Stars Collide in Stellar Irish Champion

On the basis that Idaho is an absolute certainty in the St Leger at Doncaster, I have decided to take a closer look at the Irish Champion Stakes for this week’s tip.

It’s an exceptional renewal with 13 expected to go to post. The dual Classic winning filly Minding is currently the market leader, just ahead of the dual Derby winner Harzand. The Prix du Jockey Club winner Almanzor travels over from France, as does the Andre Fabre trained New Bay, a colt classy enough to finish third in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Aidan O’Brien is also expected to run the Breeders’ Cup Turf heroine, Found. The talented four-year-old has finished runner-up in her last four outings, and filled the same berth in this race 12 months ago, when chasing home Golden Horn. Along with the two classy fillies, Ballydoyle look set to run a pair of talented colts.

Highland Reel has undoubtedly improved this season, and his last run behind Postponed at York, gives him every chance in this. Sir Isaac Newton is a fast improving sort, and was a couple of lengths behind his stable companion in the Juddmonte at York.

On softer ground it would be hard to dismiss the chances of Godolphin’s Hawkbill, who proved so disappointing last time at York. Prior to that run he had defeated The Gurkha in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse. This truly is a high-calibre renewal.

Over the past 10 years, it’s the three-year-olds that have proved dominant with six victories. Epsom Derby winners, New Approach, Sea The Stars and Golden Horn were all successful in this. In the same period The Fugue and Snow Fairy did the business for the mares.

Aidan O’Brien has won four of the last 10 renewals, though his last win came back in 2011 when So You Think got the better of Snow Fairy in a thrilling finish. Dylan Thomas won the race in 2006 and 2007 for the Ballydoyle team. He managed to get the better of the outstanding mare Ouija Board to win his first. And after his 2007 victory he was sent to Longchamp and triumphed in the Arc.

Favourites have a stunning record in the Irish Champion Stakes. Six have won in the last 10 years, with the other four finishing second. The Grey Gatsby at 7/1 is the longest price winner in the last decade.
Trends point to the likelihood of a three-year-old winner, probably the favourite, though definitely a fancied contender.

Harzand and Minding clearly fit the bill, having already proved themselves high-class racehorses in the Classics. The same can arguably be said of French Derby winner Almanzor, though the French form looks harder to weigh-up. France last captured this race back in 1991, when the Chantilly based Englishman John Hammond saddled Suave Dancer to a famous victory. The colt had also won the Prix du Jockey Club, and then went on to win the Arc.

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Aidan O’Brien’s market leader Minding, takes on the colts for the first time on Saturday. She was probably at her least impressive last time when winning the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. She beat a nice filly in Queen’s Trust, though I felt was a little laboured in doing so. She has been rested since, and looked in the need of a break. This 10-furlong trip looks absolutely ideal, and a career record of seven wins and three seconds from 10 races tells its own story. She’s a class act, though this is undoubtedly her toughest test.

Harzand has proved himself a powerful stayer, having shown ‘true grit’ in both his Derby victories. Having said that, he travelled strongly on both occasions, and led pretty much from two-furlong pole, before finding plenty for pressure. It’ll take a cracker to pass him, should he get his nose in front. He’s proved himself effective on varying ground conditions, and will take all the beating.

The form of French raider Almanzor is probably harder to assess. He’s a French Classic winner, and followed up with a strong performance at Deauville last month, when sweeping to the front late on to capture a Group 2. He’s proven at the trip, and I fancy he’ll run a big race. His trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, is having a sensational season, with Qemah, La Cressonniere and Zelzal also bagging Group 1s for the yard.

Of the older contenders, both Found and Highland Reel should run well for Aidan O’Brien. The former is ultra-consistent at the highest level, and looks sure to go close, as she did 12 months ago. She warmed up for this with a strong performance in the Yorkshire Oaks behind stable companion Seventh Heaven. I just fancy that she’ll find one or two a little too good for her.

Highland Reel has improved from three to four, and ran a cracker behind Postponed at York. He was outpaced by the winner on that occasion, before battling on bravely as the line approached. I think he’s better over further, and there’ll be a few of these with a little more ‘toe’.

Of the remainder New Bay is the most interesting. I fancy that this is his optimum trip, and he’s a colt with gears. His third to Golden Horn in last year’s Arc is exceptional form. He beat Highland Reel in last year’s French Derby, and at 12/1 he’s a fair each-way proposition.

In a truly stunning renewal, I fancy the three-year-old Dual-Derby winner will take all the beating. It’s Harzand for me, with New Bay my each-way punt at 12s. Good luck with your selections, and more importantly, enjoy what looks to be the race of the season thus far.

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