A thrilling weekend lies ahead with cracking meetings at Doncaster, Leopardstown and Chantilly providing a glut of top-class action.
Highlights include the St Leger, the Irish Champion Stakes, the Matron Stakes, an Irish St Leger, the Prix Vermeille, Prix Niel and Prix Foy. Not only are these sensational events in their own right, but the impact of such races will be felt in betting markets down the line, especially that of the Arc, with many leading contenders set to test their credentials for the French showpiece.
Idaho is all the rage for the St Leger at Doncaster. And if an impressive winner, as many expect, it would come as no surprise to see him taking his chance at Chantilly in October. Three of Aidan O’Brien’s four Leger winners went on to have a crack at the Arc, though Milan’s fifth place finish proved to be the best performance.
There had been much debate over where dual Derby winner Harzand would end up this weekend, with options at Leopardstown and Chantilly. However, Dermot Weld finally decided to send his Derby hero to compete in the Irish Champion Stakes, where he’ll meet, among others, his stablemate Fascinating Rock. The likelihood of rain seemingly sealed the deal, with Weld needing ‘safe’ ground for his mighty colt.
The 10-furlong trip is an interesting sub-plot for this undoubted powerful stayer, and whether he has the ‘toe’ to cope with speedy types that may include the Guineas Heroine Minding, and French Derby winner Almanzor, remains to be seen. Indeed, any number of the field possess the ability to win on Saturday, and enhance their credentials as a serious Arc contender. Both Sea The Stars and Golden Horn took this race prior to their successful October French raids.
Over in France the Prix Niel is likely to see the return to the track of Sir Michael Stoute’s Midterm. The one-time Derby favourite sustained an injury when running disappointingly in the Dante Stakes earlier in the season. Owner Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe speaking earlier in the week said: “Midterm has been going nicely at home and has various options in the coming weeks. As it stands, his primary one at the moment looks like being the Prix Niel on Sunday. Because he is running in an Arc trial does not mean we are thinking of running him in the Arc itself, but on the other hand we're not saying he can't either.”
Midterm is one of a number of fascinating contenders for the Prix Niel, with Japanese Derby winner Makahiki set to test himself in Europe for the first time. The Japanese love a crack at the Arc, and have come famously close to lifting France’s most famous race. Yet another son of Deep Impact, this fella will look to impress, whilst obtaining valuable track experience.
Zarak runs for the home team, and will provide a decent form-line having twice chased home Almanzor this summer, including when a close second in the Prix du Jockey Club. A strong performance here is likely to seal the colt’s place in the Arc, with the Aga Khan already holding a powerful hand, thanks to Harzand. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, last won the Arc with Zarak’s mother Zarkava, and this lightly raced colt may well improve further for this step up in trip.
With French, Irish and Japanese challengers coming together in various events, this will be not only a thrilling weekend of racing, but a hugely informative one.