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Rhododendron blooms in Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes

19 May 2018

Aidan O'Brien-trained filly pips Lightning Spear by short head in thriller at Newbury.

Rhododendron, far side, edges out Lightning Spear in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. Picture:

Rhododendron pipped the luckless Lightning Spear by a short head in a gripping finish to the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Lightning Spear looked like he just about hit the front under Oisin Murphy and was about to spring a 16-1 surprise in the QIPCO British Champions Series showpiece, but Ryan Moore had hit top gear aboard Rhododendron (100-30 favourite) in the centre of the course.

The photo finish revealed Rhododendron, trained by Aidan O’Brien, had won by inches. Lightning Spear had also been second a year earlier, to Ribchester, and was finishing placed in a Group 1 race for a fifth time.

Lancaster Bomber, also trained by O’Brien, who won with Hawk Wing in 2003, was two and three-quarter lengths away in third.

“I haven’t had the wind taken out of my sails like that for a while,” said David Simcock, the trainer of Lightning Spear. “I’m just a little gutted, but very proud of the horse. He was given a great ride – I thought he was going to win at one stage.

“We’re just fond of him and he’s never let us down. He’s been placed in so many Group Ones, you just feel we’d like to have won one with him, but he’s run a great race. Fair play to the filly.”

O’Brien said of Rhododendron: “We’ve been very happy with her since the last day and we were hoping she had progressed.

“Obviously we were going back to a mile and she hadn’t been back there since she ran in the Guineas last year. We thought that whatever she did today she would move up a bit.”

Looking to future plans, he said: “We thought we would come here and then on to Ascot.

“We have the option of a mile or a mile and a quarter. We’ll have a good chat with Ryan, the lads always talk after the races and we’ll see what they want to do closer to Ascot.”

If she sticks to a mile, then a rematch with Lightning Spear in the Queen Anne Stakes will be on the cards. Rhododendron is 5-1 favourite with Ladbrokes for that race, with Lightning Spear available at 14-1.