Irish Champions Weekend Leopardstown Preview, Tips
The first day of two for the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend, and the racing looks tremendous. They start on Saturday at 3.35pm with a fillies' maiden, in which you're on your own; and that is followed up by John F Kennedy's presumed procession in the John Deere Juvenile Turf Stakes, a Group 3 over a mile.
Thereafter, things get more interesting from a wagering perspective, beginning with the...
4.40 "Petingo" Handicap 1m6f
6/1 the field for this 18 runner valuable handicap over a mile and three quarters. There have only been two previous runnings of the race, and both were won by highly weighted 'class' horses; and Willie Mullins has had a winner and a neck second.
The class of the race this time is the three-year-old Wexford Town. Rated 107, he carries just 9-07 for the Jim Bolger/Kevin Manning pairing, and he has an upwardly mobile look to him. Specifically, since encountering good to firm ground for the first time three starts back he's won twice in valuable handicaps, and then ran a good fifth to Pale Mimosa in the Listed Challenge Stakes over course and distance.
The four who beat him that day have all run once and won once since giving the form a bombproof look. Pale Mimosa herself won the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup next time (beating subsequent Doncaster Cup winner, Estimate, the pair clear). The runner up won a thirteen grand conditions race next time, and the third won the Ebor. Fourth placed Eye Of The Storm won the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes, making this one of the best races to follow of the season so far.
Wexford Town is a 14/1 shot, and that looks massive under ideal conditions and with four places to aim at.
Last year's third Digeanta represents Willie Mullins, and he comes here in good heart having won a qualified riders' event last time. Ground conditions are similar this time, and he's four pounds - and a stone in weight - better off than a year ago. That disparity between ratings and weight illustrates the elevated class of the race this year, and I suspect he might just not be quite good enough.
Dermot Weld runs the twice raced Silwana, and this Peintre Celebre filly looked ready for a step up in trip after running on to win a mile and a half Galway maiden on soft ground. This is further, firmer and likely to be a lot faster than that contest and whether she can cope with the hustle and bustle of so many battle hardened horses so early in her career is a big enough question to put me off at the prices.
This is Winter Lion's trip - he's won his last two at the distance, and gone up from 59 to 81 in the ratings for so doing. Whether he has enough further progression to trouble the pick of these, I'm not sure. Similar comments apply to fellow seasonal hat-trick-seeker, Pyromaniac, who will do well to light a fire under these. That lousy pun was far more laboured than Tony Martin's runner's last day win, however, and he appeals most from those at the bottom of the handicap.
Gordon Elliott's high class hurdler, Bayan, deserves a mention too. He's a course and distance winner, albeit on soft, and was good enough to run third in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He's a strong traveller, and clearly a strong stayer too despite a flat horse pedigree.
I think Wexford Town looks a cracking bet at 14/1, each way a pleasure.
5.15 Enterprise Stakes (Group 3) 1m2f
An all domestic occasion for this ten furlong Group 3 race, and with three horses rated 110+ it looks well up to scratch; all the more so when you consider one time Derby favourite, Free Eagle, makes his comeback here.
Free Eagle is a shade of odds on, which makes for a very lop-sided book and a possible opportunity. Let's look at why he's worse than evens. He won his debut on this course over a mile, beating Orchestra (now rated 110) by over five lengths. He was then sent off the 2/5 favourite in the four runner Juvenile Turf Trial Stakes (the race in which John F Kennedy runs earlier on this card this year), but was beaten six lengths by Australia.
We all know what that horse has achieved since, so it was no disgrace to go down in such fashion. Free Eagle has been away from the track for a year after suffering a stress fracture in April prior to an intended Derby tilt. If the market speaks in his favour, he'll probably win. But the trainer has been saying that he expects him to come on a good bit for this, so it might be worth taking him on.
Hall Of Mirrors is the first of two O'Brien runners, and the Ballydoyle trainer has won this in six of the last ten years. This Duke Of Marmalade colt won a similar race (ten furlongs, Group 3, good to firm) three weeks ago at the Curragh, and has moved forward nicely throughout the season. That last day win suggests he's not finished improving yet so he could be the strongest challenger to the jolly.
There are if's and but's about most of the rest, with some plainly not good enough. If all eight stay in, Hall Of Mirrors looks a knocking each way bet to nothing at 5/1.
5.45 Matron Stakes (Group 1) 1m
Another race with an opposable favourite. This time it's the very high class filly, Tapestry, I'm taking on. The reason is simple: she's a mile and a half filly running over a mile. While her form at the Matron trip is reasonable (sixth in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes), it gives her more than three lengths to find with the winner there, Rizeena. And Aidan O'Brien has a lamentable (for him) 1 from 28 strike rate in the race since 1997.
Having so successfully stepped Tapestry up to twelve furlongs, I find it puzzling that she's racing over a mile, and I think she'll get beaten before proving that all wrong in the Arc/other end of season target. If I'm right about her getting beaten, she should be a bigger price for the Arc too, and might be a tempting bet there.
Rizeena has every chance. This is her trip, as she's shown with a win and two seconds in Group 1 company over a mile. And her best form is on fast ground. Moreover, she beat Tapestry in the seven furlong Moyglare Stud Stakes, a Group 1, last autumn. 5/2 looks a very decent bet to me.
Fiesolana is also well suited to conditions, and has the same 112 rating as Rizeena. But her best form is at seven furlongs, and this will stretch her.
No, Rizeena looks nap material to me, and I've backed her accordingly.
6.15 Boomerang Mile (Group 2) 1m
A new race, and one that looks to revolve around Dermot Weld's lightly raced three year old, Mustajeeb. He ran third in Kingman's Irish 2000 Guineas romp, and then claimed the Group 3 Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot. Off since, the trainer is very hopeful of a big run, and he (Weld) is in excellent form himself.
His main market rival is Haydock Sprint Cup second, Gordon Lord Byron. Undoubtedly a smart sort, his best form is over shorter and on softer, and I think he's easily opposed, despite a soft looking soft ground mile Group 1 win in Australia earlier in the year.
A more robust danger might be Darwin, though he was flattered by his proximity to Kingman in a sprint finish for the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. He wouldn't be certain to see out the mile if they went a good gallop either.
Top Notch Tonto probably wants softer ground, and there's a doubt about whether he's the same horse that finished second in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last year, despite occupying the same position in a strong handicap last time at York.
With doubts for me over all of those, Mustajeeb aside, it might be Bow Creek that chases the favourite home. Mark Johnston's battle scarred Shamardal colt won the Group 2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood last time, and he seems to be getting better with racing. It might well be that he bids to make all, and Joe Fanning is the daddy when it comes to that tactic. Solid for each way, IF all eight stand their ground.
6.50 Irish Champion Stakes (Group 1) 1m2f
The big one, the Irish Champion Stakes. While it looks another penalty kick for dual Derby hero, Australia, there is quality through the ranks with five of the seven rated 117+.
Australia is top rated on 127, five clear of Mukhadram on 122. He gets a seven pound weight for age allowance as well, which essentially makes him almost a stone better off. Ten furlongs looks to be his optimum trip, despite two Derby wins at a quarter mile further; and the ground is perfect too.
His old mate Kingfisher - becoming Australia's Bullet Train - will tow them along, so there should be no dissatisfaction about the race being falsely run. Australia is very, very difficult to get away from, and if you happen to have a lot of elevens, you can generate an equal number of fours in interest for a two minute investment. Alternatively, I've some suggestions in just a moment.
The wagering action looks to be in the 'without' market, where any one of four horses have legitimate claims.
The Grey Gatsby is another ten furlong horse, and chased Australia home at York. Before that, he'd won the French Derby and the Dante Stakes, also at York. Mukhadram beat Trading Leather in a frustrating renewal of the Coral-Eclipse: the leaders stole a march and were allowed sufficient rope to hang the rest of the field. That form has received plenty of knocks since, though both will feature prominently once more.
Al Kazeem is quite interesting. Second in this race last year, he then went to stud where he proved a flop (metaphorically as opposed to literally). Horses change physically when they go to stud - they use different muscles (hey, stop giggling at the back!) - and it took Al a while to get back into the swing of racing this term. But he looked more like his old self last time as he strolled away with a minor Group 3 at Windsor.
Clearly, this is a big step up, but it's a familiar rung and off what looks like being a swinging gallop he has some appeal in the without Australia market. But a price of 15/8 is skinny when compared with the 13/8 for The Grey Gatsby, and my bet in the race will probably be TGG without Aus.
One way - actually several ways - to squeeze some value out of the race is to take bookies up on their 'almost free money' offers. The pick of these are as follows:
Betfair Sportsbook are offering Australia at 4/1 for new customers. That's a 1/3 shot at 4/1. If you haven't got a Betfair account, get one now. Even if you're ultimately risk averse, you can back the horse (£10 max) at 4/1, and lay it to either lock in a profit or insure your stake money. Seriously, it's £40 (almost) for free! Use this link for Betfair's 4/1 offer
Or if you don't yet have a Paddy Power account, they're offering 6/1 (£10 max) for new customers that Australia and Leading Light both win. Leading Light is an even money shot, so that's 6/1 about a 13/8 double. Again, if you're risk averse you can manage out of the bet, but they're both highly likely to win, and that'd be £60 in the old sky rocket for a tenner. Oh yes, and if the bet was to lose, they're offering you a free £10 bet to compensate! Use this link for Paddy's 6/1 offer
And if you want to top up a bit more and don't have a totesport account, you can have up to £25 at evens with them. Same deal if you're risk averse, with a lay bet securing a profit whatever happens. Use this link for totesport's even money £25 offer
SportingBet are offering new AND EXISTING customers some Australia value. They will pay out the difference between Australia's starting price and 3/1 as a free bet, with a maximum free bet credit of £60. That means a £20 bet on Australia at, let's suppose he goes off 1/3, returns £26.67 cash, plus £53.33 free bet. You can bet the free bet voucher on anything at odds of 1/2 or bigger. I've accepted this generous offer, and you should too, whether you have a sportingbet account already or not. Use this link for sportingbet's 3/1 Australia offer for ALL customers
By my reckoning, if you haven't got any of the above accounts, and you think Australia will win, you can stake £65 for a return of £205, which equates to 2.15/1 on a 1/3 shot. Of course, you'd need Leading Light to win on Sunday for Paddy's offer, and you'd need to find a winner at evens to convert sportingbet's free bet into cash. But it's still pretty good, I'd say. I've done the sportingbet offer - the only one I'm eligible for - and I recommend everyone do the same. Let's fill 'em in!!! 😉
7.20 Sovereign Path Handicap 7f
A full field of eighteen are slated to line up here, so good luck if you're playing. My participation depends entirely on events earlier in the evening, particularly the performance of Ryan and Riz in the Matron. Assuming I've not blown my stack, I'll tickle a couple at prices.
Captain Joy drops down from Listed class, where he was competitive without winning. Seven furlongs is his trip, with two wins, both on the Dundalk beach. His turf form is equally good and includes a number of Listed places. Megan Carberry - riding really well - takes the mount, and is able to relieve the good Captain of five pounds of lead. 25/1 is a fair price.
And the consistent Colour Blue should again run his race. Still only three, he's already had fifteen starts, including a win and three places at this range. He has been creeping up the weights for running well without winning, which is a bit of a niggle, but he seems well suited to conditions, and Connor King is another rider able to claim a five pound allowance. 12/1 is generally available, but SkyBet are offering five places. Take them up on it.
And that's it for Day One of the first ever Irish Champions Weekend. It's an absolutely stonking card, and I am thrilled to be there. 🙂
p.s. for those who fancy having a tilt at a somewhat more winnable pot than the Scoop 6, I'd recommend the Pick 6 in Ireland. It's got a €100,000 guaranteed pool, and with several strong market fancies, it could pay well over the SP accumulator odds. Find out more here. (There are also free bets at that link). I will be playing this one, and you should give it some thought too.