Laurens returned to her brilliant best with a tenacious front-running shift to spoil what was supposed to be Alpha Centauri’s homecoming ceremonial in what turned out to be a thrilling edition of the Group 1 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (1600m) at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Sent off at odds of 30-100 to land a fifth Group 1 and reaffirm her status as the season’s marquee three-year-old, Alpha Centauri was making hard work of overhauling the Danny Tudhope-ridden Laurens when she teetered momentarily in the straight.
The Jessica Harrington-trained filly failed to see out her challenge from there. Laurens, however, kept finding and prevailed by three-quarters of a length to give an emotional Karl Burke his first Group 1 success in Ireland.
Tudhope, who was standing in for PJ McDonald after Burke’s Wexford-born rider suffered fractures to his left ankle and right heel in a freak parade-ring fall at Newcastle earlier in the month, had already won this year’s Pretty Polly Stakes on Urban Fox.
There was a stewards’ inquiry but that related to Alpha Centauri edging left into Magical when she wavered.
The result constituted glorious vindication of the decision to drop the 1,000 Guineas runner-up back to a mile after she failed to stay 12 furlongs in the Yorkshire Oaks.
Although she had twice won over a mile as a juvenile, including at the highest level, her two Group 1 triumphs in France this year – the Prix Saint-Alary and Prix de Diane – had come over ten furlongs, so it was a pretty audacious ploy.
“It’s probably the highlight of my career so far,” Burke admitted as he just about kept it together in the winner’s enclosure. “My family are from here, so it’s a big thing to come back to Ireland and win a Group 1. She has proved herself a very high-class filly.”
On the decision to revert to a mile, he confirmed that it was his stable star’s colourful owner John Dance who first mooted the idea.
“John was very bullish about coming here," he said. "Very unfortunately for PJ he got injured, but fair play to him for turning up today to support her, and Danny gave her a great ride."
Dance admitted that conquering Alpha Centauri on home turf was sweet, having felt that Laurens - who Burke suggested would next head for Newmarket's Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes - had not been given the credit she deserved ahead of the race.
“It just niggled,” he said, “because I thought people were underestimating her again, so to come and prove it is great."
McDonald, who was in a wheelchair, was magnanimous about seeing his regular mount fulfil their expectations of her without him.
"I'd much prefer to be on Danny's side of it but I'm going to enjoy it tonight with the lads,” he said.
Of the vanquished Alpha Centauri, who was subsequently reported to be clinically abnormal, her rider Colm O’Donoghue said: "She quickened up and went half a length up, but for whatever reason she lost her action and half knuckled over for a stride or two.
"Then she recovered and did it a second time, so that was it. But fair dues to the winner – she's a top-class filly."
Harrington echoed her jockey’s summary of events.
"She got to the lead and took a bad step, simple as,” she said. “I saw it when I was watching it because I thought, 'Oh god'. Unfortunately that's racing. We live to fight another day."