OISIN MURPHY hopes Roaring Lion can win a landmark Group One race in today’s prestigious Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
Third to Masar in the Derby last month, fast ground – and a drop back in trip to 10 furlongs – are expected to suit the grey whose task is made slightly easier by the unexpected absence of the Epsom hero following a training setback.
And in a week that has seen the country gripped by ‘Three Lions’ euphoria thanks to the World Cup exploits of the England football team, victory for this ‘Lion’ would represent another milestone in the burgeoning big race career of the 22-year-old jockey.
Though Murphy has three Group One triumphs to his name in the past year they have all been achieved overseas and he is determined to land a premier contest in this country in the maroon colours of Qatar Racing, whose owner Sheikh Fahad is now one of British racing’s most influential and ambitious patrons.
Yet while Masar’s absence is a loss to the first Group One race of 2018, where the Classic generation take on older horses in the quest for middle distance supremacy, the field does still include Roaring Lion’s longstanding rival Saxon Warrior.
These are the two horses that fought out a thrilling finish to last season’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster when Saxon Warrior’s last-gasp win was a world record-setting 26th Group One win in a calendar year for trainer Aidan O’Brien.
However, while Murphy’s mount was a creditable fourth to the Ballydoyle stable star in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Doncaster he finished ahead of Saxon Warrior at Epsom in the race for minor honours.
While O’Brien’s charge finished third in the Irish Derby last Saturday, Roaring Lion – a runaway winner of York’s Dante Stakes in May – has enjoyed a month-long break and has been maturing, and improving, with every run under the tutelage of master trainer John Gosden.
He is likely to be ridden with restraint to optimise his finishing burst of speed.
Writing on his Qipco British Champions Series blog, Murphy is acutely aware that this is not a one-horse race. “It’s certainly no penalty kick” he said.
“With the scorching weather we’ve had not many horses have had much preparation on the turf recently. However, Roaring Lion was taken to the July Course (at Newmarket) for a gallop last weekend.
“Kieran O’Neill rode him and was very happy with him. They’ve been ticking him over since the Derby and hopefully he’ll be perfect.
“I’ve certainly got every chance, with the ground and trip posing no problems. He was mighty impressive over a mile and a quarter when winning the Dante at York two outings ago, so this looks to be his optimum trip.
“The weather looks to have really firmed up the ground across the country, and this won’t be an excuse for my chances. He’s bred to enjoy that type of ground with his American pedigree, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
The jockey is eager to repay the faith shown by Qatar Racing in giving him so many big-race opportunities – and experience – at such an early stage in his career.
The race features Forest Ranger from the Malton yard of Richard Fahey. Though unbeaten from two starts this season the four-year-old has to concede 10lb to younger horses like Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior under weight-for-age rules.
“He needs to step up on what he has achieved during his career so far, but he has won well on both of his starts this year,” said Fahey. “It’s a big ask, but whatever happens we’ll be finding out a bit more about him.”
As for Masar, who had provided Sheikh Mohammed with a first Derby win in his iconic royal blue colours, trainer Charlie Appleby said the colt suffered an 11th-hour setback.
“Midway through the morning it became clear that he was sore. His off-fore was inflamed and we feel he must have knocked himself at exercise,” he said.
“He will not be running in the Eclipse. It is a blow, but it is the right decision considering what has happened. Masar will remain under veterinary supervision for the time being.”