French raider Cirrus des Aigles was a shock winner of the Group One Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, winning his first race at this level in seven attempts.
The five-year-old gelding (12/1) prevailed in a thrilling duel with the Irish-trained former Australian champion and warm 7/4 favourite So You Think, while tough as teak filly Snow Fairy was third.
So You Think had looked to be set to make up for his disappointing fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe two weeks ago as Ryan Moore sent him to the lead early in the straight.
However, crack Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon produced Cirrus des Aigles down the outside as other more favoured horses such as Sir Henry Cecil’s two-time winner of the race Twice Over faded from the picture.
Soumillon, who had grabbed a few minutes with Queen Elizabeth II before the previous race to chat about the winner he rode for her in France earlier this week, wouldn’t let Moore get free of his gelding.
Into the final furlong it was neck and neck but Soumillon, who was gaining consolation for missing the Arc weekend because he was suspended, dug deep and edged his mount over the line with So You Think a gallant second.
“This is a great day for French racing and a great day for French sport,” said Soumillon, referring also to France’s victory in the World Cup semi-final.
“I am really happy for Cirrus des Aigles to win this race as he is a champion and has been knocking on the door for ages.
“Today that door came down and it is great as he is French racing’s mascot.
“I was in the ideal position behind the favourite as nobody is going to come along and knock you off your placing as they don’t think you are a danger.
“I let Ryan take the lead and then I delivered my horse and I knew he had enough in the tank to battle it out with So You Think. It was a great race and it is a victory by a true champion.”
The was sent over for this ten furlong prize after being denied a run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe because he is a gelding, prompting his trainer, Corinne Barbe to say: “It’s very good for English races to accept geldings.
“I’m so happy, especially for ’Cirrus’, my best friend! I always thought he was the best in the race.”
Snow Fairy ran on in her usual style under Olivier Peslier to secure her third successive place in a Group One this year and last year’s two-time Oaks winner will hope she gets off the mark in either Hong Kong or Japan later in the season.