Photo credit: BBC tml
Sporting life
11 September 2004
- 19:38 BST


Azamour stormed to victory in a thrilling Baileys Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown today as Doyen failed to live up to his billing as a Godolphin superstar.

The 4-5 favourite loomed up to make his challenge in the straight under Frankie Dettori, but was unable to deliver his customary turn of foot in the closing stages.

As he backpedalled, hopes of a famous Godolphin double following Rule Of Law's St Leger triumph disappeared.

Instead the much-maligned Norse Dancer surged past Powerscourt at the furlong pole to look for all the world as if he was finally going to land a big-race victory.

But he tired in the final strides as Azamour, help up last of the eight runners in the early stages, delivered a telling run down the outside under Michael Kinane.

Reeling in Norse Dancer and the rallying Powerscourt with every stride, Azamour got up to score by half a length, with only two lengths covering the first five home in the Group One contest.

Watching the race on the giant screen overlooking the parade ring, the runner-up's trainer David Elsworth flung his umbrella into the ground in frustration.

But home punters were delighted to see the highly-regarded winner, trying a mile and a quarter for the first time after taking the St James's Palace Stakes on his previous start, deliver the goods at the rewarding odds of 8-1.

Just as pleased was winning owner the Aga Khan, who watched the race from an unusual vantage point.

He was in the air, his helicopter having been delayed in landing by air traffic control restrictions.

When the Aga Khan did finally touch down, he was greeted by a round of applause as he raced across from the centre of the course to join the celebrations in the winner's enclosure.

Trainer John Oxx was delighted to see his charge maintain his improvement after bypassing an intended engagement in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York last month when the ground came up unsuitably soft.

"We were disappointed that we had to withdraw him at n York but we always felt that today was going to be his day at this trip," said Oxx.

"Mick gave him a very good ride, but that is what you pay these guys for. He knows that when he is out there he has got to see how the race goes, and we both said before that we thought there would be plenty of horses wanting to press the pace.

"He is a very good horse, the fastest in the race today. When he got to the front he pricked his ears a bit when he saw the photographers, but he does that, and I thought he ran on well enough.

"He saw out the mile and a quarter well and it will be interesting to see if he does get a little bit further.

"He is a very tough and clean-winded horse who is always well.

"The Aga has indicated that he will stay in training next year and if that is the case, then I wouldn't want to race him too much this season, although that said he is a fresh horse who has been kept for an autumn campaign.

"The key will be the ground. If it comes up soft then he might not run again at all this year.

"If it is suitable then I suppose he might have one or maybe two more races. But he did pull a shoe off during the race today, so we'll have to hope that it's not bruised tomorrow.

"When the owner catches his breath, I'm sure he will have something to say about it."

Kinane, winning the race for the sixth time, added his hopes that a mile and a half would be no problem to Azamour.

"I'd be very happy about him getting a mile and a half," he said. "Everything he has done for me this season indicates he would stay, even though there are doubts about it on breeding.

"We knew we were going to have to step up 7lb or so to win today as he was up against some good horses, but we thought he could do it.

"He is improving physically all the time and is heavier now than ever before.

"I had to take him back at the start and hope that chasing the pace would soften them up a bit in front, and that's how it proved. He won this on merit and as he is still improving, he is a very exciting colt."

Elsworth plans to return to a mile with Norse Dancer in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in a fortnight's time in his bid to find the Group One victory his charge now deserves.

"I just wanted to put the record straight and this would have been the race to do it in. It's so frustrating," he said.

"We have beaten all the horses we had to beat, and still not won.

"It's nobody's fault, but he was probably in front too soon again. I'm not blaming John (Egan), but it's annoying.

"The good news is that he will stay in training next season. I think he is mentally stronger now than ever and another year can only do him good."

Third-placed Powerscourt could now be Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-bound, with Aidan O'Brien of the opinion that a return to a mile and a half would be no problem.

And the Arc could also be on the cards for fourth-home Grey Swallow.

"The big races are coming up for him in the next few weeks," said his trainer Dermot Weld. "I am not at all disappointed with that - he has beaten a length and a half in a race full of very good horses."

However, Rakti ran only a respectable race in fifth, with Philip Robinson commenting: "I just didn't have the horse under me when I asked him to go."

Doyen's disappointing effort caused chaos in the betting for the Arc. He was removed from the list by Ladbrokes and Coral, leaving stablemate Sulamani at the head of the market for the Longchamp feature.

"I am very disappointed with that," said Doyen's trainer Saeed Bin Suroor. "We'll have to see how he comes out of this now. He just ran flat.

"Frankie said he was travelling really well all the way but that when he asked him to quicken, he had just gone."

A veterinary inspection of the four-year-old found him "post-race normal".