Watch Lydia Hislop's interviews with Oisin Murphy and Sheikh Fahad, analysis of the big race by our experts and read Andy Stephens' report.
The season that has kept on giving for Oisin Murphy scaled new heights at York on Wednesday when he guided Roaring Lion to a commanding triumph in the Juddmonte International Stakes.
Seven Group One winners lined up in the summer showpiece but only one counted from some way out, Roaring Lion being in full cry long before the finish and winning by the widest margin since the mighty Frankel in 2012.
What seemed likely to be a tight tussle beforehand was anything but. Murphy would have had time to wave to his mum, Marie, and auntie, Margaret, in the stands if he had the inclination.
The former was watching her 22-year-old son, at least eight years younger than any other rider in the line-up, win a Group One race live at the races for the first time and she was pleased to hear that despite a run of sustained success this summer he has kept his feet on the ground.
“That’s the Irish breeding - you get battered back into your box very quickly if you try and climb out,” she said. “He’s been very lucky, he’s made his hobby his career. Racing is all he has ever wanted to do, which is a good job because he’s not very good at anything else.”
Murphy has ridden five Group One winners at the highest level this year and his trio in Britain, the Coral-Eclipse, Sussex Stakes and Juddmonte International, have all been for Sheikh Fahad and in the silks of Qatar Racing.
He says he still has room for improvement in his riding and that he still idolises figures/jockeys such as Frankie Dettori and Christophe Soumillon, who were left chasing his shadow on the Knavesmire.
Sheikh Fahad also has room for his improvement in his riding - a spill in the Newmarket Town Plate last summer left him shaken and bruised - but you sense he and Murphy are in for a long and fruitful association.
“We took on Oisin when he was still an apprentice as our second jockey, when Andrea [Atzeni] was first, and he has evolved into the role as our number one,” the Sheikh said. “He’s a very good team player and I would not have anyone else. Hopefully in the long-term future we can have a really good partnership with him.”
Roaring Lion’s part in that long-term future remains unclear.
The grey, transformed since a heavy defeat in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket in April, is likely to have his next run in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown next month and, provided the ground is not too soft, must also be odds-on to contest the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.
Both of those races are sponsored by QIPCO, the private, family-run investment company owned by the Sheikh and his five brothers.
However, whether he stays in training next year has yet to be decided.
Sheikh Fahad says it is “too early to say” but there is no doubt John Gosden would relish the chance to campaign him in 2019 and beyond.
“He’s a big-framed horse and only a three-year-old. This is a much better horse than ran at Sandown [in the Eclipse] and I see no reason why through the autumn and next year he can’t get better,” the trainer said. “Look at Michael [Stoute] and what he’s done with Poet’s Word, a five-year-old. The truth is they reach their absolute zenith on Flat at five.”
Perhaps the winning margin of three and a quarter lengths would have been less had Poet’s Word, winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and King George on his previous two runs, not met some trouble in-running.
However, there was no question that the best horse won.
“I had a difficult spring with him,” Gosden said. “It was a horrible, cold, wet spring but he’s just got better and better and this wasn’t a fluke.
“He wasn’t really with me at the time of the Craven and the Guineas, but my God the Guineas put him right. He got in a horse race there and he came out and won the Dante brilliantly.
“Then he ran a super race in the Derby, when he was last off the bridle but plain didn’t stay. Now he’s won an Eclipse and the Juddmonte. He’s a proper horse, and a mile and a quarter horse through and through.
“I was expecting a big performance and we got one.”
Thundering Blue charged through from off the pace to finish a gallant third, but Saxon Warrior was beaten five lengths into fourth and had no excuses. The 2,000 Guineas winner has now suffered four defeats on the spin and excited talk of him landing the Triple Crown seems an awful long time ago.
Aidan O’Brien, his trainer, also saw his four challengers in the Great Voltigeur defeated. However, Kew Gardens stayed on strongly to finish third, under his 5lb Group One penalty, and looks an outstanding candidate for the St Leger. He is as short as 2-1 for the final Classic of the season, with Boylesports offering a standout 100-30.
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