Day 1 of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown looks an absolute corker with a pair of Group 3s, the Group 2 Boomerang Stakes, as well as the two Group 1s in the Matron Stakes, and what is without a doubt the strongest ever Champion Stakes field.
3.30 – Ballylinch Stud EBF Fillies Maiden (Plus 10 Race) – 7f
12 fillies are making their debut here, including a half-sister to Awtaad, but I think the 2 to focus on are the Ballydoyle pair Key To My Heart and Wild Irish Rose. These 2 both raced in the same maiden at Curragh last month, with Key To My Heart 3rd, and Wild Irish Rose 2 1/4 lengths back in 5th. Key To My Heart did have the benefit of experience that day so Wild Irish Rose bring a large improvement, but Ryan Moore chooses Key To My Heart and he looks to be the stable first string here, in what looks like a match between the O’Brien fillies.
Selection: Key To My Heart
Odds: 11/4 (Bet365, Paddy Power, William Hill)
4.00 – Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile Stakes (Group 3) – 1m
Like the opener, this also looks a 2 horse race, with the pair being Douglas Macarthur for Aidan O’Brien, and Radio Silence for Jim Bolger. And once again it’s hard to see past the Ballydoyle colt, who is the favourite for next year’s Derby. He went off 2/5 fav on debut here at Leopardstown before strolling home last of the 6. However, he proved that debut run all wrong when shedding the maiden tag at the 2nd attempt here in July, looking mightily impressive when scoring by 5 lengths. He is impeccably bred, being a full brother to Oaks heroine Was, and currently I think he is the rightful favourite for the Derby and I don’t see him having too much trouble here. If he does underperform, Radio Silence should be the one to capitalise. He was 2nd to Churchill in the Futurity Stakes last month, and whilst that is certainly no disgrace, significant improvement will be needed here stepped up to a mile should Douglas Macarthur progress as expected.
Selection: Douglas Macarthur
Odds: 1/2 (Betfair)
4.35 – Irish Stallion Farms EBF “Petingo” Handicap – 1m 6f
This looks much more difficult to find the victor than the opening pair, but a tentative vote for me goes to the Karl Burke mare Intense Tango. The 5yo is in rude health lately, with 2 wins and 2 seconds from her last 4 starts. She has actually been dropped 3lbs for her win at Haydock last weekend, which seems very lenient indeed. I see no reason why she can’t go close, especially with Karl Burke’s yard in decent form of late. The main threat could be Quick Jack, who finished a very respectable 3rd to Heartbreak in the Ebor in his last race. He has only been put up 2lbs for that effort, and can defy top weight to run a big race.
Selection: Intense Tango (E/W)
Odds: 12/1 (Bet365, SkyBet, Paddy Power, Coral)
5.05 – KPMG Enterprise Stakes (Group 3) – 1m 4f
Only 5 runners will line up for this Group 3, with 3 of those representing Aiden O’Brien, but it still looks a fascinating renewal. The obvious starting point is Epsom Derby runner-up US Army Ranger. He wasn’t seen in his 2yo season, but got off the mark immediately to win his maiden at the first attempt, before scraping home in a controversial Chester Vase. From there he headed straight to the Derby, where he ran on very well to finish 2nd to Harzand. He was then given just short of 3 months off before his reappearance at the Curragh last month. He was always going to need the run, but was very disappointing nonetheless and I’m not willing to take a chance on him being back to his Derby form. Instead, my money is on Zhukova for Dermot Weld. She impressed on both of her starts early this season, demolishing the likes of Pretty Perfect and Bocca Baciata in a Group 3 at Naas in May. She has been off since, but that isn’t too much of an issue and looks to be in with every chance of making it 3 from 3 in 2016. The other to mention is Jim Bolger’s colt Stellar Mass. His only defeat this season came in the Irish Derby, however he never really challenged the front pair, and I don’t see him getting the better of Zhukova.
Selection: Zhukova (NB)
Odds: 2/1 (General)
5.35 – Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (Group 1) – 1m
Despite Minding opting for the Champion Stakes instead, there is still plenty of quality in this year’s Matron. The favourite is Qemah (pictured), and quite rightly so in my opinion. She has won 3 of her 4 starts this term, starting with a Group 3 at Chantilly, before a good 3rd behind La Cressonniere (who looks a cracking bet for the Arc) in the French 1000 Guineas. From there she went to Royal Ascot, where she ran out a very impressive winner of the Group 1 Coronation Stakes, where she had a few of these well behind her. She then produced a career best in the Prix Rotschild to confirm herself as a top class filly. A repeat of either of those performances may suffice here, although I see no reason why she won’t have progressed further. The main danger is likely to be Persuasive. Unbeaten in 5 starts, she took a Sandown Group 3 by 3 lengths from Veliefendi scorer Blond Me, and is certainly deserving of her place in this field. However, Qemah should be too good for these.
Selection: Qemah (NAP)
Odds: 7/4 (Paddy Power)
6.10 – Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes (Group 2) – 1m
It wasn’t too long before my money was down on Awtaad for this one. His only bad run was LTO when 8th in the Sussex Stakes where the ground was far too quick, so a line can be drawn through that. If he had not ran there, he’d be a hell of a lot shorter than he is, so it seems a no brainer. He gets his ground today, and Irish 2000 Guineas winner is most definitely the one to beat. Second choice would be Tribal Beat, who was fairly impressive over C&D last month, and there could be more improvement to come from Jim Bolger’s colt. Behind him that day was Hit It A Bomb. Last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile winner was disappointing on his return when behind Tribal Beat. Being by War Front, there was a big debate on whether he’d trained on. Personally, I don’t think you can say from that run that he hadn’t trained on, however we will find out at about 12 minutes past 6 this afternoon.
Odds: 15/8 (BoyleSports, BetVictor, Paddy Power, Stan James)
6.45 – QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Group 1) – 1m 2f
It’s the big one, and what a field we have! No less than 9 Group 1 winners from the 13 runners, with 17 Group 1 titles between them. Whatever happens it is sure to be an enthralling race, and I really can’t wait to see how it unfolds. At the head of the market, we have the Oaks winner Minding, and Derby victor Harzand. Even if just these 2 showed up it’d still be some race! I’ll start with Minding, now a 6-time Group 1 winner. I backed her ante-post at 5/2 a few days ago, which doesn’t seem too smart now with her widely available at a better price than that. She is without a doubt the outstanding filly of her generation, and taking on the colts for the first time today, it will take something special to get the better of her. However there are plenty in this field capable of producing something special, not least Harzand. I also backed him ante-post at 7/2 a few weeks ago, which doesn’t seem too bad now however I won’t be rushing to back him again today. There are a couple of reasons why I won’t be going back in. The first is the trip. There is no doubting his optimum trip is an extra couple of furlongs, so he has to prove he is just as effective over 10f as he is at 12f. The other reason is that this is not his main end of season target, as that honour goes to the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. Because of that, he may not be quite at his best here, so I’ll look elsewhere. We have a couple of French raiders in Jean-Claude Rouget’s Almanzor and Andre Fabre’s New Bay, the last 2 winners of the Prix du Jockey Club. Almanzor was somewhat of a surprise winner of this year’s renewal at 20/1, and the suspicion is that he is the best of a below par bunch of French classic contenders, and he does have a little bit to find on ratings. Onto New Bay, who looks the better of the French pair, despite the betting favouring Almanzor. He has only ran twice this season, most recently when running out a comfortable winner in a Deauville Group 3. However, it is last year’s form that would give him every chance. If he can reproduce the performance that saw him win the Prix Niel or finish 3rd behind Golden Horn and Flimtshire in the Arc, then he is in with every chance. However, I don’t usually like to take chance on those relying on last year’s form to be competitive, and I won’t be doing it today, especially in a race as hot as this. Instead, my pick is the Ballydoyle second string, Found. She will be ridden by Seamie Heffernan, who will fly over having hopefully steered Idaho to victory in the St Leger. One reason for my selection is that she is just so consistent at this level, running between 118 and 120 on official ratings on her last 6 starts. She was 2nd to stablemate Seventh Heaven most recently at York (who incidentally I’d have loved to have seen here), but that was after a couple of months off and Aidan O’Brien was fairly certain she just needed the run, so should be back at the top of her game here, and whilst it may take a career best to win this, she’s certainly capable of producing just that.
Selection: Found (E/W)
Odds: 10/1 (Ladbrokes, Betway)
7.20 – Irish Stallion Farms EBF “Sovereign Path” Handicap – 7f 20y
As you would expect from a big field handicap, this is mightily competitive. 3yos have more than held their own in this race in the past, and I see no reason why Sikandarabad can’t continue that trend. I tipped him at 8/1 when he came 2nd in a monster Curragh handicap LTO, and at one point I thought he was going to get there. But he didn’t get a clear passage through that day and has only been put up 4lbs for that effort. He is unexposed as this is only his 4th start, so the 4lb rise could prove lenient, as I think he may well improve enough to take this 18-runner handicap.
Selection: Sikandarabad (IWAC)
Odds: 6/1 (Most places, a few are at 11/2)