A minute before the official scratching time on Saturday, third emergency Loch Eagle still hadn't gained a run in the $3 million The Ingham. But a little over eight hours later, and the Kris Lees-trained gelding was striding clear to deliver apprentice Dylan Gibbons a memorable victory in the pinnacle race of the Sydney summer carnival.
"At 7.29 he hadn't gained a start," Lees said. "He was just about to have a gallop to prepare for a race next Saturday and the phone call came through, being third emergency.
"And [then] he had to overcome a wide gate. Early in the run, I thought he was going to be posted but he got him in three-deep with cover, it was a lovely ride. He presented him at the right time and was able to get there on the line."
The race morning scratchings of first and second emergencies Williamsburg and Military Expert paved the way for Loch Eagle to enter the fray, but jumping from barrier 18 of 20, he still needed another stroke of luck to fall his way. That happened when Gibbons was able to slot in, wide but with cover, and get the five-year-old into a beautiful rhythm.
Dylan Gibbons and Loch Eagle return to scale after their The Ingham victory; picture sportpix.com.au
Just as Attractable ($8.50) appeared to have skipped away with a winning break halfway up the Randwick straight, Loch Eagle ($18) knuckled down to give chase, nailing the Big Dance winner by a half-neck. Lion's Roar (NZ) ($6) was again doing his best work late to finish the same margin away third.
Loch Eagle's victory atoned for his luckless second in The Gong where he was also trapped wide but battled on gamely to hold second behind Detonator Jack (NZ). In hindsight, Lees felt that performance helped the horse in Saturday's The Ingham (1600m).
"He was really good the other day in The Gong, again from a wide gate he was just posted," Lees said. "He had a similar run, but no cover, that just took its toll late. But it seasoned him for today."
Gibbons was thrilled to deliver a Group 2 win for his master and said the horse deserved just as much after a run of bad luck.
"He's just an absolute warrior this horse. He has slowly progressed through his grades, he's always had a lot of ability but just never had the luck," Gibbons said.
"It's always good to reward the boss and just keep reminding him why I'm here. He's looked after me from day one and along with many others, I wouldn't be here today without blokes like him. To pay him back on a day like today, it means a lot."
Detonator Jack (NZ) started a $5.50 favourite and jockey Jason Collett said the horse worked home well when he eventually got clear. "He was cluttered up and didn't have the room when he needed the room to get going," Collett said.