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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Free Eagle ‘sticks out his head’ to edge The Great Gatsby in Prince Of Wales’s Stakes

As The Grey Gatsby ate up the lush Ascot turf in pursuit of Free Eagle in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday, it seemed for all the world Solow’s Dubai Turf win at Meydan was set to be franked again, writes Geoffrey Riddle.
Jockey Pat Smullen rides Free Eagle, left, to victory over Jamie Spencer riding The Grey Gatsby in the Prince of Wales's Stakes during Day 2 of Royal Ascot 2015 at Ascot Racecourse on June 17, 2015 in Ascot, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Jockey Pat Smullen rides Free Eagle, left, to victory over Jamie Spencer riding The Grey Gatsby in the Prince of Wales's Stakes during Day 2 of Royal Ascot 2015 at Ascot Racecourse on June 17, 2015 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Royal Ascot, England // It was only a matter of millimetres, but racing is a sport like no other that deals in such fine margins.

As The Grey Gatsby ate up the lush Ascot turf in pursuit of Free Eagle in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday, it seemed for all the world Solow’s Dubai Turf win at Meydan was set to be franked again.

As Free Eagle and Pat Smullen flashed past the post in unison with The Grey Gatsby and Jamie Spencer, a photo was required to separate them.

Dermot Weld has been in this game for almost two generations, however, and the canny Irishman had no doubt as he walked back to the winners’ enclosure which horse had won.

“I never really thought he would lose,” the winning trainer said of Free Eagle. “He gallops low to the ground, he’s a lovely stayer, he sticks out his head and he battles.”

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Free Eagle officially beat The Grey Gatsby by a short head, and with Western Hymn and Frankie Dettori almost three lengths behind in third the form looks strong.

The Grey Gatsby finished behind Solow in Dubai in March, and with Solow going on to win the Queen Anne Stakes here on Tuesday the form of Meydan’s US$6million (Dh22m) race is one to keep on side.

It was the first time Free Eagle had run since he had finished third in the Champion Stakes on heavy ground here in October.

Granted a fast surface, he looked a different animal and on such going he can only get better. Free Eagle was undercooked for the feature race, having suffered a head cold that ruled him out of the Tattersalls Gold Cup last month.

It was just the fifth run of his career after he suffered a fractured tibia that ruled him out of most of his Classic season last year.

“He hasn’t been easy, he has had a lot of problems,” Weld said. “A couple of weeks ago I thought today was going to be very much in doubt but we got him right on the day that mattered. I rushed him a little bit. It was a calculated risk and a personal triumph for me.”

Weld’s ultimate goal is to run Free Eagle in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and with a break after yesterday’s exertions likely the Irish Champion Stakes on September 12 will be the next time we see the four-year-old son of English Derby winner High Chaparral.

There he could well run into The Grey Gatsby again, who last year beat Australia in the Leopardstown race.

For much of the penultimate 200 metres Western Hymn hemmed in The Grey Gatsby.

It was only when Dettori’s mount began to fade could Spencer unleash his unfortunate run. Trainer Kevin Ryan may have been beaten, but he was unbowed.

“I’m not disappointed and you probably think I should be,” he said.

“My horse was locked up, but it was a great horse race and he is back to his best.

“Jamie would have liked to have got out a lot earlier but you can’t barge your way out and that’s racing.”

Earlier in the day, Rizeena put up a gallant performance to finish second to surprise winner Amazing Maria in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes.

Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmook’s filly was two lengths adrift in the Group 2 contest, and was the same distance ahead of dual Dubai World Cup Carnival winner Cladocera.

The performance of the afternoon however had to go to Wesley Ward’s Acapulco, a filly blessed with such searing pace that she spread-eagled a huge field in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Acapulco ran a lacklustre third on the dirt of Chruchill Downs in May and will be kept in Europe for a turf campaign.

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