It’s the battle of the sexes as the best of the Classic generation go toe-to-toe on Irish Champions weekend and the boffins break it down.
Highland Reel (Aidan O’Brien) Globetrotter who won three times in 2015, including Secretariat Stakes at Arlington and Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. As good this year, winning King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot (by one and a quarter lengths from Wings of Desire) in July and followed that with good one and a quarter lengths second to Postponed in International Stakes at York last time. Just four of 16 career starts have been in home country but a contender on form.
My Dream Boat (Clive Cox) Has won five of last eight starts including Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown in April and Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot (by neck from Found) in June. Below form when five and a quarter lengths fifth to Hawkbill in Eclipse Stakes last time, a disappointing effort on the face of it given he appeared to have his ideal underfoot conditions. The type to bounce back following a recent break, especially considering how strongly he ended last season.
New Bay (Andre Fabre) Won Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly (by one and a half lengths from Highland Reel) and Prix Niel at Longchamp in 2015, finishing season with career-best effort when two and a quarter lengths third to Golden Horn in Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October. Disappointing on reappearance In May but back to form at Deauville last time, with runner-up Arthenus franking the form since. Likely being primed for a second Arc bid.
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Sir Isaac Newton (Aidan O’Brien) Has shown improved form (and attitude) this year, winning Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot and International Stakes at the Curragh, both in June, before posting career-best effort when four and a quarter lengths fourth of 12 to Postponed in International Stakes at York last time, nearest finish. Will probably need even more to make the frame again here, however.
Success Days (Ken Condon) Three-time winner in 2015 and ran as well as he ever has when five and a quarter lengths third to Fascinating Rock in Tattersalls Gold Cup In May. Made light of three month absence when winning small-field Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh last time by three-quarters of length from the same rival, though did have the run of the race. Any rain in his favour.
The Grey Gatsby (Kevin Ryan) Starting to feel like a long time since he won three times in 2014, including Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly and this race. Several good efforts last year, runner-up in Prince of Wales’s and Eclipse, but not quite so good this year. Lacklustre effort with cheek-pieces back on when ten and quarter lengths sixth to Postponed in International Stakes at York last time. Appeared to run rather flat, albeit his position probably wasn’t ideal, and has plenty to prove.
Found (Aidan O’Brien) Length second to Golden Horn here 12 months ago and improved for reappearance when winning Mooresbridge Stakes at the Curragh (by one and a quarter lengths from Success Days) in May. Second in all four starts since, including creditable two and three quarter lengths second to Seventh Heaven in Yorkshire Oaks at York last time (first run for nine weeks), travelling strongly when slightly short of room. Should improve for that run and a big player.
Almanzor (Jean-Claude Rouget) Won three times last season, though finished year on a low when seventh of eight in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. Bounced back this term, taking form to a new level with win in Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly in June, and improved further when completing hat-trick in Group 2 Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at Deauville last time. Ready to take on older horses now and looks a leading protagonist.
Ebediyin (Dermot Weld) Plenty of stamina in pedigree and best effort to date remains his fifth in Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot (two and a quarter lengths behind Sword Fighter) in June. Acted as pacemaker for Harzand in Irish Derby at the Curragh last time and faces same role here.
Harzand (Dermot Weld) Began season (one run as a two-year-old) with emphatic maiden win at Cork in March and followed up in Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown a fortnight later. Well-backed when winning Derby at Epsom (by one and a half lengths from US Army Ranger) in June and didn’t need to improve when completing four-timer in Irish Derby at the Curragh last time by half a length from St Leger favourite Idaho, leading on the bridle entering straight and knuckling down well when tackled late on. Was a doubtful runner in both the Derby and Irish equivalent in the immediate build-up to each race, but emerged victorious on each occasion, and a major player here despite the drop in trip.
Hawkbill (Charlie Appleby) Significant improvement towards end of last season and continued in that vein with reappearance listed win at Newmarket in April. Proved equal to the task when stepped up to Group 3 level in the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot and, having been supplemented, impressed with his speed and resolution when winning the Eclipse at Sandown in July. Possibly unsuited by firmer conditions when 11 lengths eighth to Postponed in International Stakes at York last time and capable of bouncing back here on more suitable ground.
Moonlight Magic (Jim Bolger) Won Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown (by one and a quarter lengths from Shogun) in May. Well beaten in the Derby and Irish Derby but got back on track when three and a quarter lengths third of seven to Success Days in Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh last time. Plenty more required in this company, however.
Minding (Aidan O’Brien) Successful in six Group 1s, her four this year including the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and Oaks at Epsom, and clearly the best female of her age group. Has an alternative engagement in the Matron Stakes but this looks a good opportunity to test her mettle against the males for the first time, over a suitable trip on home turf. Not able to record a very high figure to date due to inferior opposition but faces a high-class field here.
Timeform Irish Champion Stakes 1-2-3
Timeform Analyst’s Verdict:
A mouth-watering renewal, which can go the way of ALMANZOR for Jean-Claude Rouget, who appears to have a stable full of stars this year, and his French Derby winner has been aimed at this race for some time. Harzand is of obvious interest despite the drop to 1¼m being a slight concern, while 6-time Group 1 winner Minding takes on the boys for the first time and could easily be up to the task.