Keane relishing Tarnawa tilt at Irish Champion Stakes glory

Colin Keane is backing Tarnawa to hold her own against the colts as the mare prepares to challenge for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday week – the feature event on day one of Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

The chestnut has been victorious on her last five outings, beginning her 2020 campaign with a Group Three success in the Give Thanks Stakes before collecting back-to-back Group One prizes at ParisLongchamp in both the Prix Vermeille and the Prix de l’Opera.

A trip to Keeneland followed in November for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, with Keane drafted in late on after intended rider Christophe Soumillon was unable to partner the Aga Khan’s star following a positive Covid-19 test.

Soumillon had struck up a good relationship with Tarnawa, something trainer Dermot Weld considered to be a significant factor in their success, but Keane was able to quickly get the measure of the five-year old and steered her to a one-length triumph ahead of Aidan O’Brien’s Magical.

“He (Weld) made it very plain and simple, to not go out there with a plan,” Keane said.

“She’s a filly than can be a little slowly away sometimes and she can be a bit keen, so I just got her to relax a little bit and then from halfway tried to creep my way into it.

“He took a lot of the pressure off me and tried to make it more enjoyable than anything and thankfully it all just worked out on the day.

“We jumped well and I found myself behind Frankie (Dettori, on Lord North) and Ryan (Moore, on Magical), obviously we were inexperienced around a track like that but we were following the right people anyway.

“We didn’t go overly mad and kind of got going from halfway down the back, my filly travelled well and from when we turned in she picked up very well.

“From halfway down the straight I thought I was going to get there, she was a very good winner on the day. It’s hard to describe it.”

Tarnawa has been seen once since that Breeders’ Cup performance, running in the Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown on August 5 – and winning by an emphatic six and a half lengths as 1-2 favourite.

The latter race and the Breeders’ Cup were run over a mile and and a half, with the Irish Champion taking place over 10 furlongs.

“We’re coming back two furlongs which I don’t think will be a problem,” Keane said.

“She’s not a slow filly, she travels strongly and has a good turn of foot at the end of a mile-and-a-half race, but I don’t think the drop back in trip will be an issue.

“She’s not slow, she takes her time to warm into it but she finishes very well as we’ve seen in the past.

“I don’t think it’ll be an issue if it’s lovely good ground.”

Keane considers the daughter of Shamardal to be more physically impressive than ever, having recently ridden her at Weld’s Curragh stable.

“I got to sit on her last Friday morning, we were doing our normal exercise and she seems very well,” he said.

“She’s a lovely big chestnut. She’s got a good character about her, but she’d eat you in the stable.

“She’s a handful, but when she’s going she’s very straightforward and uncomplicated – she’s just a very good filly.

“She’s seems to be a lot stronger physically this year, she had a good break after the Breeders’ Cup and she came back in late.

“She’s done very well over the winter and she’s taken a bit of work to get her to where she is, but she’s definitely stronger physically this year.

St Mark’s Basilica is set to clash with Tarnawa at Leopardstown
St Mark’s Basilica is set to clash with Tarnawa at Leopardstown (Nigel French/PA)

St Mark’s Basilica – brilliant so far this season in picking up the French 2000 Guineas, French Derby and Coral-Eclipse – is the obvious stumbling block to Tarnawa, while crack miler Poetic Flare would merit obvious respect should he step up in trip.

“It’s going to be a very good race,” said Keane.

“St Mark’s Basilica looks very good this year, Poetic Flare has been very good for Mr (Jim) Bolger and Kevin (Manning) so if he turns up it’s going to be a good renewal of the race.

“These are the races we all want to be riding in, you get the most buzz out of them. The best horses, the highest level against the best riders – I’m very much looking forward to it now.”

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