LADY JANE Cecil was momentarily lost for words as racegoers cheered Noble Mission after her equine warrior produced the race of his life to win the Qipco Champion Stakes following a titanic tussle with Al Kazeem.
This unassuming individual thought the crowd were saluting her late husband Sir Henry who so famously – and so emotionally – won this landmark race two years ago with Noble Mission’s incomparable brother Frankel.
They were, but they were also acknowledging a fairytale finish to the denouement of the £4m Qipco Champions Day in which Noble Mission, Lady Jane and jockey James Doyle emerged from the shadows of Sir Henry and Frankel’s legacy.
This, after all, was a horse that was trained to moderate success by the incomparable Sir Henry before he succumbed to cancer in June last year, and which only reached Flat racing’s exultant heights after Lady Jane and Doyle decided at the beginning of this season to deploy front-running tactics.
It worked. This was the horse’s fifth win from seven starts in 2014, and the third triumph at Group One level in the iconic green, white and pink colours of owner Prince Khalid Abdullah – the patron of Juddmonte Farms.
Yet mamy still regarded Saturday’s race as mission impossible. In stamina sapping conditions at Ascot, Doyle set a searching pace on Noble Mission which had many of their more fancied rivals in trouble at the halfway in this gruelling 10-furlong race.
Yet, as Noble Mission dug deep in the home straight, the jockey had a sinking feeling as he spotted the one pursuer drawing level. He recognised the horse’s head instantly – it was his old friend Al Kazeem who he had partnered to three Group One victories last year and which helped him to secure the coveted role as Prince Khalid Abdullah’s retained rider.
There then followed an epic battle comparable to Grundy and Bustino in the 1975 King George at Ascot before Noble Mission just prevailed. Even though Al Kazeem’s jockey George Baker was the first to congratulate Doyle in a typical act of sportsmanship between these friends, the victory did come at a price – the winning jockey did incur a seven-day ban and £10,000 fine for whip transgressions that rules him out of the Melbourne Cup and Breeders Cup in America.
He does not to intend to appeal. “The rules are there and you have to take the consequences at the end of the day. There are no qualms there,” he said. “Hopefully the suspension and the fine won’t overshadow what happened. I don’t what such a great race marred by people saying he got a ban and a fine. That would be upsetting. Hopefully people will just remember the battle the two horses had.”
It is little wonder that Frankel’s jockey Tom Queally was declared surplus to requirements by Prince Khalid’s team – Doyle and Lady Cecil clearly click and the handler was shaking with emotion as Noble Mission was led out of the winner’s enclosure to huge applause.
“I knew that if he won it would be a fairytale and it absolutely was. James gave him a brilliant ride – we knew the horse was in the form of his life, but we hardly dared to dream it could happen. It’s a tough race and he absolutely toughed it out,” she said.
“I thought it was all over when Al Kazeem edged ahead, but he just dug deep and James gave him an incredible ride. This is so special because of what happened two years ago – I keep thinking I’m in a dream and will wake up. It has come true hasn’t it?
“Can you imagine when Henry died if we had given everything up? It was easier to keep going at the time and it was a way of staying close to him. I am so lucky to be at Warren Place and I don’t have the words – my heart is pounding.”
It is unclear if Noble Mission will stay in training or be retired to stud. York chairman Teddy Grimthorpe, the owner’s racing manager, said: “It’s in Prince Khalid’s hands. Two years ago when Frankel was in this very same position I said to Prince Khalid ‘They are going to ask what your plans are for the horse?’ and I didn’t know at the time. He just said ‘That is it’ and Frankel was retired. James produced a great ride on an incredibly good, tough and classy horse. He put them to it, held them off, stuck to it and had a huge battle with Al Kazeem. It’s nice to emulate your brother! What a happy day...it’s amazing.”
Apart from John Quinn’s Levitate finishing fourth in the concluding Balmoral Handicap, this was a disappointing day for Yorkshire runners with sprinter G Force, and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes contenders Custom Cut and Top Notch Tonto, all unplaced.
However Madame Chiang, winner of York’s Musidora Stakes, confirmed her class in the Fillies and Mares Stakes while Dermot Weld’s lightly-raced Forgotten Rules has the world at his feet after taking the Long Distance Cup in just the third start of the four-year-old’s career.
The disappointment was the Queen’s Estimate who finished last and has been retired by Her Majesty who then clapped enthusiastically as James Doyle rode Lady Cecil’s champion past the stands.