Things We Learned » Champion shapes up

Champion shapes up

It was always going to be nigh impossible for this year’s renewal of the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes to replicate last year’s in terms of quality.  Last year’s race was the joint highest-rated turf race in the world in 2016, and it was just a half a length behind the Arrogate/California Chrome duel for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run on dirt at Santa Anita in November.

Last year’s Irish Champion Stakes winner went on to win the Champion Stakes at Ascot, last year’s runner-up went on to win the Arc, last year’s third went on to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.  It was a race of races.

This year’s renewal was starting to look a little threadbare in Group 1 terms at the end of last month.  Almanzor would surely have come over in a bid to become just the second back-to-back winner in the history of the race, after Dylan Thomas, but, alas, horses being horse and all, Jean-Claude Rouget’s horse was beaten on his comeback run at Deauville and has been retired. 

Almanzor’s stable companion Brametot would have been a hugely attractive alternative, but the Prix du Jockey Club winner was beaten in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at Deauville on the same day, and suddenly the Arc became the only game in town for him.

Other possible contenders like Ulysses and Cracksman were ruled out, and suddenly Churchill’s participation was crucial.  Churchill is running, which is massive, the dual Guineas winner.  Eminent is a great addition, and Frankie Dettori is always a huge draw. 

Poet’s Word had other options this weekend, so it is great that he has made the trip, and Cliffs Of Moher, the Derby runner-up, adds more ballast.  Add Dermot Weld’s Man o’ War Stakes winner Zhukova and the evergreen Success Days and Meld Stakes winner Moonlight Magic and we have a race.  The fact that Prince of Wales’s Stakes runner-up Decorated Knight is a 25/1 shot provides an indication of the level of the quality of the field that has been assembled.

Juvenile fillies’ pecking order not set yet

The Ballydoyle juvenile fillies have made waves so far this season.  Clemmie won the Group 3 Grangecon Stud Stakes at The Curragh and the Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket.  Happily won the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown and September landed the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, while Actress beat the boys in the Group 3 Anglesey Stakes at The Curragh.  Then two weeks ago, Magical led home a Ballydoyle 1-2-4 in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at The Curragh. 

The difficulty is that, for now, it is not easy to establish a set pecking order.  Magical was the outsider of the three Aidan O’Brien-trained fillies in that Debutante Stakes.  September was sent off the 11/10 favourite for the race, and Happily was a close second favourite, but neither could get to their stable companion.

This is not a new phenomenon among the Ballydoyle juvenile fillies.  In the Moyglare Stud Stakes last year, Hydrangea was only third best of the four Aidan O’Brien-trained fillies according to the market, yet she did best of the quartet, getting to within a short head of the winner Intricately. 

The Aidan O’Brien-trained 16/1 shot Brave Anna won the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, with her stable companion, the 2/1 favourite Cuff, finishing two lengths behind her in fifth place.  In the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket last year, the same Brave Anna sprang a 25/1 shock, getting up to beat her better-fancied stable companion Roly Poly by a short head, with American speedster Lady Aurelia two lengths back in third.

There are parallels too with 2015.  Ballydoyle (the filly) won the Debutante Stakes that year, as the market predicted she would, with fourth favourite Minding finishing second and third favourite Alice Springs finishing fifth.  Placings were reversed, however, in the Moyglare Stud Stakes three weeks later, with 15/2 shot Minding beating the 5/4 favourite Ballydoyle by three parts of a length, with 20/1 shot Alice Springs back in third.

The market remains a little uncertain about the pecking order of this year’s Ballydoyle juveniles.  Magical is favourite for tomorrow’s Moyglare Stud Stakes, as you would expect, given that she kept on as gamely as she did to land the Debutante Stakes, but the pecking order may change again before the season’s end.

Crowley on Crystal

It is not surprising that Jim Crowley got the call up from Sir Michael Stoute to ride Crystal Ocean in the St Leger next week, given that Ryan Moore is certain to be riding for Aidan O’Brien in the race.  Crowley is a top rider, the reigning champion, and he has been riding out of his boots of late.

Crowley has ridden plenty for Sir Michael Stoute this season through his job with Sheikh Hamdan.  He rode Mustashry to win the Group 3 Strensall Stakes at York and he rode Fidaawy to win a big handicap there the previous day and he rode Taamol to win the King Charles II Stakes.  However, it may have been the relationship that Crowley has developed with Ulysses that has copper-bottomed his relationship with the colt’s trainer.

Crowley may have only been third or fourth choice for Ulysses in the Eclipse, and he probably should have been on Eminent anyway, but, having ridden the Galileo colt for the first time in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, he put all he learned there into practice at Sandown and got him home by a nose.  The rider then honed his tactics further for the Juddmonte International, and Ulysses was even more impressive there.

Jim Crowley has never won the St Leger, and Stoute has won it just once, famously, with Conduit in 2008.  Crystal Ocean has a favourite’s chance of enhancing those records. 

Sprint Cup moved

It is nice that Haydock moved their Sprint Cup from 4.10 to 2.25 today.  It doesn’t matter that they moved it in order to ensure that the Group 1 sprinters get to race on the best of the ground.  The fact that the feature race of the day in Britain will be run now before racing starts at Leopardstown, as opposed to 10 minutes after the Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile Stakes, smack in the middle of the day, is a handy by-the-way.

Spot the difference

Breeders’ Cup Turf

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Irish Champions Weekend


© The Irish Field, 9th September 2017