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Rhododendron just denies Lightning Spear in thrilling finish to the Lockinge

Rhododendron (near side) just gets the better of a thrilling finish to the Lockinge Stakes
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It was somehow one of the few to get away from world record-holder Aidan O’Brien last year but the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes was added to this year’s Group 1 roll of honour when Rhododendron completed her redemption from a near-death experience in France just 11 months ago.

The master of Ballydoyle was also quickly moving on from his 300th Group 1 win, which was provided by Saxon Warrior in the 2,000 Guineas. 

The Lockinge has proved elusive for the Coolmore team since Hawk Wing annihilated the field in 2003 and this second win was at the other end of the scale, as Rhododendron had a short-head to spare over last year’s runner-up Lightning Spear.

O’Brien runners dictated the race, with Deauville striding on and Lancaster Bomber flanking him. Rhododendron was planted in the chasing pack.

Rhododendron (near side) battles to deny Lightning Spear

Only Rhododendron and Lightning Spear could get past Lancaster Bomber and the pair produced the type of nip-and-tuck finish that Moore usually comes out on top of – although it was his first success in this race at the tenth attempt.

Paying tribute to the remarkable filly, Moore said: “She’s a Group 1 winner at two, three and four, over different trips and on different ground and is very straightforward.”

O’Brien took the opportunity to remember the darkest day for the daughter of Galileo, which was nearly a year ago in the Prix de Diane at Chantilly. 

Lockinge winners: Rhododedron and her team at Newbury

"She bled the worst I have ever seen. She exploded in the race and all the horses and jockeys were covered in her blood. I think may be it was the heat that day – it was 30 degrees at Chantilly.

“We were very worried for her – it is very rare for a horse to come back from something like that.”

That she recovered to win the Group 1 Prix de L'Opera on Arc weekend last year before finishing a gallant second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar suggested she was made of something otherworldly.

Some may have questioned her remaining in training as she was swept aside by Cracksman over an extended mile and a quarter in France on her reappearance but all that did was get the Ballydoyle brains ticking.

Rhododendron (middle of three behind) was fourth behind Cracksman in the Prix Ganay on her seasonal reappearance

O’Brien added: “The last day in France she travelled well through the race before John's [Gosden] horse won well. She was going a step slower through the race than she wanted, she wanted to go a gear higher and that indicated she would be fine over a mile.”

That proved precisely the case but her Royal Ascot assignment could be either the Queen Anne over a mile, for which Paddy Power made her the 3-1 favourite (from 7-1), or the Prince Of Wales’s back over a mile and a quarter.

Ominously O'Brien added: "She is going to improve again – she hasn't been on the grass gallop yet!"

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She’s a Group 1 winner at two three and four, over different trips and different ground and is very straightforward
E.W. Terms