Things We Learned » Irish Champion Stakes

Irish Champion Stakes

You can lament the absence of the absentees if you like.  You would love to have seen Enable or Cracksman in the mix for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown today, and you would love to have Crystal Ocean or Poet’s Word in the line-up.  You can understand why Enable or Cracksman aren’t travelling, and their trainer John Gosden is represented by Roaring Lion, but it is a real pity that Sir Michael Stoute did not roll the Irish Champion Stakes dice this year. 

You would have thought that this would have been the ideal race for Poet’s Word in particular.  The son of Poet’s Voice went mighty close in the Irish Champion Stakes last year and he is an improved horse this year.  And he has a score of sorts to settle with Roaring Lion, after his defeat in the Juddmonte International, when he didn’t have the run of the race.  And Sir Michael Stoute won the Irish Champion Stakes in 1994 with Cezanne and in 1997 with Pilsudski.

It is still a cracking renewal though, Roaring Lion v Saxon Warrior, Round Six.  Saxon Warrior went 2-0 up via the Racing Post Trophy and the Guineas, but Roaring Lion equalised when he won the Eclipse, and he went one up when he landed the Juddmonte International last time.  There is a sense though that we didn’t see the real Saxon Warrior at York.  It’s intriguing.  And the presence of Prix du Jockey Club winner Study Of Man adds the je ne sais quoi.

Star of the show

Star of the show?  Alpha Centauri.  Again.

It is great that Jessica Harrington’s filly is here, that she is set to take her chance in the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes, for which she is a very warm order.  But that is as it should be.

We haven’t seen the Niarchos family’s filly race in Ireland since May, when she won the Irish 1000 Guineas.  Since then, she and Colm O’Donoghue have been to Royal Ascot, Newmarket and Deauville, bagging the Coronation Stakes, the Falmouth Stakes and the Prix Jacques le Marois along the way.  It will be great to see them back at Leopardstown this afternoon.  

If you are going along, be sure to go to see the grey filly in the parade ring beforehand.  She is as impressive in stature as she is in performance.

Alpha Centauri hasn’t run at Leopardstown since she finished 10th of 13 in the 1000 Guineas Trial there in April on heavy ground.  That’s if you don’t count the piece of work that she did there 10 days before the Irish Guineas when she got back on some better ground, and impressed to the extent that her trainer believed that she had a real chance of landing her first Classic.  

When you have a horse who is as good as Alpha Centauri is, when you compete at the level at which she competes, you always worry that the next race will be the one that will push her over the top.  The Mastercraftsman filly has now won four Group 1 races on the spin, at four different tracks, in three different countries.  However, such is her demeanour, and such is the manner in which she has been handled by Jessica Harrington and her team, you are tempted to think that nothing could push her over the top.

Top class renewal

If today’s 2018 Doncaster St Leger can get even close in terms of quality to the 2017 Doncaster St Leger, then it will be doing all right.

To re-cap, the 2017 version was won by Capri, the Irish Derby winner who was beaten in the Arc on his next run, but who won the Group 3 Alleged Stakes at Naas on his only run this year to date. 

Second in last year’s St Leger was Crystal Ocean, who won his first three races this season, including the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, and who was beaten a neck by Poet’s Word in the King George.  Third was Stradivarius, who won the Yorkshire Cup, the Ascot Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup this year, bagging a £1 million bonus in the process.  And fourth was Rekindling, who went to Australia and won the Melbourne Cup on his only subsequent run to date.

Even the horses who were well beaten have upheld the form.  Coronet won the Group 2 Middleton Stakes on her debut this season and finished second in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Yorkshire Oaks.  Count Octave gave Stradivarius a real race in the Lonsdale Cup last time.  Defoe won the John Porter Stakes and the Jockey Club Stakes on his first two runs this season, and was beaten a neck last time in the Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Baden.  There was serious strength in-depth in last year’s renewal.

Rare bird 

Order Of St George was one of those rare birds: a stayer with pace.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien for his racing career, he only won one of his first five races as a juvenile, but when he turned three and stepped up in trip, he cut loose.  He was beaten a short head by his stable companion Bondi Beach in the Group 3 Curragh Cup on his three-year-old debut, but he won his other three races that year by an aggregate of 24 lengths.

When he won the Irish St Leger on his final run that season, he won it by 11 lengths.  The only three-year-old in the race, he beat 10 older rivals, high-class stayers, and he had the race in the bag by the time they reached the top of the home straight.  In so doing, he became the first three-year-old to win the Irish Leger since Vinnie Roe won the first of his four in 2001.

Order Of St George could have won two more Irish Legers himself, he was beaten a half a length by the enterprisingly-ridden Wicklow Brave in 2016 when he was sent off at 1/7, and he went back last year and won the race again by nine lengths. 

He won the Ascot Gold Cup in 2016 and was beaten a short head in the race in 2017.   He won the British Champions Long Distance Cup last year, beating Torcedor and Stradivarius into second and third.  He won the Irish St Leger Trial three times and he won the Saval Beg Stakes three times.  He won 13 of his 25 races.

However, two of the finest runs of his career were in defeat: in the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and in the 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  He finished third in the former, completing a famous 1-2-3 for his trainer, and he finished fourth in the latter.  There are not many horses who have the stamina to win a Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup over two and a half miles and the pace to finish third in an Arc de Triomphe over a mile and a half.

It is a pity that he will not be in the line-up for another Irish St Leger tomorrow, but Aidan O’Brien was very candid in his reasoning for not asking his horse to go to the well once more.  It’s nothing serious, the trainer said during the week.  Age has caught up with him.  We thought that it was the right thing to do for the horse.

Order Of St George is a son of Galileo out of the Gone West mare Another Storm, who won as a two-year-old in America, herself a daughter of Storm Song, winner of the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.  You can be sure that he will be popular at stud.

Possible successors

There are several possible successors to Order Of St George at Ballydoyle.  Kew Gardens is obviously one.  Capri is another, Southern France is another, Flag Of Honour is another.  We will know a lot more about all four by the time the curtain comes down at the end of this weekend.

Astronomer is another.  The Galileo colt is set to take his chance in the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown this afternoon under his 7lb penalty, so off an effective mark of 103, 3lb lower than his new mark.

He has a fair way to go before he reaches the levels that some of the afore-mentioned have already attained, but he was very impressive in winning the one-and-a-half-mile handicap at Listowel on Monday under 9st 7lb.  That was his third win on the spin, his third win in five weeks and just his fourth ever race.  He saw out the trip well on soft ground, and Donnacha O’Brien said afterwards that he could improve again if he stepped up further in trip.  He is a really exciting prospect.

© The Irish Field, 15th September 2018