Noble Mission proved fairytales can come true as his heartwarming success in a scintillating Qipco Champion Stakes lit up Champions Day at Ascot.
The positioning of the fixture has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, with the testing conditions prompting some of the sport’s leading lights to either draw stumps for the year or pursue alternative targets.
However, plenty of stars both equine and human did make the trip to Berkshire and it would be difficult to argue the afternoon was anything other than a resounding success.
Lady Cecil and Noble Mission were undoubtedly the stars of the show. Having lived in the shadow of his incredible full-brother Frankel for so long, the five-year-old has really come of age in 2014, showing his worth at the highest level in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh and in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, albeit gaining victory in the latter contest after the first past the post was disqualified.
Untroubled by the demanding terrain, Noble Mission set out to make all in the feature event, as has been his wont this season, and James Doyle proved his worth with another tactical masterclass in the saddle.
The son of Galileo’s resolution has been questioned in previous years but not this season, and the 7-1 shot showed bags of tenacity in the final throws to deny Al Kazeem by a neck, with Free Eagle back in third.
The triumph evoked memories of Frankel, who won twice on Champions Day, including his swansong victory in the Champion Stakes two years ago, as well as his late, great trainer, Sir Henry Cecil.
His widow has held the fort admirably at Warren Place since his passing last year and was understandably emotional as she stood in the hallowed winner’s circle. “I was interviewed before the race, which I didn’t really want to do, and I said it would be a fairytale,” said Lady Cecil.
“That’s what it feels like to me. We hardly dared to dream. We knew he was in great shape but it was a tough race. What makes it so much more special, being Frankel’s brother.
“A year ago, who would have thought Noble would have been here today winning the Champion Stakes? I know a lot of that [reception from the crowd] was for Henry, it’s so wonderful. You can still feel all the love that everyone has for Henry.”
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Khalid Abdullah, a loyal supporter of the Cecil family, said: “What a happy day – it’s the emotions of the whole thing – with Jane, and the history of Champions Day with Henry, and the brother of Frankel.
“It’s just an unbelievable story. I don’t know what he’ll do now. I’d have said that was it for the year, but he could race on. It’s in the Prince’s hands.”
One blot for Doyle was the receipt of a seven-day ban and a £10,000 fine for over-use of the whip, a suspension which is set to rule him out of the Melbourne Cup and the Breeders’ Cup.
There were also bans on the afternoon for Richard Hughes [four days], Jim Crowley [four days], Pat Smullen [three days] and Joseph O’Brien [two days], but all riders banned for four days or less are able to defer suspensions on days in which they are due to ride in Group One races.
The day got off to a flying start for the Irish, with Dermot Weld’s totally unexposed Forgotten Rules (3-1) making it three wins from just three starts in the British Champions Long Distance Cup under Pat Smullen.
Gold Cup winner Leading Light returned injured but toiled in the mud, as did last year’s Gold Cup heroine Estimate, who finished tailed off on her final start before being retired to stud.
Gordon Lord Byron (5-1 joint-favourite) also struck for the Emerald Isle in the Sprint, coming through the eye of a needle in the dying strides to claim yet another big prize for proud trainer Tom Hogan.
Hogan said: “I was very worried for a long time but, tactically, he got out of trouble. There’s plenty of invitations for him, there’s Hong Kong. He’s not Breeders’ Cup eligible, but I’m sure a deal could be made with the Breeders’ Cup committee.”
Freddy Head’s Charm Spirit became the first French-trained horse in 21 years to land the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes after a power-packed late surge in the hands of Olivier Peslier.
Madame Chiang (12-1) finished with a flourish after being reluctant to go in the stalls in the Fillies & Mares Stakes.
Winning trainer David Simcock said: “We knew she would handle heavy ground and I don’t think she got the credit for how good her run in the Prix Vermeille was. It was the best run of her career. It’s very, very special.”
Bronze Angel (20-1) followed up his second Cambridgeshire success three weeks ago when coming out on top in an ultra-competitive Balmoral Handicap.
Philip Hobbs lifted Cheltenham’s Showcase Trophy for the fourth year in a row when Roalco De Farges ran out a clear-cut winner of the feature event at Prestbury Park on Saturday.
Succeeding Balthazar King, who had taken this prize the three previous years, Roalco De Farges (8-1) proved too strong for the opposition in his first race for 175 days.
Johns Spirit (5-1 favourite) made a pleasing seasonal debut with an impressive victory in the Marie Curie Cancer Care Handicap Chase, while Irish raider Tiger Roll (15-8) returned to the scene of his Triumph Hurdle success to land victory in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle.
Meanwhile, Carlto Brigante was a stunning winner of the feature race at Kelso on Saturday as he slammed Gleann Na Ndochais by 17-lengths under James Reveley. The winner of the 2011 Coral Cup when with Gordon Elliott, he is now with Tyneside trainer Karen McLintock who plans to give him a break before a possible crack over the big fences at Aintree in the spring. Newcastle-based McLintock said: “He jumps so well and was superb today.”
Reveley, who has ridden 37 winners in France this year, said: “He is the sort that must just take to Aintree. He’s a smashing horse to ride and my dad would say ‘you should pay to ride a good horse like him!’”
Edinburgh-born McLintock went on to record a 59/1 double – her first – when Brian Harding scored on Mason Hindmarsh in the Carnacrack Handicap Hurdle.
The winning trainer added: “We’ve had a few just beaten in close finishes so it’s nice to be among the winners again.
“They’re like buses today with one coming after another!”