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Irish Champions day at Leopardstown has been one of my all-time favourite fixtures since falling in love with the sport of racing as a youngster many years ago. This quality card gets underway with the 7-furlong Listed Ingabelle Stakes where CORVIGLIA can progress further and continue the good run of the Jessica Harrington team. The stable has been firing in the winners this week with Pappina, Trevaunance, Confident Start and Viareggio all scoring under Shane Foley.
Corviglia was an eye-catcher on debut at Listowel and you might recall I tipped her up in when winning here at this venue back in July. It was a good front-running performance, which was followed up by making all again to win at Roscommon last month.
It was all hands-and-heels by Shane Foley and it suggests to me that she has the class to progress further and land the opener this Saturday. A good draw in stall 2 can see Foley dominate or find a handy lead, with Limiti Di Greccio and Lullaby looking the biggest dangers.
The KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes looks an absolute cracker and might come down to a battle between the two Joseph O’Brien-trained runners. Maritime Wings was a surprise winner here in Foxrock on debut before chasing home Point Lonsdale twice in the Tyros and Futurity Stakes and should appreciate the extra-furlong with the best form in the book.
However, stablemate BUCKAROO looks to have plenty of scope for further improvement and should represent value here under Declan McDonagh. The son of Fastnet Rock caught the eye on debut at Killarney before landing his maiden at Galway when beating Stone Age over the extended mile at the backend of July.
The Beresford Stakes was suggested afterwards by Brendan Powell with the Piltown team hoping he can develop into a nice middle-distance three-year-old next season. Elsewhere, Atomic Jones and John The Baptist both managed narrow Curragh maidens victories this summer while Absolute Ruler looks a serious player for Donnacha O’Brien.
The Matron Stakes has been frustrating for favourite backers over the years, with only one winning jolly in the past 1- years (Legatissimo in 2015). There was a heartbreaking defeat for Alpha Centauri (30/100) backers in 2018 behind Laurens, with Iridessa a 10/1 winner in 2019 and Champers Elysees returning at 9/2 last year for Johnny Murtagh.
However, despite those results it’s very hard to side against MOTHER EARTH for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore in this year’s renewal. The daughter of Zoffany stands out on official ratings (114) and receives weight from the older fillies in a Group 1 which has been dominated by three-year-olds for the past six years.
Her achievement in winning a classic on her seasonal debut warrants plenty of respect, with solid performances afterwards at Longchamp, Ascot and Newmarket. She showed her battling qualities when returning to winning ways in the Prix Rothschild last month and she’ll take the world of beating here, with the improving Pearls Galore the one to chase her home for Paddy Twomey.
A small, but select field of four-runners for a fascinating renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, where tactics will be very intriguing and are likely to play a significant role in finding the winner.
Patrick Sarsfield could be the most likely pacesetter in my opinion with Poetic Flare sitting in behind with both Ryan Moore and Colin Keane on TARNAWA and St Mark’s Basilica out the back. However, Colin Keane might switch tactics and go forward depending on the early pace to avoid a possible sprint finish and the powerful burst of St Mark’s Basilica.
Tarnawa has the ability to outstay these rivals and despite having the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as her ultimate goal in Paris, she could follow in the foot hooves of Snow Fairy, The Fugue and Magical as an older mare to land the Irish Champion Stakes. Her seasonal return and victory here in the Ballyroan pleased connections, and remember this mare has shown her versatility for both ground and trip on many occasions in the highest level.
St Mark’s Basilica comes here fresh following his impressive victory at Sandown and perhaps missing York was a break he needed following earlier victories in France classics in May and June. It’s officially good ground in Foxrock with little if any rain forecast before race-time, and it’s important to note the only time he raced on good ground was when finishing third in the National Stakes last season – all of his Group 1 wins have come with some cut in the ground.
Elsewhere, we can’t discount the chances of Poetic Flare for Jim Bolger with all his best form coming on better ground this season. His second to Palace Pier in France was an excellent run, but how will he handle this trip for the first time against already established rivals who’ve excelled at this distance. In summary, the Irish Champion Stakes yet again doesn’t fail to disappoint in terms of quality and intrigue with the three master trainers of Irish racing, Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien doing battle – just sit back and enjoy it.
It’s been a truly wonderful season for Johnny Murtagh and this Saturday is a massive day for his team with St Leger glory a possibility with Ottoman Emperor at Doncaster and Earlswood having a solid chance in the Group 3 Paddy Power Stakes. Johnny recently spent some time with our Paddy looking back at some of his amazing memories of the Irish Champions Stakes in the saddle, which just might be eclipsed if landing a massive training double across the Irish Sea.
Despite tipping up Earlswood on here when scoring in the Royal Whip last month, I’m favouring a reverse in from with INNISFREE on Saturday afternoon. Firstly, the Murtagh team are heading into this weekend without finding a winner in nearly three weeks, but more importantly the step up in trip could favour and bring out better improvement from the Ballydoyle runner. Innisfree was a talented juvenile, who missed his three-year-old campaign before finishing fifth on this return last month.
He was tenderly ridden and looked after by Seamie Heffernan, which was expected after such a long absence from the racetrack. He showed enough at the Curragh to suggest a return to the winners’ enclosure was only around the corner. He stayed on nicely in closing stages on that occasion and the extra two furlongs on Saturday afternoon looks a positive in race which Aidan O’Brien has dominated having won the past three renewals.
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