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Saturday, November 27, 2021

St Mark’s Basilica earns horse of the year accolade

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After winning all four of his races in 2021, it’s no surprise that St Mark’s Basilica was named horse of the year at the recent Cartier Awards. As one of the most impressive horses in all of flat racing in recent times, such a title feels fitting for the Aidan O’Brien-trained three-year-old, who was recently retired to stud after picking up an injury.

“He’s a wonderful horse,” O’Brien reflected, “possibly the best we have ever had in Ballydoyle. For us, he is as important a horse as has retired from here since Galileo, because he is a Siyouni. He gets his speed from him, and he relaxes and quickens and has all the determination from Galileo.

Regular jockey Ryan Moore added: “He really was a brilliant horse, a pleasure to ride in fact, and a dream for any jockey, but he relaxed so well and then quickened instantly when you asked him. He won five Group 1s on the spin and everything he has done this year has been extremely impressive.”

The horse of the year accolade is one last honour for a horse who needed no introduction. Everyone knew of St Mark’s Basilica’s qualities, and you only need to look at his race record to understand why he is so highly regarded in the world of flat racing.

His first win in 2021 came in France in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains at Longchamp, with jockey Ioritz Mendizabal on board. It was a strong showing by St Mark’s Basilica in a tough race, as Colosseo and Breizh Eagle did their best to hunt him down. One of the three-year-old’s greatest attributes was his abilty to find that extra burst of energy towards the end of a race, and that’s what he did to ensure the victory headed O’Brien’s way.

Mendizabal was again in the saddle at Chantilly as St Mark’s Basilica reigned supreme once again on French soil, this time in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club. It was another close yet impressive win for O’Brien’s horse, living up to his status as favourite on the best horse racing betting sites, consigning Millebosc to third place and unlikely 53/1 outsider Sealiway to second.

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From there, it was over to England for the Eclipse at Sandown, where St Mark’s Basilica flexed his muscles to give a dominant display. Moore was in the saddle, and the pair worked brilliantly in tandem to deliver a memorable triumph, with Addeybb and Mishriff lagging lengths behind.

The icing on the cake was victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown — in what would prove to be St Mark’s Basilica’s last professional race. It was a close-run thing in the four-horse race, with the Dermot Weld trained-Tarnawa providing stiff competition all the way to the finish line. But O’Brien, Moore and their trusty colt weren’t to be denied, with victory coming by a margin of less than a length.

It was fitting that St Mark’s Basilica’s final outing was on Irish soil, and resulted in a memorable triumph. While it’s sad that injury has curtailed his career, he will be remembered by racing fans as one of O’Brien’s finest performers, and is a worthy recipient of the horse of the year title.

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