JOHN GOSDEN has always taken the long view when it comes to training racehorses – and his handling of Juddmonte International hero Roaring Lion is no exception.
The colt’s third-place finish in Newmarket’s Craven Stakes four months ago left many perplexed, even though the victorious Masar went on to win the Epsom Derby.
Yet, like jockey Oisin Murphy and the Qatar Racing team, Gosden bided his time because patience is a virtue when it comes to a thoroughbred’s development.
As the horse matured, his performances improved. Fifth in the 2000 Guineas was followed by victory in York’s Dante Stakes before finishing third in the Derby.
And while some quibbled Roaring Lion’s win in last month’s Coral-Eclipse because the Sandown field lacked strength in depth, the doubters have been silenced.
Not only did the grey surge clear of his three-year-old contemporaries but he beat older horses like King George hero Poet’s Word with consummate ease. Murphy said beforehand the race would be won by a champion and he was proved right.
On his toes in the preliminaries, Roaring Lion settled on the canter to the start, passing two dogs being walked by their owner across common land, before taking up a position on the inner in the early stages.
Yet, as the eight runners headed into the home straight in two by two formation, Murphy’s mount enjoyed a clear run while the aforementioned Poet’s Word became boxed in as the field headed up the stand rails.
By the time he found daylight under James Doyle, Roaring Lion was in full cry and clear of the pack. Poet’s Word ran on for second – he just couldn’t quicken instantaneously – while the outsider Thundering Blue, supplemented by connections, was third.
One of the most impressive winners of York’s richest race since Frankel prevailed in 2012, the warmth of the ovation from a knowledgeable crowd suggested this was a special performance in a vintage race.
There was a thumbs up the cheering crowds from Murphy whose immediate concern, as he dismounted, was making sure that the winning horse could be given a well-deserved drink in the winner’s enclosure on a sultry afternoon.
He then went out of his way to meet racegoers, and pose for pictures with those wheelchair-bound spectators, who wanted to share their special day at the races with the hero.
And it left the ever thoughtful Gosden offering this post-race assessment – Roaring Lion is the best 10 furlong horse at present while Poet’s Word, trained by his great friend and rival Sir Michael Stoute, is the superior over a mile and a half.
“I see no reason why Roaring Lion can’t be even better,” said the 67-year-old who, surprisingly, was winning this elite race for the first time. “Look at Michael and what he’s done with Poet’s Word. He’s at his zenith at five.
“He’s run a lovely race. They went an honest pace. You’d got Dubai World Cup winners in there, Poet’s Word came at him and ran a blinder. There were no hiding places out there.
“We were delighted with him – I was expecting a big performance from him. This horse ran a great race in the Derby. He won his Eclipse well and he’s got better through the season. He’s got bigger and stronger.
“He had a difficult spring, but he’s done nothing but improve since. He’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse through and through and I’d have been very disappointed if he hadn’t run like that today.”
The meeting began with sprinter El Astronaute winning for in-form Malton trainer John Quinn and teenage jockey Rossa Ryan who was riding at the Ebor festival for the first time.
“He’s a very admirable horse and these sprinters do get better as they get older,” said Quinn, who hopes there’s more to come next season.
Meanwhile, Derby-winning trainer Charlie Appleby’s Old Persian booked his place in next month’s St Leger by landing the Great Voltigeur Stakes from stablemate Cross Counter.
Yet, while this race was over a mile and a half on quick ground, Tim Easterby’s Wells Farhh Go was staying on in fourth and the Great Habton trainer hopes a mile and three quarters, on slightly slower going, will play to the strengths of his stayer in the Classic. “I’m very happy with that, he just needs one-mile-six or two miles on soft ground and he’ll win,” said Easterby. “Back on quicker ground and over a mile and a half he’s just been found out.”