“He’s a wonderful horse, possibly the best we have ever had in Ballydoyle,” said renowned Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien when he revealed late last month that he has made the difficult decision to retire his prized asset, St Mark’s Basilica.
The shock news came after the three-year-old’s fantastic victory in the Irish Champion Chase at Leopardstown, where he beat l’Arc de Triomphe contender Tarnawa to the €570,000 prize purse by little less than a length.
It was the fourth time of this thrilling flat season that St Mark’s Basilica featured at the forefront of the horse racing results, but due to a potential recurring injury, which was first picked up ahead of the Group 1 Juddmonte International and made him withdraw from the race, O’Brien made the tough call to retire the former two-year-old European champion to stud.
It is a great shame to see such a fantastic horse retired after just two seasons, but the health of St Mark’s Basilica’s is paramount. Nonetheless, he had a fantastic, albeit short, career, especially this season. So, without further ado, let’s take a look back at what has been an unbelievable year for the O’Brien-trained horse.
Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Group 1) – Longchamp
After ending last season with a maiden Group 1 victory in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, St Mark’s Basilica started this season at the iconic Longchamp in Paris, winning the Poule d’Essai des Poulains. In France’s equivalent of the 2,000 Guineas, the three-year-old was stuck in midfield before being shaken up two furlongs out. He then started to make good headway under jockey Ioritz Mendizabal, taking the lead inside the final 150 yards and going on to beat Colosseo by a length and three quarters.
Prix du Jockey Club (Group 1) – Chantilly
Sticking with Group 1s in France, St Mark’s Basilica backed up his Poule d’Essai des Poulains triumph with another comfortable victory in the Prix du Jockey Club, which was inspired by the English Derby back in 1836. Setting off as the favourite and with Spaniard Mendizabal still in the saddle, the three-year-old was tracking the leaders with two and a half furlongs to go. However, a furlong on and he was ridden into the lead before driving clear of the rest of the field. He stayed on well to beat Sealiway by a length and three quarters.
Eclipse (Group 1) (British Champions Series) – Sandown
Back on British soil, St Mark’s Basilica won the Sandown Eclipse in July. Bursting out of the stalls as the evens favourite, the O’Brien-trained horse, who was being ridden by the ever-reliable Ryan Moore, tracked the leaders before being switched to the centre three furlongs out. He was then shaken up by the Irish jockey and took the lead with a furlong to go. It was a strong finish to the race from St Mark’s Basilica as he went clear in the closing stages to win by three and a half lengths clear of former Champion Stakes winner Addeybb.
Irish Champion Stakes – Leopardstown
And finally, the aforementioned Irish Champion Stakes. Returning from injury, St Mark’s Basilica set off as the odds-on favourite in the Irish Champion Stakes, but it wasn’t the most convincing of runs from the three-year-old. Five lengths behind the leaders in third at the halfway stage, he started to close the gap when pushed along by Moore. St Mark’s Basilica soon went second and started to challenge the leader one furlong out before going into the lead. Despite starting to drift right towards the finish, the O’Brien-trained horse held on to win by three quarters of a length clear of Tarnawa.