Roaring Lion comes of age in vintage Juddmonte International
Who needs Cracksman and Enable when Roaring Lion comes to town?
Once an immature menace who ducked and dived his way to the winning post, the playful cub has made way for a fierce hunter on the Group 1 prowl and, with his most authoritative and professional performance yet, the muscular grey had too much brawn for a Juddmonte International field that did not lack for quality.
With all but one of the eight-strong field having already conquered racing’s highest rank, this had all the makings of a vintage Group 1 and, while it did not disappoint, it was hard to predict Roaring Lion’s superiority, travelling effortlessly to the lead under Oisin Murphy before gunning to a three-and-a-quarter-length victory over the second-highest-rated horse on the planet, Poet’s Word.
With Arc-winning stablemate Enable on the sidelines and the Knavesmire anything but the mire Cracksman adores, Roaring Lion has emerged from two towering shadows at John Gosden’s star-studded Newmarket yard and, after following up success in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, is Flat racing's new middle-distance pin-up.
“He’d been training exceptionally well and we made no secret,” said Gosden, who enjoyed what he saw as much as everyone else.
“Kieran O’Neill is the man who needs a lot of congratulations here, along with Ben, who looks after him, they’ve done a wonderful job with him.”
Having compromised his chances of victory in last season’s Racing Post Trophy with his wayward antics, Roaring Lion started the season moderately in the Craven but, with a little help from an Indian summer, has blossomed.
Gosden added: “I had a difficult spring with him, it was horrible, cold and wet and he wasn’t enjoying it but he’s just got better and better and this wasn't a fluke. He threw away the Racing Post Trophy and wasn’t really with me at the time of the Craven and the Guineas but my God the Guineas put him right.
“He was the last one off the bridle in the Derby but plainly didn’t stay but he’s won an Eclipse and now the Juddmonte. He’s got a massive middle and has got bigger and stronger as the year has gone on. The curve was upward all the way and this is a much better horse than the one who ran at Sandown. I was expecting a big performance and we got one.”
While the winner was always in clear water, Poet’s Word had to be driven early in the straight and switched to his left to escape an uncomfortable pocket but, while that was far from ideal, it would be far-fetched to call him an unlucky loser with Roaring Lion last off the bridle and dominant at the finish.
The Champion Stakes in both Ireland and Britain are on the radar next but Gosden was looking even further into the future, believing he can conquer even greater heights if he remains in training at four and beyond.
“There wasn’t a good older horse in the Eclipse and not a single three-year-old in the King George but now they’ve met and, at a mile and a quarter, this horse is the business,” he said.
“He’s a big-framed horse and only a three-year-old, so I see no reason that through the autumn and next year he can’t get better. The truth is they reach their absolute zenith at five if you give them the time.”
How long he stays in training will ultimately rest with owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, who described his latest Group 1 triumph – the third of the season for Qatar Racing – as the highlight of his involvement in racing.
“Dunaden winning the Melbourne Cup was high on my list but this one might have gone and eclipsed that,” said Sheikh Fahad. “To see what we’ve seen at home on a racetrack and beat all these Group 1 winners in that way, was very impressive.
"John Gosden has always had faith in this horse and we all knew the days were going to come for this horse and he showed it in trumps.”
Asked if he will be back next season, Sheikh Fahad added: “Probably the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes will be next but it’s too early to say about next year at this stage.”
If Gosden gets his way Roaring Lion will still be around next year and perhaps even the one after that too. Wouldn’t that be something to behold?
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