Horse Racing: Irish Champions Weekend

24 min

We’ve also a monster few days of action across the Irish Sea for Irish Champions Weekend – no fewer than 10 Group races spread over the two days at Leopardstown (Saturday) and the Curragh (Sunday) that include top Group One contests like the Matron Stakes, Irish Champions Stakes, Moyglare Stud Stakes, National Stakes and the Irish St Leger………………………..

Saturday 9th Sept

Leopardstown (ATR)

5.35 – Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (Group 1) (Fillies and Mares) 1m

Some of the best female milers line-up here and it looks like trainer Aidan O’Brien is going all-out for another win in the race. He took the prize 12 months ago with Alice Springs, plus in 2010 with Lillie Langtry, and with Rhododendron, Roly Poly and Winter all entered then it will be a shock if he’s not coming out on top again. Rhododendron was well-touted for a big season, but after being sent off the 5/4 favourite for the English 1,000 Guineas could only manage second, behind her stablemate Winter and was then put in her place by Enable in the Epsom Oaks (2nd). She’s since been pulled-up over in France, but despite not hitting the heights some expected those seconds were still decent efforts, while her conquerors both times have since more than franked the form.

Winter will be all the rage for the Matron Stakes.

Roly Poly was also second to Winter this season – this time in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot – but again advertised that form by winning the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and then the Prix Rothschild in France. She’s a top-class miler and should not be far away again. However, with WINTER having already taken the scalps of them both this term, plus very much improved herself since, then it’s hard to see this talented grey not adding this lucrative prize to her already impressive haul. She proved she stays further by landing the Nassau Stakes last time at Goodwood, but the drop back to a mile will be fine and has already put both Rhododendron and Roly Poly in their place by 2, 4 ¾ and 2 ¼ lengths this season – and can do so again. Of the rest, the non-Irish challenge will come from the French-trained Qemah, plus John Gosden’s Persuasive, but being 4 year-olds both have to give the selection 5lbs so that further adds to their task.

6.45 – QIPCO Irish Champions Stakes (Group 1) 1m2f

Irish Champion Stakes Betting Trends

  • 15/15 – Returned 9.0 or shorter in the betting
  • 15/15 – Previous Group 1 winner
  • 13/15 – Aged 3 or 4 years-old
  • 13/15 – Had won over 1m2f before
  • 13/15 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 12/15 – Ran at York, Sandown or Ascot last time out
  • 11/15 – Placed favourites
  • 11/15 – Had 4 or more previous runs that season
  • 9/15 – Trained in Ireland
  • 9/15 – Aged 3 years-old
  • 6/15 – Trained by Aidan O’Brien
  • 6/15 – Previous course winner
  • 6/15 – Winning favourites

Earlier in the week, there was some talk of Winter heading here too, but with that 3-year-old now going for the Matron Stakes then the task of her stablemate – Churchill – has been made that much easier. This season’s 2,000 Guineas winner will be all the rage here after bouncing back to form when second in the Juddmonte Stakes last time out and he’ll be looking to give trainer Aidan O’Brien his eighth win in the race. Yes, that last run was a step back in the right direction after his Royal Ascot flop, but I can’t help feeling he was still beaten 2 lengths that day by Ulysses and is yet to win over this 1m2f trip. On the ratings (123) he’s the clear one to beat, but there doesn’t look to be much value in siding with a horse that had a tall reputation at the start of this season but is coming here off the back of two defeats.

The Stoute yard sends over Poet’s Word, who is rated 10lbs inferior to Churchill, and also has to give the O’Brien horse 6lbs so his task is there for all to see. But with proven winning form over this 1m2f trip and a nice win last time at Goodwood in the Glorious Stakes then he’s certainly not without a chance. Yes, this is a big step up in class again, but the Stoute yard knows the time of day with their horses and don’t forget they also train Ulysses so should have a decent line of form to go on with this horse when it comes to Churchill. He also stays further than this 1m2f trip so we can expect connections to make full use of his stamina, while the Stoute team are no strangers to raiding the Irish shores to take this race after landing the spoils in 1994 and 1997. O’Brien also runs Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher, but he’s failed to build on that effort since and you just feel this 1m2f trip might be his optimum distance.

Eminent looks like the value in the Irish Champion Stakes.

You can never rule out a Dermot Weld-trained runner so their Zhukova is another of interest as this shrewd yard looks for their first win in this race. She’s a proven Group One performer and is another that stays further so we can expect connections to make full use of her stamina. But the value in the race looks to be with EMINENT. This Martyn Meade 3-year-old is another that will get weight from the older horses and despite having a bit to find with Churchill on the ratings is a horse that is proven over this 1m2f trip and was also very impressive when winning a Group Two over in France last time out. Frankie has been booked to ride and with six wins in this race, the horse will have every assistance from the saddle from the pocket Italian. He was a decent fourth in the Epsom Derby, when not getting the best of runs, and wasn’t disgraced in the Eclipse when 4 ¾ lengths adrift of Ulysses back in July. He also made all the running last time when winning so with the horse suiting this new tactic we can expect a similar ride here and in Frankie Dettori he’ll have no better judge of pace to get the fractions right. Of the rest, it’s worth noting that The Grey Gastby won this race in 2014 as a 3-year-old, but has rather lost his way of late so is overlooked.

Sunday 10th Sept

Curragh (ATR)

3.40 – Moyglare Stud Stakes (Group 1) (Fillies) 7f

The Irish have landed this race 9 times in the last 12 runnings and with all the entries this year coming from the home-based yards then that record will only improve here. The Aidan O’Brien team have won four of those last 12 Irish wins and with a big-hand again this year it looks like they will also be adding to that strike-rate. With an array of talent to pick from then we could even see O’Brien dominate the placings in this race too and in past big races, their second, third or even fourth strings can often surprise – just like they did in the Epsom Derby earlier this season.

However, their main hope here looks to be MAGICAL, who was an impressive winner last time out here over course and distance in a decent Group Two. She had stablemate – Happily – 1 ¼ lengths back in second that day and with the runner-up the more fancied in the betting, and the choice of Ryan Moore is was another example that the Ballydoyle connections don’t always get it right. She made all that day and looked to also have more in the locker than the official winning margin. The ground was soft there too, which she is likely to get again, and with the expected improvement, there is every reason to suggest there will be more to come. With entries in the Fillies’ Mile at HQ next month, and also in the Irish 1,000 Guineas then she’ll be expected to take this if wanting to do well in those two top Group One races later in her career.

Magical pictured winning at the Curragh last month.

Of the other O’Brien runners, September was a good winner of the Chesham at Royal Ascot in June but failed to build on that last time when a beaten favourite and fourth by stablemates – Magical and Happily. Based on that form she’s got a bit to find to overall the pair in front of her, so – Clemmie – looks the most interesting of the other O’Brien runners. After running down the field in the Albany at Royal Ascot she’s improved bundles for that with wins at the Curragh and Newmarket. Yes, those came on much quicker ground than she’s likely to get here, but looks another on the up and can go well. Away from the O’Brien army, the main runner that will be trying to spoil the party for them is the Jessie Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri. This filly only went down a neck in the Albany last time out at Royal Ascot and with 2 ½ months off since will head here fresher than most. She won a Listed race by an impressive 5 lengths at Naas back in May and we can expect that she’s got stronger over the last few months with this race fully in-mind. She rates a big danger to the O’Brien runners but is another that does need to prove herself on this softer ground.

4.15 – Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (Group 1) (Colts and Fillies) 7f

Yet another race the powerful Aidan O’Brien team have farmed in recent years – winning 6 of the last 12 renewals – and with 50% of the 8 runners here then they look to have another big chance. However, their clear hope this year is the well-bred GUSTAV KLIMT, who looks set to go off odds-on in the betting. He won his maiden here over course and distance back in July and then followed that up with a win in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket in the middle of July. He got going very late on that day after being hampered and only just got up on the line to beat Nebo by a head. The runner-up has not done much to doubt that form, but you just feel that with only three career runs there is a lot more to come from Gustav Klimt.

Gustav Klimt will be a red hot favourite for the Vincent O Brien Stakes.

It’s also generally a sign of a good one if they can overcome some trouble in-running and still get the job done, while it goes without saying with a clearer passage last time we would probably be reflecting on a 2-3+ length win in that Newmarket race for Gustav. The softer ground should help too and although he’d probably want further in time – has a Derby entry for next year – looks a classy sort that should really be taking this if wanting to go onto bigger and better things. Of the rest, a rare runner on the flat for the Gordon Elliott team with Beckford. This 2-year-old has run three times at the track (winning twice) and certainly wasn’t disgraced when finishing a close second in the Group One Phoenix Stakes here last month.

On that form, he sets a good standard for the O’Brien hot-pot to aim at, but this is a step up from 6f to 7f, while with Ballydoyle also training the winner of the Phoenix Stakes (Sioux Nation) then they should know where they stand with this one. Finally, it’s also a race the Jim Bolger yard have done well in over the years – winning it three times since 2006 – so their Verbal Dexterity can do best of the rest. He’s another proven course and distance winner here and despite finishing 1 length second to Beckford last time the return to 7f will be a plus and he’s also proven on soft ground.

4.50 – Comer Group International Irish St Leger (Group 1) 1m6f

Unlike the English St Leger, that is run next weekend at Doncaster and only for 3 year-olds, the Irish version is open to all ages from 3+ so we get a chance to see past winners and older horses returning to tackle the race. The main English challenge comes from the Queen’s DARTMOUTH, who we last saw running a nose second in the Lonsdale Cup at York, and I think he’s got a big chance. That was over 2m, but this drop back to 1m6f won’t be a problem for this Stoute-trained runner with his form figures in-and-around this trip reading an impressive 1-1-1. The softer ground is also fine and despite having 5lbs to find on the official ratings with the O’Brien hot-pot – Order Of St George – he looks the value call to be in the frame at worse and even in with a good chance of winning.

Dartmouth drops back in trip for this one but will surely contend nonetheless.

Yes, St George will be all the rage and don’t forget he won this race in 2015 too, but at the prices, he’s certainly no value. He dotted-up here over course and distance again last time out in the Leger Trial and before that went down fighting in the Ascot Gold Cup. But I just feel for such a short-priced runner, that has only won 2 of his last 7 races, then he has looked vulnerable in the past and was also beaten at 1/7 in the race 12 months ago! The horse that beat him that day also runs – Wicklow Brave – and he’s another that the place punters are sure to latch onto.

This versatile Willie Mullins-trained horse has just over 7 lengths to find with the hot favourite based on their run last time out in the Leger Trial, but that race should have him spot-on for this and is certainly no back number as he looks to become the first horse to land back-to-back Irish St Legers since Vinnie Roe. The Jessie Harrington-trained Torcedor is another to note after a solid fifth in the Ascot Gold Cup, plus has already beaten Order Of St George this season when getting the better of him at Navan back in April over this trip.