The eagerly anticipated Irish Champions Weekend kicks off at Leopardstown on Saturday with some star-studded action on the eight-race card. There is a total prize fund of €2.45 million, with a total of five Group races.
The Matron Stakes is the first Group 1 of the weekend and it’s for the fillies and mares. Three-year-olds have won the last three runnings and it will be much of the same this time around with this year’s star horse Alpha Centauri seeking her fifth straight Group 1. If the ground stays on the sound side then there is no reason Jessica Harrington’s filly won’t win again.
Last season’s Group 1 Fillies Mile winner, Laurens may give Alpha Centauro the most to think about having already won two Group 1’s in France and finishing runner-up in the 1000 Guineas earlier in the season. Karl Burkes stable star ran far too free in the Yorkshire Oaks behind Sea Of Class last time out and if she settles better then she may prove next best.
Aidan O’Brien runs three in this with Magical possibly looking to be his best chance. The well-bred daughter of Galileo has only been seen twice this season but was an impressive winner of a Group 2 at the Curragh when last seen and she may be on an upward curve. She was beaten by stablemate Happily twice last season who re-opposes here but that filly has yet to get her head in front this year following fine runs in defeat in both the Irish and English 1000 Guineas.
The final Ballydoyle representative is Clemmie who won the Group 1 Cheveley Park as a two-year-old last season but has been well-beaten by Alpha Centauri on all three runs this seasons and I see no reason why she will reverse the form.
Selection: Alpha Centauri
The Group 2 Boomerang Stakes is the appetizer to the Champion Stakes and the one-mile contest has attracted eleven runners. Recent runaway Irish Cambridgeshire winner Kenya tops the market and he was also a Group 3 winner over the course as a two-year-old. Stable jockey Ryan Moore is booked to ride stablemate I Can Fly but Seamie steered Kenya to victory last time and should go close again.
Dermot Weld’s Making Light has won twice this season including a listed victory at Cork on her last start. The Moyglare stud owned four-year-old is improving all the time but may just come up short against some more talented rivals.
Zhiba looked like a very smart colt when winning his first three starts for Fozzy Stack but that all fell apart in the Irish 2000 Guineas when he finished well down the field. The Al Shaqab owned colt then sought compensation in a Group 3 over course and distance but again disappointment greeted connections. He is on a retrieval mission here but will need to rediscover the form he showed earlier in the season to feature.
Others to consider include recent wide-margin winner Prepare For Battle, the consistent Pincheck and Psychedelic Funk.
The Irish Champion Stakes is the feature race on Saturday and this 1 mile 2 furlongs Group 1 contest has been used as a prep race for some of the remaining big targets in the season including the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. In fact, five horses have gone on to win the Arc in the same season having won the Irish Champion Stakes Triptych(1987), Indian Skimmer(1988), Pilsudski(1997), New Approach(2008) and Almanzour(2016).
All of the last six runnings of the race have been won by foreign raiders with the last home trained winner being the Aidan O’Brien trained So You Think who himself wasn’t exactly “Irish”. It’s an English trained horse that heads the market this year, Roaring Lion has been a revelation on her last two starts when winning the Eclipse and Juddmonte International.
Oisin Murphy’s mount was incredibly impressive when beating Poet’s Word in the Juddmonte and if he runs up to this form again then he’ll prove very difficult to beat.
Chief among the home resistance is Saxon Warrior who was spoke about as being a possible “Triple Crown” winner early in the season after winning the 2000 Guineas. It hasn’t quite worked out for Aidan O’Brien’s charge since then with defeats on all four starts since but they have all been in Group 1 contests. The son of Deep Impact should run well but it’s hard to see him reversing two recent defeats at the hands of Roaring Lion.
Study Of Man won the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly in June but was well beaten by Knight To Behold in a Group 2 at Deauville in August. I think Pascal Bary’s three-year-old is better when he can get his toe in, which is entirely possible given the Irish climate. He’s also only raced five times and is open to improvement so it will be very interesting to see how he runs.
Selection: Roaring Lion