On what was only the four-year-old's fifth career start, jockey Pat Smullen steered his mount to the front as the field straightened for home but was desperately holding on in the closing stages as Jamie Spencer and The Grey Gatsby (Mastercraftsman) finally found room to squeeze by Western Hymn (High Chaparral).
The pair flashed past the line with only a short head between them, with Western Hymn two and three quarter lengths away in third. Criterion (Sebring), who was bullish in the parade ring as he bucked and kicked, appeared unable to produce his best form on ground described as "firm in places" by the time the race went off. He ultimately finished fifth of the nine runners under Chad Schofield, beaten a little less than four lengths.
Free Eagle's lack of racing experience is mainly due to a stress fracture sustained to a fibia last year, which ended hopes of a tilt at Classic riches and he also overcame a head cold in the weeks leading into the race. "He hasn't been easy, he has a lot of problems," Melbourne Cup (Gr 1) winner Weld said. "He had a heavy head cold a couple of weeks ago and I thought today was going to be very much in doubt but we got him right on the day that matters. Fitness was my biggest concern; he hasn't run in nine months. I had him as good as I could have him with the limited preparation he had. He gallops low to the ground, he's a lovely stayer, he sticks his head out and he battles, but you can't force fitness. Ideally, the race was two weeks too soon. I did have huge confidence in the horse and his ability, though. It was a calculated risk and a personal triumph for me."
The four-year-old will head to the Irish National Stud at the conclusion of his racing career and Weld hopes he can add a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1) title to his CV before then. "Today was the day but we've been lucky with races like the Irish Champion Stakes and I've always thought the Arc would be his long-term objective."
Jockey Pat Smullen, meanwhile, was equally relieved by the victory and said: "I probably sat closer than I had anticipated beforehand and committed earlier than I thought but that's how the race unfolded. "I am relieved because I have been saying for at least two years how good this horse is and thankfully he is starting to show it. He thrived on that ground. He is a wonderful horse who has a great action and that has played to his strengths today. "He is just a very good horse and he was able to show on that very quick summer ground what a fantastic horse he is."
Extracted from ANZ Bloodstock News / 18.06.2015
The Independent UK (p)