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.”

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