Rite Of Passage confirms himself a staying great
Report: Ascot, Saturday
Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 3) 2m, 3yo+
IT truly was a rite of passage. After such a troubled passage. Having been off the track for 510 days with tendon problems Dermot Weld has delivered his eight-year-old perfectly to win the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day in thrilling fashion.
Close to retirement on so many occasions, Weld's persistence paid off and chucked into Group 1 company off the lengthy break, Rite Of Passage rewarded his trainer emphatically.
Even after everything he overcame to get back to the track, once back where he belonged it was by no means easy. First he was reluctant to load and then, once racing, found himself boxed in on the rail at a crucial time inside the final furlong.
But Rite Of Passage was not to be denied and Pat Smullen somehow managed to get out and get up, completing the horse's journey from injury-prone talent to staying great.
"It's very special," said Weld. "The horse deserved to come back and don't forget he set a course record when winning the Gold Cup. He's had ongoing tendon problems - most of the time I thought he'd be retired - but he's got a great will to win. It's very satisfying. It was one of the biggest tests I've faced and I'm delighted he came good."
Smullen was keen to praise his boss, adding: "It's one of the most impressive training performances I've seen. The horse has had a lot of problems and the boss has worked extremely hard. We were worried about his fitness so I helped him along for the first half of the race then at Swinley Bottom he came on the bridle. I took a chance going up the inside and it paid off."
Dermot Weld: it's very specialPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
A chance indeed. It was coolness personified by Smullen. Having been sat in rear he worked his way up the rail in the home straight, only to be confronted with the stopping Fame And Glory in front of him and Aiken on his outside.
He had nowhere to go, his passage well and truly blocked. But Smullen somehow, with horses all around him, managed to find a way out - and once switched wide he powered all the way to the line.
Despite the long absence and contesting a race that contained the last three winners of the Ascot Gold Cup, on soft ground, run at a strong pace, with a brutal finish, he was not found wanting for fitness and even less so for heart. Battling his way to a fantastic victory, getting the better of Aiken by a neck, with Askar Tau running a blinder to finish third, he showed all the class that took him to the top of the staying tree back in 2010.
Quoted at 8-1 for next year's Ascot Gold Cup by Paddy Power and at 7-2 by Boylesports, Rite Of Passage now sits firmly atop the staying division. If he stays sound, can anything beat him?