The Aidan O’Brien-trained The Gurkha ran out a gutsy winner of the Group One Qatar Sussex Stakes to give Ryan Moore a remarkable seventh win in this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.
Following two creditable runs in defeat in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, O’Brien’s charge seemed to appreciate the return to a faster surface.
Having broken well under Ryan Moore, registering his first success in the £1-million race, the well-backed 11/8 favourite always travelled kindly on the rail in behind market rival Galileo Gold. Turning for home, the son of Galileo looked to be travelling best of the 10 runners but got slightly caught for room approaching the two-furlong pole.
However, once Moore found daylight on the French Guineas winner, The Gurkha responded well to his jockey’s urgings to quicken up nicely and battle on gamely all the way to the line, fending off the late challenge of Galileo Gold by a neck with Godolphin’s Ribchester a further short-head back in third.
O’Brien, registering his fifth success in the Group One feature, said: “Ryan was prepared to make the running today if no-one was going to make it but I presume he was happy where he was.”
The Ballydoyle handler was quick to point out that the three-year-old’s run last time on soft ground in the 10-furlong Coral-Eclipse was a far from ideal preparation. He commented: “We always thought he was a very fast horse, he has an awful lot of speed. He was always a fast Galileo. But we took a chance at Sandown over a stiff mile and a quarter in soft ground and we were just worried that it took a lot out of him but from day one he has always been very quick.
“He is a good traveller who handles fast ground very well and quickens very well. I suppose he is also very courageous which is why he has run the races he did like when we took him out of his comfort zone at Sandown [Coral-Eclipse] and even at Royal Ascot where the ground was soft.
“Obviously, we know he goes in soft ground but he is at his best on fast ground. I think he’ll probably go back and get a mile and a quarter but his ideal trip is a mile I imagine. In an ideal world, we want to keep him on fast ground. He is a very low fast-moving horse.
“It has been tough on him. The lads have been happy with him. But I was worried about him as he has had such a big career crammed into a very short time. He has danced every danced all the way along and he has been turned out plenty. I’m delighted. Ryan gave him a brilliant ride.
“We have been hard on the horse. We haven’t wrapped him up or protected him. The soft ground at Sandown got into him a little bit.”
As to the future, O’Brien outlined a list of potential targets for the exciting colt. He said: “The lads will decide, if he needs to go back up in trip, he won’t mind going back up particularly if it is fast ground as you wouldn’t mind going back up at a fairly level track. He has lots of options.”
Moore added: “Frankie got the run of the race and he was able to dictate terms.
“They are both very good colts. My horse was a lot happier back on good ground today and I think he’ll be even better on faster. He travelled very well and showed a lot of pace through the race.
“I was confident that my horse would be able to get himself out of any position today and go and win. He’s had a tough campaign but he’s done very little wrong. It all points to him being a very exciting horse for the rest of the year.”
Hugo Palmer, who trains Galileo Gold for Sheikh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing, said: “I’m disappointed to lose, but immensely proud of the horse. We were slightly hoping something else would make the running, but in the absence of a pacemaker we were hostage to our own fortune.
“Frankie got it absolutely right, and went the perfect gallop in front, giving the horse every chance to hang on, but he didn’t quite. It’s very hard to lead a field of that quality from pillar to post, and not many horses in history have done it – I’m not sure we’ll try to do it again.
“I could see how well The Gurkha was going in behind, and I wasn’t sure how much Frankie had left. The answer was he had a lot left, because we were only beaten a neck.
“We’ve now beaten Awtaad [eighth today] twice and by clear daylight, leading me to ask how did we get beaten by him in the Irish Guineas? I just can’t help thinking my horses weren’t at their best at that time. The three-year-olds have come out on top today, but the older horses didn’t include Gleneagles – they were So Beloved, Lightning Spear and Toormore, admirable horses, but not the best of their generation. Every year the media cannot decide who will win the Guineas or Derby so say it is a bad group of three-year-olds, but you should wait until Goodwood before deciding. The likes of Hawkbill, Minding, The Gurkha and Galileo Gold all look well up to standard.”
Richard Fahey, who saddled Ribchester for Godolphin, was happy with the colt, who had to switch off the rail a furlong and a half out, come wide and then took time to reach full stride – he finished best of all. Fahey said: “James [Doyle] was delighted with him – he’s a horse with loads of pace and James just wished they had gone a bit quicker in order to give him a bit of room with which to work. It didn’t happen, but he ran a blinder.
“He’s still a big baby and is learning his trade – it’s just as well James did switch him because there was no room down the inside, but James said he changed his legs and came home really well. He was four strides from winning – perhaps they should have made the race another 20 yards longer! That’s racing.”