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Rashabar hangs for victory in thrilling Coventry Stakes

Billy Loughnane with his mum Claire and dad Mark after his victory on Rashabar Billy Loughnane with his mum Claire and dad Mark after his victory on Rashabar
© Photo Healy Racing

Rashabar held off the late challenge of Wathnan Racing duo Electrolyte and Columnist to claim the Coventry Stakes in a desperately tight finish, in the process returning some very famous silks to the Royal Ascot winner’s enclosure.

Brian Meehan’s charge had not managed to get his head in front in his first two appearances, despite promising displays at Newbury and Chester, but the Holy Roman Emperor colt – in the colours associated for so long with the late Robert Sangster – had just enough in the tank to score as an 80-1 winner by a nose.

Under the guidance of teenager Billy Loughnane, Rashabar led a group of eight on the far rail, bursting ahead inside the final furlong and stretching his advantage to over a length as he looked to have a clear route to the finishing line.

Electrolyte (Hollie Doyle) and Columnist (Oisin Orr) finished strongly, however, and rapidly reduced Rashabar’s lead, but the winning post came just in time as Loughnane, 18, celebrated his first career winner at the Royal meeting by the smallest of margins.

Meehan said: “Dare I say it, it’s not a huge surprise. He’s felt very good since Chester, everything has gone very well with him throughout. Sean Levey said that when a horse runs around Chester it’s like having two runs, they learn so much, especially a two-year-old that had only run once before.

“We’ve felt really good the past few weeks, we were always aiming for here. There was a thought in my head throughout that he was never going to be a five-furlong horse, but we want to get two runs for our two-year-olds before Ascot. I didn’t think he’d win over five, but he ran very well, better than I thought, and at Chester he was badly drawn and had he not missed the break he’d have won. The form has worked out very well.

“We’re very lucky that we get to use Billy when we can. He’s a great kid with a lovely way about him, he’s wonderful with people and the world is his oyster.”

Asked how special it was to win the race with a horse carrying these colours, Meehan said: “It is. You can try to keep a lid on things now, but we’ll draw breath in an hour or so and take some pleasure out of it.

“Right now it’s just about showing what we can do, the team at home, the early mornings, the late nights, everything that’s done, the talking, the thinking and the working it out. It’s just very special.

Looking to future plans, Meehan said: “We shall see. I’ve always liked the idea of the Prix Morny, the July Stakes would be too soon, the Richmond is attractive. Obviously we have to think about Group One races… maybe a Breeders’ Cup by the end of the year.”

Loughnane said: “It’s an amazing feeling, to be doing it so young is massive. I was second in one of the races last year, I was beaten a couple of lengths, it was hard as I’m so young and it was my first Ascot, but when I look back on it it was a great achievement to even be riding at Ascot at 17 years old.

“What a feeling today, I’ll try to savour every moment.

“I’ve worn these silks a few times, I’ve ridden quite a bit for Brian and Manton, they’re colours with a deep history and to be able to put them on is a great achievement.”

Rashabar runs in the name of Manton Thoroughbreds, and Sangster’s son, Sam, was emotional as he said: “I’m pretty much in tears behind my sunglasses, it was amazing. Brian has believed in the horse from day one and I really did feel we had a big chance.

“There was a reason I set the syndicate up 10 years ago, to keep the colours going. We have a lot of runners, it’s been fantastic in the last couple of years. We had Isaac Shelby last year and this fellow this year. I’m a bit lost for words and emotional, especially when you talk about the colours and my old man.”

Archie Watson said of the runner-up: “I got beat a neck across the track in the race with Army Ethos last year and we’ve got beat a nose in the race across the track this year.

“I guess it’s fantastic to be sent these horses from Wathnan, he ran a huge race and he’s going to be a proper two-year-old. I’m gutted, but delighted – the main thing is the horse ran well.

“I guess James (Doyle) had the choice between the three (Wathnan horses) and that had a bearing on his odds, but I think we’ve now had a third, a winner and two seconds in this race in the last three years.”

Richard Fahey’s Columnist was the third horse, and Wathnan’s racing adviser Richard Brown added: “It’s Archie I feel sorry for, but both have run fantastic races and we’re delighted.

“There’s a good team here from Qatar and none of us are under any illusions about how tough it is to win at Ascot and that race goes to show it.

“Well done to Brian Meehan and his team, it was a great race and ours have performed with great credit. It’s mixed emotions, but we’ve got two very nice horses to look forward to.

“This project isn’t just about Ascot, it’s also about the future and that shows we have two nice horses to go to war with for the rest of the season.”