Ir­ish rac­ing

Tony Keenan looks ahead to Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Tony Keenan looks ahead to Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end

Wil­lie Mullins win­ning hardly ever comes as a sur­prise but his vic­tory in the top trainer prize at Gal­way was a shock; Der­mot Weld had been so in­cum­bent in win­ning ev­ery year since 1997 they may as well have re­tired the award.

Mullins had a bril­liant week from rel­a­tively few run­ners and his win led to in­evitable ques­tions about the sta­tus of his top jumpers for the win­ter but the one thing we don’t want is a 12-month Jumps news cy­cle.We re­main in the midst of the Flat sea­son proper so let’s stave off talk of un­com­pet­i­tive Na­tional Hunt races just yet.

As some­one who seems to re­mem­ber his record in ev­ery race and meet­ing in the cal­en­dar, Weld will cer­tainly have been dis­ap­pointed to lose his Gal­way ti­tle but the Derby-win­ning trainer has big­ger tar­gets at the mo­ment, a few of which come up over Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end.

In its third year, Ire­land’s top Flat fix­ture across two days at Leop­ard­stown and the Cur­ragh has al­ready be­come a tar­get meet­ing which has been achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of prize­money, tim­ing and good qual­ity race­tracks.

It goes without say­ing that the best Ir­ish Flat horses will turn up but the week­end needs raiders to suc­ceed as oth­er­wise it runs the risk of be­com­ing a Bal­ly­doyle ben­e­fit and it is good to read about the likes of Hawk­bill, Big Orange, Fair Eva, Al­man­zor and Qemah be­ing aimed at the meet­ing, par­tic­u­larly the last-named pair as French raiders are a rare sight in Ire­land these days.

Satur­day’s Cham­pion Stakes card at Leop­ard­stown re­mains the pick of the two days for a few rea­sons, not least the race it­self be­ing the stand­out of the en­tire week­end.

Leop­ard­stown as a race­course is su­pe­rior to the Cur­ragh for race­day ex­pe­ri­ence and there is an el­e­ment of the Kil­dare track hang­ing onto Leop­ard­stown’s coat tails but they may yet come up to speed when their pro­posed and needed ren­o­va­tion in 2017 though de­tails about that re­main rather murky.The 2017 fix­ture list has been de­layed with con­cerns about whether or not the Cur­ragh can host their race-days next year.

The Cham­pion Stakes has a host of pos­si­ble UK run­ners like Post­poned, My Dream Boat, Time Test and The Grey Gatsby but ex­act plans run­ning plans are un­clear at time of writ­ing and in truth they look a rather un­der­whelm­ing crop of older horses. Per­haps the big UK chal­lenger will prove to be Hawk­bill though that will de­pend on how he fares in the In­ter­na­tional atYork;his Eclipse win which came as a sur­prise at the time has worked out well.

HARZAND how­ever re­mains the one they all have to beat. The drop to ten fur­longs af­ter win­ning a pair of Der­bies could be held against him but he cer­tainly isn’t slow; while his Ep­som win came in a strongly-run race, the Ir­ish Derby was a

tac­ti­cal af­fair de­spite what vi­su­als sug­gest and he showed plenty of gears to beat the strong-trav­el­ling Idaho. There is a strong sus­pi­cion that he only does enough in the fin­ish which will al­ways mask his ac­tual su­pe­ri­or­ity. Der­mot Weld could well go into the race two-handed with Fas­ci­nat­ing Rock a pos­si­ble run­ner; abil­ity-wise, he could give Harzand a race but as his ca­reer has de­vel­oped he seems to take a run to reach peak form and he hasn’t been out since May. A re­peat in the Cham­pion Stakes at As­cot may be his ul­ti­mate tar­get.

Ai­dan O’Brien is sure to run a star in this race as he has tended to do ev­ery year. US Army Ranger could be that horse via the Royal Whip Stakes at the Cur­ragh but Harzand has im­proved since Ep­som and can up­hold that form. Mind­ing is an­other pos­si­bil­ity but she seems to have ev­ery race as an op­tion at present; it is hoped at least that she will take on the colts at some point.The Gurkha would seem an un­likely par­tic­i­pant af­ter a num­ber of hard races in a short space of time and per­haps not be­ing to­tally ef­fec­tive at this trip in the Eclipse.

Mind­ing is a pos­si­ble for the Ma­tron, the other Group 1 at Leop­ard­stown, and she could well bid to do a Le­gatis­simo in drop­ping down in trip from the Nas­sau to win over a mile here. She would clearly take the world of beat­ing but Ai­dan O’Brien could choose to rely on Alice Springs whose Group 1 cre­den­tials are easy to knock.

QEMAH beat Alice Springs last time at Deauville and sets the stan­dard out­side of Mind­ing; she has im­pressed with how she trav­els and quick­ens in her races of late.The last filly to beat Mind­ing, Jet Set­ting, also has this race as a tar­get but it re­mains to be seen if she can re­turn to the form of his Ir­ish 1,000 Guineas win and a fil­lies on the up like Per­sua­sive and Rose De Pierre could be more in­ter­est­ing.

Fi­nally, men­tion must go to the Gal­way Mile win­ner CREGGS PIPES who is the most im­proved horse of this Ir­ish flat sea­son. She has im­proved 32lbs al­ready this year and her jockey said she didn’t han­dle Gal­way par­tic­u­larly well; if it comes up soft, her op­po­nents will know they’ve been in a race.

Back at the Cur­ragh, the St. Leger is big race for the older horses and it is hard to look be­yond the ob­vi­ous claims of 2015

win­ner OR­DER OF ST GE­ORGE. He put up a mas­sive fig­ure when run­ning away with this last year as a mere three-yearold and he has looked at least as good this term, run­ning out a com­fort­able win­ner of the As­cot Gold Cup de­spite a trou­bled trip. Some ease in the ground would suit and if it did come up very fast Ai­dan O’Brien would have an able deputy in Bondi Beach who shaped with dis­tinct prom­ise in his first run off a break at Leop­ard­stown though the fact Lloyd Wil­liams has re­cently bought a share in him sug­gests the Mel­bourne Cup is the ul­ti­mate aim.

The like­able Big Orange may prove the main chal­lenger to Or­der Of St Ge­orge though he has had a few races run to suit this sea­son and Team Bal­ly­doyle are un­likely to let him have a‘ solo ’out front in this. An­other in­ter­est­ing en­try in this Group 1 is ALMELA and while she likely isn’t good enough to com­pete at this level hav­ing only won a maiden, there is a good prize to be won with her.She was nar­rowly beaten by Zhukova last Septem­ber, form I rate highly, and went very well on her be­lated first run of 2016 at Leop­ard­stown on ground that was too quick for her.

Car­avag­gio would be the star turn for the ju­ve­niles if tak­ing his chance in the Na­tional Stakes but he clearly has lots of speed and his trainer seems more in­clined to keep him for races over six fur­longs like the Mid­dle Park.

Bal­ly­doyle will still have plenty of op­tions for the race, in­clud­ing War De­cree and es­pe­cially CAPRI, the lat­ter look­ing good in back­ing up quickly af­ter Gal­way to win at Tip­per­ary in a deep listed race. A darker one with a chance is ALEXIOS KOMNENOS.He won a Cur­ragh maiden at a mas­sive price over Derby week­end be­fore run­ning Churchill close at Leop­ard­stown, shap­ing like he might get the bet­ter of that ri­val with more ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt.

In the Moyglare, the 1,000 Guineas favourite Fair Eva would be a big player but BRAVE ANNA too would have her chance. The form of her Al­bany win has been si­mul­ta­ne­ously knocked and boosted but she shaped bet­ter than the re­sult, miss­ing the break and get­ting to the front too soon. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that col­lat­eral form through Kilmah and Dainty Dandy sug­gest her­self and Fair Eva are closely matched.

Away from the big races, ZHUKHOVA is one filly I’m look­ing for­ward to see over Cham­pi­ons Week­end. A much im­proved per­former, she could go for the twelve­fur long race at Leop­ard­stown won by her sta­ble­mate Fas­ci­nat­ing Rock last year en route to the tilt at the Fil­lies and Mares on Bri­tish Cham­pi­ons Day.

A hith­erto frus­trat­ing sort, TOSCANINI has found the win­ning groove this sea­son and his vic­tory in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes may have slipped un­der the radar with the flop of Air Force Blue in the same race. In the hand­i­caps, BREATHE EASY would be an in­ter­est­ing run­ner hav­ing won a good race over a mile on Derby day on his first start for Gavin Crom well; it was his first start since the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber so there should be more to come in fit­ness terms.

One horse I want to be against is Hit It A Bomb who is be­ing aimed at the Boomerang Stakes at Leop­ard­stown. He had train­ing prob­lems in the early part of the sea­son and looked re­luc­tant in the fin­ish on his re­turn to the track in Au­gust; his three wins last year were vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar but the form may amount to lit­tle.

Win­ners won’t be easy to find over Ir­ish Cham­pi­ons Week­end with the rac­ing su­per-com­pet­i­tive, so keep the fol­low­ing horses in mind for less com­pet­i­tive fare. Gal­way al­ways throws up its share of eye- catch­ers and MEM­BER STATE was one in the maiden won by Right Hon­ourable on the open­ing evening.Not only did Paddy Twomey’s geld­ing do best of the new­com­ers on a track that heav­ily favours ex­pe­ri­ence but he went with dis­tinct prom­ise, rac­ing keenly for much of the way but still find­ing plenty in the fin­ish. That form has al­ready worked out with the sec­ond win­ning a maiden and the third placed in a Group 1.

Later on the same card, CAR­DI­NAL PALACE shaped well in the big hand­i­cap for am­a­teur rid­ers, his jockey leav­ing him out of his ground and ask­ing for his ef­fort too late.He can cer­tainly win a flat hand­i­cap off 77 with trips short of two miles most suitable.

NONETHE­LESS landed a punt in the maiden on the last day of Gal­way de­spite plenty go­ing wrong in the race; she was held up in a slowly-run race, raced wide for most and had to make up her ground early. She won well in any case, shap­ing like a filly that would im­prove again for a step up in trip and some­thing like the Ir­ish Ce­sare­witch could be on the cards.

Ger Lyons has been hav­ing an­other good sea­son and his old boy GREEK CANYON sug­gested an­other win was im­mi­nent in a re­cent placed ef­fort Fairy­house; he went too hard, too soon that day and set the race up for the hold-up horses.




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