EAGLE SOARS FOR WELD
Dermot Weld won the feature race on day two of Royal Ascot, the Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes, with the lightly-raced Free Eagle. The High Chaparral four-year-old, sent off the 5/2 favourite, just held on by a short-head from The Grey Gatsby, trained by Kevin Ryan.
Free Eagle has had an interrupted training programme, having suffered a stress fracture to the tibia in 2014, and his preparation for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes was also less than ideal as the horse picked up a cold a few weeks ago.
Weld said: “He got a brilliant ride from Pat [Smullen]. He’s a very good horse and when you’ve a brilliant horse like him, it makes the training easy.
“But he hasn’t been easy, he has had a lot of problems. He had a heavy head cold a couple of weeks ago, and I thought today was going to be very much in doubt, but we got him right on the day that matters. Fitness was my biggest concern – he hasn’t run for nine months – and I had him as good as I could have him with the limited preparation he had. He gallops low to the ground, he’s a lovely stayer, he sticks his head out and he battles.
“But you can’t force fitness, and ideally the race was two weeks too soon. I did have huge confidence in the horse and his ability, though. It was a calculated risk and a personal triumph for me.
“Today was the day, but we’ve been lucky with races like the Irish Champion Stakes, and I’ve always thought the Arc would be his long-term objective.
“Pat [Smullen] gave him his usual brilliant ride and seized the opportunity.”
When asked whether Forgotten Rules would take his chance in Thursday’s Gold Cup, Weld said: “We’ll see what the ground is like tomorrow. Not that I want soft ground – just safe ground for all these horses.”
SMULLEN FLIES HIGH WITH FREE EAGLE
Pat Smullen registered his first success of the 2015 Royal Meeting with a game success on board 5/2 favourite Free Eagle in the Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The Dermot Weld-trained four-year-old held on resolutely under Smullen to repel a late challenge from the Kevin Ryan-trained The Grey Gatsby, to win by a short-head.
Smullen had to take up the lead earlier than he had anticipated on the son of High Chaparral, but despite a 242 day absence, the horse galloped all the way to the line.
Smullen said: “He has obviously been off for such a while and the race went very steady and that is why I wanted to sit and wait on him. I probably sat closer than I had anticipated beforehand and committed earlier than I thought, but that is how the race unfolded.
“I am relieved because I have been saying for the last two years how good this horse is and thankfully he is starting to show it. He thrived on that ground. He is a wonderful horse who has a great action and that has played to his strengths today.
“He is just a very good horse and he was able to show on that very quick summer ground what a fantastic horse he is.”
The Irish jockey also suggested the step up to a mile and a half would not hold any issues for the colt. He remarked: “While he has plenty of pace, I do think he will improve going further. He galloped all the way to the line and on that evidence he would get a mile and a half.
“The Irish Champion Stakes would obviously be a possible but the race I would love to win is the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.”
Smullen also paid tribute to Free Eagle’s trainer Dermot Weld. The Irish handler has slowly brought the horse along and today’s result was evidence of a masterful piece of training by Weld.
“Smullen said: “I can’t tell you how good a training performance that was. It has not been anything but difficult as there is nothing easy about getting Free Eagle here today.
“Truth be known I didn’t think he was going to show his true ability here today because it has been a troubled interruption. Dermot backed off and was patient with him, giving the horse the time he needed, he got him fresh.
“Jockeys can make mistakes by going too soon or trainers can by doing one more piece of work but Dermot didn’t and he put it on trust to let the horse show good he was and it paid off today.
“I didn’t think I have got as much pleasure from riding a winner as I did from him to be honest.”
GATSBY STARS IN DEFEAT
The Grey Gatsby’s defeat in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes will surely be remembered as one of the hard-luck stories of Royal Ascot 2015.
When the eventual winner, Free Eagle, was sent on by jockey Pat Smullen, Frankie Dettori on third-placed Western Hymn made the same move on his outside, with the result that The Grey Gatsby became held in. It was not until Western Hymn began to fade that Jamie Spencer was able to drive The Grey Gatsby for the line, and he made up more than a length inside the final furlong before going down by a short-head.
Kevin Ryan, who trains the runner-up, was not dejected, and said: “I’m not disappointed, and you probably think I should be, but I’ve got the horse back to his best and I’m looking forward to the big races ahead. He’s in the Eclipse, the King George and the Juddmonte, but it’s unfortunate we don’t have a pacemaker for him, which is what he needs. If he was owned by one of the big firms, he would have a pacemaker to ensure an end-to-end gallop, but this was always our first aim and no one can say we didn’t get it right.
“Over the first two furlongs I thought to myself ‘they are going a good gallop here’, but then they half pulled up, and my horse became half locked-up. But it was a great horse race and he is back to his best. Jamie would have liked to get out a lot earlier, but you can’t barge your way out and that’s the rub of the green in racing. After the line he was in front.
“I knew he was in great shape, and I didn’t hide the fact that when we ran him in Ireland [when fourth in the Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup] it was a prep run for this meeting. That might sound stupid given it was a Group One race, but he has a lot of races ahead and I was quietly confident he would put up a big show today.
“In racing there are often tiny margins, and it was a great training performance by Dermot Weld with the winner.
“For me there is pleasure in knowing I never lost faith in the horse – he had a break after he ran in Dubai and we knew he was heavy when he ran in Ireland. He does himself well, and far better than the trainer!”
John Gosden, the trainer of Western Hymn, also lamented the pace at which the race was run, and said he wished US challenger California Chrome had run as intended before a foot injury intervened. Gosden said: “That was a fabulous run. That is top draw racing and he acquitted himself with real credit; it was a brilliant run. We probably wished we had more pace to run at, and poor old California Chrome could have helped us with that. We are over the moon with him.”