Ghaiyyath bids to confirm his superiority over defending champion Magical in a fascinating rematch for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath has arguably been the star of the season so far – completing a hat-trick of Group One wins with dominant displays in the Coronation Cup, the Coral-Eclipse and the Juddmonte International.
Aidan O’Brien’s Magical was three lengths in arrears when runner-up on the Knavesmire, but gets the chance to exact her revenge on home soil and become only the second dual winner of the Champion Stakes after former Ballydoyle ace Dylan Thomas (2006 and 2007).
Speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview, Appleby said: “Previously he has taken time to come back to himself after his races, but as a five-year-old this year he’s very much the finished article.
“His performances are always very big – he’s never easy on himself even when he’s winning. He puts those big figures out there and in the past it’s taken its toll, but thankfully this year he’s taken each race very well.”
The Newmarket handler is keen to get this weekend’s assignment out of the way before deciding whether to allow Ghaiyyath to bid for glory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month.
He added: “A decision on the Arc will be a wait and see. We purposefully took our time before deciding to definitely run in Ireland, we just took it day by day and we’ll regroup after it.”
Ghaiyyath’s regular partner William Buick is able to travel to Ireland for the ride following a recent change to Covid-19 protocols.
He said: “As far as I’m aware he’s in good shape.
“He’s running over the same trip he’s been running over the last twice in this country. It’s a good race for him.
“I don’t know whether the Arc is in the discussion or not. Let’s get this race out of the way and we’ll see.”
Magical won the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh prior to chasing home Ghaiyyath at York – and O’Brien feels she is capable of raising her game.
He said: “She doesn’t owe anybody anything. She’s raced against the best. We feel we haven’t really seen the best of her yet.
“Someday when everything will fall right she’ll be at the height of her powers and we’ll see.
“She’s a serious, high-rated, incredibly genuine mare. We keep tweaking things as we go along to see if we can get another little bit from her to get her to show everybody what she shows us at home every day.
“I don’t thing we’ve seen her very best yet, but it could come one of these days.”
O’Brien also saddles Japan – who was not far behind Ghaiyyath when third in the Eclipse, but disappointed on his latest outing in the King George – as well as outsider Armory. Interestingly, Ryan Moore has sided with him over Magical, the mount of Seamie Heffernan.
Of Japan, O’Brien said: “He came back from Ascot with very sore soles in his feet. We don’t know if it was sole pressure from the shoes or if he stood on something, but both front feet were very sore.
“He was lame for a few days after. Then we took the shoes off completely and we rode him bare foot for 10 days and he came back 100 per cent sound and his action came back 100 per cent and he’s shod now.
“He’s in full work and has been taking it very happily. He’s travelling well in his work and everything seems good, so it was a legitimate excuse.
“We look forward to seeing him run now – we’re very happy with his work.”
Sottsass bids to provide leading French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget with a second win in the race following the 2016 triumph of Almanzor, with Jessica Harrington’s Leo De Fury completing the sextet.
Sottsass will be ridden by Colin Keane, who said: “I’d say it will be a brilliant race to watch.
“Obviously Ghaiyyath was impressive the last day, Magical is the queen, she never runs a bad race and our horse I’d say has been trained with an autumn campaign in mind so you might not have seen the best of him yet.”