February 5, 2023

Decorated Knight upsets Irish Champion, Hydrangea stuns Winter in Matron to earn Breeders’ Cup spots

Decorated Knight bounced back to form and caught Poet's Word at Leopardstown (Photo via Breeders' Cup Twitter)

Irish Champions Weekend, Saturday edition, was characterized by upset winners. The 25-1 Decorated Knight swooped fast and late in the Irish Champion (G1), and the 20-1 Hydrangea nipped even-money Winter in the Matron (G1). The 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion was a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and the Matron for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), but the winners’ status for Del Mar is to be determined.

Although Decorated Knight fit on his prior form as the hero of the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) and runner-up in the Prince of Wales’s (G1), the Roger Charlton trainee was unplaced in his last pair, a troubled sixth in the Eclipse (G1) and a fifth in the Juddmonte International (G1). Decorated Knight reportedly exited that York excursion lame with muscle soreness, and the prospect of another soft-ground test didn’t sound promising.

But the Leopardstown course ended up being in good shape, and Decorated Knight was back to his best himself. Anchored in last early by Andrea Atzeni, the Galileo blueblood summoned his patented turn of foot down the outside to deny the 10-1 Poet’s Word by a half-length. Front-running Eminent was outkicked in third, but that son of Frankel fared best of the sophomores. In an even bigger shock, the 50-1 Taj Mahal, who looked like a possible pacemaker for the Aidan O’Brien trio, was held up off the pace and rallied for fifth, beating more accomplished stablemates Cliffs of Moher and 8-11 favorite Churchill, who wound up seventh of 10.

Decorated Knight is now a three-time Group 1 victor, having lifted the Jebel Hatta (G1) during the Dubai Carnival. Charlton indicated that the October 21 Champion (G1) at Ascot would be the next likely objective. Unless connections are bold enough to wheel back to try 1 1/2 miles for the first time in the November 4 Breeders’ Cup Turf, he may be unlikely to accept his free ticket to Del Mar.

Saleh al Homaizi and Imad al Sagar’s homebred is out of the Storm Cat mare Pearling, a full sister to Giant’s Causeway and You’resothrilling (in turn the dam of Gleneagles, Marvellous, Coolmore, Happily, and Taj Mahal, all by Galileo and thus close genetic relatives of Decorated Knight). He’s certainly burnished his stallion resume this campaign, building upon a 2016 highlighted by the Meld (G3) and truncated by a raceday scratch from last summer’s Arlington Million (G1).

You could say that O’Brien had better luck in the one-mile Matron, but here again it was a boilover with the least-fancied of his quartet, Hydrangea, thwarting stablemate Winter’s bid for a fifth consecutive Group 1 laurel.

In a plot twist, Roly Poly ended up handling pacemaking chores. Winter made heavy weather of passing her in upper stretch, and couldn’t spurt away, in an unmistakable sign that the favorite was in trouble. Hydrangea had barely gotten within shouting distance of Winter in four starts since denying her in a ring-rusty reappearance, but she was glued to her flank now. Wider out, Wuheida loomed, and Persuasive made stronger headway. The race that had looked so straightforward on paper was now very much up for grabs, and Hydrangea outdueled Winter by a head in the all-Galileo exacta.

O’Brien afterward quipped that Winter and Hydrangea are morning workmates, and maybe Winter let her have one. More seriously, he believed that lack of fitness told for Winter, who missed a bit of training after a stone bruise sustained in the Nassau (G1). That setback was only revealed on the eve of the Matron, and turned out to be the most important news of all – not the trial balloon of her possibly going in the Irish Champion.

Hydrangea could be the type to give Del Mar a whirl, despite her last-place effort in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Narrowly missing in last year’s Moyglare Stud (G1) and Debutante (G2), and a clear second in the Fillies’ Mile (G1), she scored her only prior stakes win at Winter’s expense in the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial. In the interim, Winter emerged as much the best, and Hydrangea settled for thirds in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation (G1) and a fourth in the Nassau.

Both Hydrangea and Winter are in line for Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Day, possibly in a rematch in the Prix de l’Opera (G1). But O’Brien left the door ajar again for Winter to attempt the Arc.

A full sister to The United States, a former O’Brien pupil who went on to Australian Group 1 glory, and a half-sister to Irish highweight Fire Lily, Hydrangea was produced by Group 2-winning sprinter Beauty Is Truth, by Pivotal.

Aside from his Group 1 double on the card, supersire Galileo also exerted a massive influence upon the Champions Juvenile (G3). Nelson, by Galileo’s greatest son Frankel, powered to a three-length victory over Galileo colts Kew Gardens and 11-10 favorite Delano Roosevelt in a clean sweep of the trifecta for Ballydoyle.

Although Nelson landed a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), it’s doubtful that the son of 2008 Irish Oaks (G1) heroine Moonstone would head for Del Mar. As a three-quarter brother to US Army Ranger, he’s got classic prospect stamped all over him. O’Brien sensibly mentioned the October 28 Racing Post Trophy (G1) at Doncaster as a possible port of call.

In the day’s other Group action, the David O’Meara-trained Suedois thrived on the step up to a mile for the Boomerang (G2), where O’Brien’s 11-8 favorite Sir John Lavery was along for fourth, and Dermot Weld took his fourth straight Enterprise (G3) with Eziyra, who’ll try to move forward as his past three winners – Free Eagle, Fascinating Rock, and Zhukova – all did.