Within 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon, the racing world lost two of the stars that have lit up the summer. Saxon Warrior and subsequently Alpha Centauri were retired after injuries sustained on the opening day of the Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown, the pair having amassed six Group 1 victories between them in their careers.
Saxon Warrior’s retirement may almost feel like an anticlimax after the fanfare of his 2000 Guineas win and the furore of the Triple Crown bid. However, the son of Japanese superstar Deep Impact still had an impressive season, only finding John Gosden’s Roaring Lion too good twice in Group 1 company. Alongside his 2000 Guineas crown, he became trainer Aidan O’Brien’s 26th Group 1 winner of 2017 when winning the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October, beating Bobby Frankel’s previous record.
All eyes were on Epsom for leg 2 of the Triple Crown. The helter-skelter course on the Downs is the graveyard for many wannabe champions. Ryan Moore was well positioned throughout on Saxon Warrior, but Godolphin provided the best stayer of the 1m 4f trip – Masar powering home for William Buick and the boys in blue. Saxon Warrior finished a gallant fourth, the trip seemingly stretching his legs just a bit too much.
The bug which swept through the Ballydoyle yard this summer affected Saxon Warrior as much as any horse at O’Brien’s disposal. He folded dismally in the Irish Derby before a gallant second to Roaring Lion in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown just seven days later. After a 6 week break, Saxon Warrior was found wanting in a quality Juddmonte International, in which his long time foe Roaring Lion was once again successful, powering away from Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hope Poet’s Word in the process.
With Saturday the unknown swansong, the 3yo went down on his sword. Moore took up the running 2f out and the Coolmore tactics of pushing Roaring Lion wide almost paid dividends, only to see Oisin Murphy flash by the in shadow of the post. Nevertheless, it is a career that will be looked upon in years to come with great fondness. Many a racing fan will remember the Saxon fever the swept through the sport when the Triple Crown was a distinct possibility.
The Irish champion trainer was full of admiration for Saxon Warrior, a grand servant lost in the same week as the decision was made to retire Ballydoyle stalwart Order of St George.
Speaking on Sunday, O’Brien said: “It’s a big pity that we’ve had to retire him. He was a brilliant horse and put up his his best performance when winning the 2,000 Guineas.
“He was sore when he got home from Leopardstown, so we wrapped him up, and when we took the bandages off this morning there was a lot of swelling to his near-fore tendon. Our vet John Halley examined him and after the horse was scanned John told me he had quite a significant core lesion to his flexor tendon.
“We tried him over a mile and a half at Epsom and again in the Irish Derby as we thought Epsom might not have suited him. He went for the Eclipse and ran a smashing race only a week after the Irish Derby.
“He was very sick after Sandown and was just ready to start back in the Juddmonte International. We knew he would come on a lot from York and he did just that at Leopardstown. It’s possible a mile was his best trip. He was a very talented racehorse – top class.”
Alpha Centauri was arguably the filly who lit up the flat season. After a solid 2yo campaign which saw her beaten only a neck in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, her career shot into the stratosphere in 2018, amassing Group 1 victories in Ireland, the UK and in a dominant performance from off the pace in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville where she saw off subsequent Prix du Moulin winner Recoletos to claim her fourth successive Group 1 of the season.
Without doubt her best performance came at Royal Ascot this summer, where she rectified the disappointment of last year. She was simply breathtaking in the Coronation Stakes, demolishing the field by six lengths and smashing the track record in the process. The potential that was on display as a 2yo and in her victory in the Irish 1000 Guineas in May was now there for all to see and she had the world at her feet.
A routine success in the Falmouth at Newmarket followed in July before she passed her Deauville assignment with flying colours.
The Breeders Cup Mile was firmly on the table as an end of season target but before that, all eyes turned to Leopardstown for the G1 Matron Stakes on Saturday. On a mouth-watering card which contained the fifth and final showdown between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, Alpha Centauri was on the undercard with the opportunity to dazzle those in attendance and firmly establish herself as the champion miler.
The Niarchos family’s filly, trained by Jessica Harrington, was sent off the 3/10 favourite for the fillies showpiece event of the day, Colm O’Donoghue was happy to sit in behind the Karl Burke trained Laurens, herself a filly who has been a revelation this season. Turning for home with half a mile left to travel, she hit a low of 1.09 on Betfair, with O’Donoghue still double handed in behind the eventual winner. However, Laurens is not a horse who will go down without a fight and the pair kicked on for a straight shootout in the final 2 furlongs, with Magical the closest spectator at that stage. However, Alpha Centauri appeared to miss a step at a crucial point not once but twice, and Danny Tudhope was able to push Laurens out to win by three-quarters of a length, the 1000 Guineas runner-up recording a fourth Group 1 of her career herself in the process.
Discussing the glittering career of the daughter of Mastercraftsman, Harrington said: “I’ve had an amazing summer with her. She gave me my first Classic winner, my first Royal Ascot winner, my first French winner – she’s done an awful lot of firsts for me. I can’t thank the Niarchos family enough. Now we’ve got to try and find another.
“It was incredible to have her, and no-one can take away what she’s done. For her to sustain the injury she did – and everyone could see when she did it – and still run on to finish second to another very, very good filly says it all.
O’Donoghue, who partnered Alpha Centauri in all 10 of her starts, added: “She was an incredible filly. She didn’t just beat them, she annihilated them.
“She broke horses’ hearts and she’s been immense for my career. It was a privilege to be associated with her.”