we travelled behind the speed. He is still a big baby but I was in the ideal position.

“He could definitely go to a mile and a half and I think that he will improve again for this race.”


4.15pm £50,000 Olympic Glory Conditions Race 6f

 Owners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Sue Magnier plus trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore enjoyed a quick-fire 19.5/1 double when The Irish Rover (7/2) followed up on Rhododendron’s Al Shaqab Lockinge victory by taking the following £50,000 Olympic Glory Conditions Race over six furlongs for two-year-olds.

The son of No Nay Never took up the running a furlong out and ran on well for a ready two and a half-length victory overBarbill (Mick Channon/Charles Bishop, 8/1). The Irish Rover had been beaten at 1/7 last time out at Ascot, when he reared up in the stalls.

The winning time was 1m 11.45s.

Aidan O’Brien said: “He was obviously a bit babyish at Ascot. It was his first time travelling away and he went up when the stalls opened, losing six or eight lengths. We didn’t want him to be thinking too much about it and he was lovely today.

“Ryan gave him a lovely, confident ride and it would have taught him plenty. You would love everything about the progeny of No Nay Never – there is a lot of Scat Daddy in them and they are all speed, which is what you are looking for.

“He ran straight through the line and hopefully we will be thinking about Royal Ascot for him now.”

 4.50pm £70,000 Haras De Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial Stakes (Listed Race) 1m 2f

 Sea Of Class (William Haggas/James Doyle, 9/4) was the impressive winner of the Listed Haras De Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial Stakes over a mile and a quarter on just her second start.

 The daughter of Sea Of The Stars, owned like her sire by the Tsui family, stepped up significantly on her debut to register a comfortable two-length success over Athena (Aidan O’Brien IRE/Ryan Moore, 8/1) with 2/1 favourite Crystal Hope (Sir Michael Stoute/Andrea Atzeni) another five lengths away in third.

The winning time was 2m 9.33s.

The winner holds an entry in the G1 Investec Oaks (Epsom Downs, 1m 4f, June 1).

Maureen Haggas, wife and assistant trainer to William Haggas said: “She is a very nice filly. She is a bit of a character – she bucks, kicks and can be aggressive.

“We thought she would improve significantly for her first run. I am not sure about the Oaks for her as she is a bit short of experience. It will be up to the Tsui family and William.

“She is a filly you wouldn’t want to upset, so am not sure about the hoo-ha of Epsom. It is also under two week to the Oaks and we will have to see. Royal Ascot could be another possibility.

“We thought that Sea Of Class would run well first time out, when she was a bit green, but she has come on a lot for the race and has been working well. We thought she would run well.

“She needed to settle and it all went well. She is a beautiful looking filly and has behaved immaculately today. Hopefully, she has got a future.

“She is still a bit short of experience, whereas Give And Take (winner of the Musidora) has had a bit more racing, so we will see. This filly has speed but will stay. You get lots of not very nice problems, but these are nice ones to have!”

 5.25pm £40,000 Toronado Handicap 1m

 The concluding contest, the £40,000 Toronado Handicap, saw a smooth length and a half victory for Pouvoir Magique (John Gosden/Kieran O’Neill, 3/1).

The Princess Haya-owned four-year-old took up the running inside the final furlong and had little difficulty seeing off 5/2 favourite Ripp Orf (David Elsworth/Hayley Turner) by a length and a half.

Kieran O’Neill said: “Ryan (Moore on third Surrey Hope) jumped out, went to the left a little bit and I got lovely lead from him.

“Two and a half furlongs down, I put Pouvoir Magique into the middle and let him use his stride. It was a good performance – he didn’t really like the ground, but I think class got him through.

“I cantered him up Warren Hill yesterday morning and he gave me a nice feel. I think he could be a better horse with a little dig in the ground.

“Hopefully, he might get a light weight in a big handicap and I can keep the ride!

“He could be a good horse in the making. He takes his time but did it well.”