Wonderful Winter wows fans to secure fourth Group 1 triumph
Winter is a beauty with her steel-grey coat and kind eyes. But her biggest gift is toughness. Enough to persuade Aidan O’Brien as he walked the course in a storm that she would cope with the worst Goodwood had to offer.
The reward for Ballydoyle was Winter’s fourth Group 1 win in 88 days as she powered to victory in the Qatar Nassau Stakes.
The anticipation now pours as O’Brien ponders a world of new possibilities. The Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes. And, come October at Chantilly, the Arc.
Only the finest athletes prosper when posed with the biggest challenges. For Winter there were several. Ground better suited to a Cheltenham Gold Cup. The unknown terrain of a mile and a quarter. Dealing with one of the trickiest tracks in the country.
“It was a risk running her and I was holding my breath the whole way,” said O’Brien after deciding she had a better chance of coping with the conditions than Churchill, who was pulled out of the Sussex Stakes by the trainer 24 hours earlier.
“But she’s a big powerful mare with big feet, a big strong filly, and she had won her three Group 1s. We walked the track yesterday in the middle of the hurricane and knew it couldn’t be any worse today.”
The 10-11 favourite was a shade keen as the bad ground dampened the pace on the big loop away from the stands. But Ryan Moore calmly kept the cork in the bottle, relaxing the daughter of Galileo behind leader Sobetsu.
When Moore asked for extra two furlongs from home, the response was not explosive. Fireworks get dulled in the damp. But she was always, remorselessly, in control, easing to the front and showing her dominance by a length and a half from the staying-on Blond Me.
O’Brien added: “The worries were the soft ground and the mile and a quarter. It was like winter National Hunt ground. When you go past that two-furlong marker in that ground you don’t know what’s going to happen. But Ryan gave her a lovely ride. He nursed her. And obviously she’s very classy.
“Ryan didn’t think she was limited at the trip and this opens up an awful lot of options. She’s a filly to look forward to for the second half of the season now.”
Winter was cut to 3-1 (from 8) for the Irish Champion Stakes by Paddy Power, who offer 12-1 about her winning the Arc over two furlongs further.
O’Brien, who an hour later had more to celebrate when Tigris River, trained by son Joseph, won the Galway Hurdle, said: “You would be very comfortable going a mile and a quarter again, like at Leopardstown or York, but you wouldn’t rule out a mile and a half.
"She has a lot more options and the Arc is a possible. We’ll see how she progresses.”
Andrew Balding, trainer of Blond Me, was delighted to be in Winter’s shadow.
“She's a cracking filly and that confirms that the Middleton win was no fluke,” he said. “I have a feeling she will stay a bit further and we have her in the Grosser Preis Von Baden.”
Moore’s immediate assessment of Winter’s win was less effusive, but just as insightful.
“That was nothing I didn’t expect to see,” he said.
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