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Monday Musings: Quelle Weekend!

Compacting the 2020 racing season in Europe’s three major nations has caused some difficulties, but when weekends like the one we’ve just witnessed happen, then assuredly it will be remembered for many years, writes Tony Stafford.

The last of four days of the St Leger meeting started on Wednesday with a trial gathering of 2,500 spectators and then neutered back again to selected insiders only by rising Covid-19 infections, if not deaths, both locally and nationally. France, meanwhile, had its customary trials day on Sunday, three weeks ahead of the Arc meeting itself, and Irish Champions Weekend, at Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh yesterday, completed the puzzle.

Normally the trainers associated with the big winners would have wanted to be there to witness their achievements. That wasn’t the case for Joseph O’Brien, who completed an astonishing feat in his 28th year by becoming the only man since the great Harry Wragg to first ride and then train a St Leger winner when Galileo Chrome got the better of Berkshire Rocco under Tom Marquand on Town Moor.

As has been widely reported, Marquand fortuitously got the ride on his first Classic winner because his proposed mount, English King, was re-routed to Longchamp’s Grand Prix de Paris yesterday - where he ran disappointingly. Original booked rider Shane Crosse was in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 despite showing no symptoms and “feeling on top of the world”.

Harry Wragg, born in Sheffield in 1902, was one of the leading jockeys between the wars. Known as the Head Waiter for his preferred style of leaving his challenge late – a 1930’s prototype of Jamie Spencer - he won two St Legers, although only the first was truly authentic. Sandwich, in 1931, was trained at Newmarket by Jack Jarvis for the 6th Earl of Rosebery, once captain of Surrey CCC. The 1943 winner, Herringbone, trained by Walter Earl for the 17th Earl of Derby, the last of his six St Legers and twenty Classics in all, was a war-time substitute run at Newmarket.

Wragg’s sole training success in the St Leger was in the 1969 race when Intermezzo won under the Australian jockey Ron Hutchinson for Gerry Oldham. Thus Wragg, who began his training career in 1947, took 38 years between riding the winner of the Classic and training one.

Joseph O’Brien had retired from riding by the age of 23 having been a triple champion jockey in Ireland. He was 20 years old when Landing Light won the St Leger. Compared with Wragg he certainly isn’t any kind of “waiter” with just seven years between the two events.

Back in 1980, a year before Wragg’s retirement from training and only five before he died aged 82, I visited him at his Abington Place stables in Newmarket’s Bury Road, accompanied by his son Geoff who would take over the stable with continued success in 1982.

I went there with Prestatyn-born Bryn Crossley, who sadly died two years ago, as at the time I was helping book his rides. We worked together for only that season, when he was apprenticed to Geoff Huffer at Cheveley Park, the racing stables now the location for Cheveley Park Stud. It was mutually satisfying when that very popular and personable young Welshman became Champion Apprentice that year.

Harry Wragg had booked Bryn for his three-year-old filly Popaway, a sound stayer who from (questionable) memory had 6st9lb in the long handicap. The old master, a true innovator, and one of the first trainers to weigh his horses regularly, wanted to go through the race with Crossley and it was quite an experience for us both. Bryn claimed 5lb and was planning to get down to 7st2lb – which he comfortably managed - for only the second time in 1980. The first was on Jim Bolger’s Lynconwise at Leicester, a race he won very easily on Whit Monday.

There was a chance that if the original Cesarewitch top-weight were to come out at the overnight stage as was rumoured, there would be a big hike in the weights, but he stayed in and that left the very tough Popsi’s Joy, owned and bred by the bearded solicitor Victor Morley Lawson and trained by Michael Haynes at Epsom, to run almost loose on 8st6lb.

Haynes shrewdly booked Lester Piggott, still at the height of his powers in his mid-forties, for the ride at his minimum weight. Two furlongs out Crossley took Popaway to the front, but Lester and Popsi’s Joy were always going easily and soon joined the filly. The two horses quickly drew away from the other 25 runners which included Sir Michael, who had won for Huffer the previous year and John Cherry, successful four years previously under Piggott. Popsi’s Joy won comfortably by a couple of lengths with Popaway around five lengths clear of the rest.

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Popsi’s Joy won eight races in 1980 and 17 in all, culminating in a four-length victory as a 10-year-old in the Tote Cesarewitch Trial at Warwick. He survived at Michael Haynes’ stables until dying, aged 25, in 2000.

There was a post-script, as the top-weight, who did eventually miss the race despite having been kept in until the final declaration stage, was to make one further minor footnote in his career.

In those days, the Press Association, where I worked for three years in the early 1970’s, used to issue for Weatherbys a daily bulletin of Official Scratchings in a system far removed from the instant technical processes of today. At the bottom was a sorry final section entitled, “All engagements – dead”. There within a few days of the race, while we were still bemoaning Popaway’s bad luck to be so far out of the weights, was the name of the absent top-weight. If that had happened in 2020, the conspiracy theorists would have had a field day. I think at the time I was just about the only person who noticed.

Incidentally, Morley Lawson had already owned a Cesarewitch winner, the Arthur Pitt-trained Ocean King, ridden by lightweight Tommy Carter in 1974. The previous year, Morley Lawson, then aged 67, won an amateur riders’ Flat race on that horse. I’ve mentioned here a million times about my part-time additional job as Editor of the old Racehorse newspaper. In the first front page piece I wrote for that still revered weekly, I happened to select Ocean King, who won at a long price.

In that issue, it was attributed to The Editor, and on the following Monday morning, my colleague Roger Jackson passed on a letter from Peter O’Sullevan noting the great tip and wishing him a successful career in the future. Understandably Roger’s name, alongside his greyhound selections, was the only one the always very gracious future Sir Peter could find to congratulate.

***

This past weekend was one of tremendous success for Irish stables, not least for the evergreen Dermot Weld who sent over his improving filly Tarnawa to beat Jean-Claude Rouget’s self-professed “champion filly” Raabibah by three lengths in the Prix Vermeille a couple of hours before his Search For A Song repeated last year’s success in the Irish St Leger. Amazingly – and I’d be willing to bet he never expected it to happen – that took him level on nine wins with Aidan O’Brien in that Classic’s long history.

Weld is 72, but he was not the oldest winning trainer at the meeting. Both Jessica Harrington, born a year before Weld, and Jim Bolger, her senior by a hardly-believable five years when you see him, were on the scorecard yesterday. The only notable non-celebrant on the day was Kevin Prendergast, still going strong and training winners. Kevin was born in 1932, the year after Harry Wragg’s first St Leger win as a jockey!

Harrington’s Cayenne Pepper won the Group 2 Blandford Stakes, but it was the exuberant triumph of her two-year-old colt Cadillac in Saturday’s mile Group 2, a win and you’re in ticket to the Breeders’ Cup, that caused most eyebrows to rise.

Over the weekend, British-based – or more accurately Yorkshire-based – trainers won four races, three of them yesterday. The single link is that John Quinn, who won a Group 2 race with the ultra-tough seven-year-old Safe Voyage on Saturday;  Richard Fahey, with a Sunday double, and Kevin Ryan, who won a sprint with Glass Slippers, are all Irish.

Mrs Harrington needs to get somebody, presumably her daughter Kate who often works as an expert – which she surely is! - on Racing TV’s Irish coverage as well as an important cog in mum’s operation, to talk to Wikipedia. That fount of sometimes accurate knowledge, says she is “principally a trainer of National Hunt horses but has had some success in Flat racing”. Well said, Wikipedia.

One of the features of this behind-closed-doors season, which started in Ireland with Naas on June 8, has been the astounding success of the irrepressible Johnny Murtagh. He has already won 41 races, gaining a career-defining Group 1 win in Saturday’s Matron Stakes with the ever-improving Champers Elysees who came from last to first to see off the Group 1-winning  Coolmore pair of Peaceful (Aidan) and Fancy Blue (Donnacha). Johnny, highly successful in his time at Ballydoyle of course, continued riding when he first took out a training licence and was in the saddle in 2013 for his first four stakes winners, three at Group level. Champers Elysees was his first Group 1 and a memorable one.

Murtagh also concluded the two-day and two-venue extravaganza with a spectacular handicap win with his 99-rated (up from 68 three runs ago) Sonnyboyliston, who drew almost five lengths clear of the other 21 runners. Talk about a Group winner in handicapper’s clothing!

Meanwhile Dad and the two precocious sons more than did their bit to keep the family firm in the ascendant. Donnacha had only a handful of runners over the two days but yesterday his Galileo filly, Shale, carrying the Derrick Smith silks, reversed Debutante Stakes form with Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous when making all in the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes.

Joseph wasn’t content with just the one Group 1 winner over the weekend, though. In a high-class renewal of the National Stakes his once-raced Thunder Moon produced a sensational burst from an unpromising position in the colours of Mrs Chantal Regalo-Gonzalez. Aidan’s duo of Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica avoided trouble in that congested affair to take second and third. It would be more than interesting to see Thunder Moon and Cadillac line up in competition before the end of the year, maybe in Kentucky.

And as ever there was Aidan. His two 2020 Derby winners, Santiago from the Curragh and Serpentine, who made such a mess of the Derby field at Epsom, reappeared, although to be pedantic Santiago had run third to Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup in between.

Serpentine went across to France for the Grand Prix de Paris and could finish no nearer than fourth to his hitherto disappointing stable-companion Mogul, who had gone into Epsom as the Ballydoyle number one. This was Mogul’s third run since Epsom and he took advantage of his subsequent race-hardening to suggest that those earlier high hopes for him were not illusory. Serpentine, foregoing front-running this time, will have plenty to say in the future, I’m sure.

The two 2019 Derby winners were also out over the weekend. While Curragh hero Sovereign could not keep up the gallop after setting the pace in the Irish St Leger, Anthony Van Dyck avenged that Goodwood Cup reverse for his stable by holding Stradivarius all the way to the line in the Prix Foy at Longchamp. He has not always been able to replicate the form that won him last year’s Derby but on his day, and given fast ground, he’s a formidable Group 1 performer.

Sorry Aidan, it’s not going to get any easier keeping that armada of middle-distance Classic colts apart, especially when you add to the mix Tiger Moth, a four-length Group 3 winner on Saturday in his first race since a strong-finishing second in the Irish Derby. And that’s not to forget where Magical comes into the picture. Good enough to stay close to Ghaiyyath before outpointing her York nemesis memorably in Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes, this insatiable five-year-old phenomenon will keep her male companions in the shadows for as long as she wants to continue.

- TS

Search For A Song powers to Irish Leger repeat

Search For A Song landed back-to-back renewals of the Comer Group International Irish St Leger at the Curragh, as former champion apprentice Oisin Orr won the biggest race of his career.

It was a different story to 12 months ago, as while Search For A Song was in front a mile out on that occasion under Chris Hayes, this time Orr had her switched off and was the last to challenge deep inside the final furlong.

Andrea Atzeni must have felt confident as he hit the front on Roger Varian’s Ebor winner Fujaira Prince, with everything else seemingly in trouble.

Orr had yet to fully ask for everything on the filly, though, who had not won since her famous success last year, although she had run an eyecatching race when not beaten far by Magical in the Tattersalls Gold Cup in July.

Search For A Song powered home under Oisin Orr
Search For A Song powered home under Oisin Orr (PA)
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When her stamina began to kick in close home, it seemed inevitable that the 7-1 chance would get up and in the end she was a comfortable winner.

It capped a memorable day for Dermot Weld, who also took the Prix Vermeille with Tarnawa in Paris.

Weld, who trained the last back-to-back Leger winner in Vinnie Roe, said: “It’s been a special day, especially when you win your ninth St Leger.

“I had one horse win four back-to-back (Vinnie Roe), Vintage Crop won it twice and now she has, too.

“I’d trained her for the day for a long time, I also wanted to get that Group One over a mile and a quarter (black type) into her so people didn’t think she was just a staying mare.

“You saw what the filly that beat her, Magical, did (in the Irish Champion Stakes) so I was quietly confident she’d win today.”

He went on: “I thought it was a lovely ride from Oisin Orr, he’s only 23 the other day but he switched her off beautifully and I was confident turning for home that we’d win.

“He gets horses to relax very well. I need to be very fair to Chris Hayes as he rode her beautifully last year too, they all have their own talents. I don’t really have a number one but Oisin rides most of them, I do accept that. I think he has wonderful hands and he fills horses with confidence.

“When you win the Vermeille and the Leger on the same day with two fillies when you train 100 horses, which is a great number in Ireland these days – yes you still get a big kick.”

Thunder Moon rockets into Classic picture with National strike

Thunder Moon ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh on just his second start.

Joseph O’Brien’s youngster is now joint-favourite with some bookmakers for next year’s 2000 Guineas, such was the authority of his display.

The Group One contest was robbed of a little of its lustre when Aidan O’Brien’s Royal Ascot winner Battleground was ruled out, but it still had the look of being the best race of its type this season.

There was no doubt Thunder Moon was being asked a big question after just one run – but the way he quickened up suggests he is a colt of the highest order.

Out of luck in the Moyglare half an hour earlier with Pretty Gorgeous, Declan McDonogh was briefly short for room when Master Of The Seas shot clear, but when a gap opened on the rail, Thunder Moon did not need asking twice and he quickly took advantage.

The son of Zoffany, sent of a 15-2 chance, soon put the race to bed and won by a length and a half from the staying-on Wembley, with St Mark’s Basilica third and Master Of The Seas fourth. Lucky Vega endured a troubled passage and was unplaced.

McDonogh said: “He quickened very well. I was just caught on heels a little and had to bite the bullet and sit and suffer, but he showed great heart when he got a bit of room.

Celebration time for Declan McDonogh
Celebration time for Declan McDonogh (PA)

“He was always giving me the feeling that he was going to run them down and he was very impressive. He was impressive the first day, but you never know what you’re beating.

“He’s got a serious will to win because when you are racing and it got tight he just wanted to run by them.”

He added: “The ground was as slow as he wanted, he has a real fast-ground action – fast ground suits him really well. He seemed like he was in third gear all the way.”

Shale gets the better of Pretty Gorgeous as dream season continues for Donnacha O’Brien

Donnacha O’Brien’s Shale got the better of his brother Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh.

The two fillies have clashed three times now this season, with Shale currently holding the upper hand with two victories to one.

Pretty Gorgeous was sent off the 11-10 favourite having comprehensively outpointed Shale when they last met in the Debutante Stakes.

Shale (9-2) had two and a half lengths to find with Pretty Gorgeous, but was always in the right place under Ryan Moore.

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Declan McDonogh had Pretty Gorgeous close enough if she was good enough and the two of them had a real battle inside the final furlong.

But try as she might Pretty Gorgeous could not get past, and Shale provided her young trainer with another Group One at such an early stage of his career.

A daughter of Galileo, Shale was cut to 12-1 from 20s for next year’s 1000 Guineas by Betfair.

“It was a lovely performance. She was one of the first off the bridle and at halfway I didn’t think she was going to do anything, but she found plenty for pressure,” said O’Brien.

“She was always a nice filly, but wasn’t one we thought would be capable of winning a Moyglare at the start of the year – she’s kept progressing the whole way.

“Her last run was good and Joseph’s filly is very classy, they are two very good fillies.”

O’Brien – who has won Group Ones in Ireland, Britain and France this year, his first with a licence – added: “Speaking to Ryan it will either be the Fillies’ Mile or France (for the Prix Marcel Boussac) next. It’s not been a bad first year!

“Fancy Blue ran very well in the Matron on Saturday, I wasn’t deflated she got beat – I probably shouldn’t have run in hindsight because I expected the ground to be soft but the rain never came. I thought she did very well to finish third.”

Glass Slippers adds to top-level haul in Flying Five

Glass Slippers stayed on in determined fashion to add the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh to her Prix de l’Abbaye success of last season.

Kevin Ryan’s filly had chased home Battaash at Goodwood last time out, having finished fifth behind the same horse at Royal Ascot.

She was actually one of the first off the bridle as Nunthorpe runner-up Que Amoro and Keep Busy went at it hammer and tongs from an early stage.

With two furlongs to run Que Amoro was back-pedalling, but the John Quinn-trained Keep Busy was still at the head of affairs with Maid In India and another Quinn runner, Liberty Beach, also in there fighting.

But Tom Eaves was beginning to get a tune out of Glass Slippers (9-2) against the far rail as they approached the final furlong and she hit the front with 100 yards to run. Keep Busy, running in Doreen Tabor’s silks for the first time, was a game second, with Sonaiyla staying on for third.

A’Ali and Make A Challenge, two of the favourites, never threatened to get in a serious blow.

Speaking from his North Yorkshire base, Ryan said: “She’s so tough and genuine, but she has a lot of class.

“She loves it when they go really quick, but the ground was tacky today so she’s done well to cope with that. I’m absolutely delighted.

“Darren Bunyan has done a marvellous job with her the last 48 hours, it’s not easy handing it over to someone else, but he’s produced her in tip-top shape so I’m very thankful to the Curragh and Darren.

“It was Terry Holdcroft’s (owner of Bearstone Stud) decision to miss the Nunthorpe and give her a bit more time and he’s obviously been vindicated.

“She’s an amazing filly, so simple to train and makes my job very easy. She’ll go back for the Abbaye now.”

Eaves said: “She’s been a great filly for everyone involved and has been extremely good to me.

“It’s a great training performance by Kevin and she seems to come right at the back end of the year. It’s a great result for everyone.

“Kevin didn’t rush her and we were pleased after the run at Goodwood that she was heading the right way again.”

Cayenne Pepper too hot for Blandford rivals

Cayenne Pepper was rewarded for a string of consistent efforts with a stylish victory in the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes at the Curragh.

Jessica Harrington’s filly had shown smart form as a juvenile and went on to be fourth in the Fillies’ Mile.

This year she had been second in all three of her runs, including the Irish Oaks, but had been beaten at a short price in the Give Thanks Stakes most recently.

Dropped back to 10 furlongs on this occasion, though, Shane Foley always looked in command.

He tracked Amma Grace into the straight before taking up the running over a furlong out and his mount powered through the line to take the Group Two honours by four lengths at 3-1. Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand was a disappointing favourite.

Assistant trainer Kate Harrington said: “That was the true Cayenne Pepper. She got a good tow into the race and was really impressive.

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“We had a lot of issues with her in the spring and today was the first day she looked well and strong.

“She’s in the Prix de l’Opera, but I think Alpine Star goes there. She’s got an invite for the QEII at the Keeneland and she could stay over there for the Breeders’ Cup.

“It’s sad that Jon Kelly (owner) wasn’t around to see her, but he’ll be up there looking down on her. He passed away a week after the Oaks. It’s lovely for her to win, but it’s a bit emotional.

“We might go to America with her for Sarah (Kelly to see her, providing everything is OK.s Cup.

“We’ll let the dust settle and see how she is this week.”

There was a British-trained success in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF “Bold Lad” Sprint Handicap, with Richard Fahey’s Mr Lupton lifting the valuable pot.

Fahey’s charge had won a Group Two at the Curragh last May, but had been winless since and largely out of sorts.

He hinted at a return to form last time out when third in the Great St Wilfrid and the well-backed 11-2 favourite streaked clear with a furlong to run.

Lil Grey kept him honest home before fading into third, with Blairmayne running on into second, beaten half a length.

Fahey said: “He’s a wonderful horse. He’d lost his way a bit, but at least it gave him a chance to come back to handicaps and we’re delighted with him – he’s a star.

“All going well the plan is to take him to the Ayr Gold Cup next week. We were going to go straight there, but the prize-money on offer today took over – it was a good prize to win.”

Fahey and Keane then doubled up when Shark One Two (20-1) won the Tattersalls Ireland Super Auction Sale Stakes.

It was a fourth winner of the weekend for Keane.

“Talking to Richard he was a little bit bullish and he was right. He quickened up well and you couldn’t be happier,” said Keane.

Sonnyboyliston then defied a 13lb rise in the weights to round off a great weekend for Johnny Murtagh in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF “Northfields” Handicap, under Billy Lee.

Cadillac speeds to impressive Leopardstown victory

Cadillac showed his rivals a clean pair of heels to run out an impressive victor in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown.

Jessica Harrington’s charge was sent off the 11-8 favourite for the Group Two affair despite being edged out in the Futurity Stakes and settled on the outside by Shane Foley, tracking the pace set by Van Gogh.

Cadillac travelled well throughout the mile heat, and when Foley asked his partner to quicken inside the final furlong, the Lope De Vega colt displayed an electric turn of foot, quickly pulling clear to run out a three-and-a-half-length winner over Van Gogh. Reve De Vol was a further two and three-quarter lengths back in third.

Coral made Cadillac their 8-1 co-favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas, with Betfair cutting him from 33-1 to 12-1 for the Newmarket Classic.

The latter also go 5-1 about his chances for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in the autumn and the trainer’s daughter, Kate, indicated America could be the next port of call.

She said: “You’d have to be delighted with him. You saw the real Cadillac there today and he’s a lovely horse.

“He’s a horse that just goes through the motions at home, you don’t really know how big an engine is in there, but it’s fairly big.

“He didn’t really learn much the first day, but learned a lot the last day and he did it right there today.

“It’s great for the syndicate (Alpha Racing 2020), which we started two years ago and this is the second running of it. We’re going to go forward with it next year and it’s great to have a high-profile horse like this.

“I’d say all being well his next start will probably be in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.”

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Monday (right) on her way to victory
Monday (right) on her way to victory (PA)

Monday (12-1) made every yard of the running to claim the Ballylinch Stud Irish EBF Ingabelle Stakes.

Fourth on her only previous run, Seamie Heffernan had his Aidan O’Brien-trained mount sharply away, with better-fancied stablemate and 9-4 favourite More Beautiful settled on her heels.

However, Ryan Moore was pushing the market leader from some way out and it was left to No Speak Alexander to throw down a challenge, but she fell short by three-quarters of a length at the line.

The winner was introduced as a 33-1 shot for next year’s 1000 Guineas by Betfair, and 25-1 by RaceBets, and she could now take a jump up in company.

O’Brien said: “She’s the first foal out of Ballydoyle. She can step into a Group race fairly quick, I’d say.

“She probably learned a lot the first day and learned a good bit more today. I’d say she won’t have any problem stepping up quick.

“The Boussac, Fillies’ Mile, all those races will be open to her.”

Tiger Moth (5-6 favourite) then made it a treble on the day for O’Brien with a clear-cut victory in the Paddy Power ‘Is It 2021 Yet?’ Stakes.

O’Brien also struck gold in the feature Irish Champion Stakes with Magical, and Irish Derby second Tiger Moth brought up the hat-trick with the minimum of fuss, coasting home by four lengths under Ryan Moore.

O’Brien said: “He’s a lovely horse. Obviously his last run was in the Irish Derby.

“We gave him a break, said we’d come back here and maybe have a look at the Melbourne Cup, but he probably won’t get in where he is. He’s 8lb below Santiago.

“I wasn’t sure a mile and a half was his thing and we would have been very happy going back to a mile and a quarter. It was a strong-run mile and a half and we were going to find out today whether he stayed or not.”

Safe Voyage (right) just prevailed for trainer John Quinn
Safe Voyage (right) just prevailed for trainer John Quinn (PA)

Safe Voyage and Sinawann produced a fantastic finish to the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Mile, with John Quinn’s British raider just grabbing the verdict in a photo.

Colin Keane, who had earlier struck Group One gold with Champers Elysees in the Matron Stakes, had to be at his strongest to get Safe Voyage (4-1) back in front on the line, triumphing by a short head.

He said: “I thought Ronny (Ronan Whelan, Sinawann’s rider) was just after nabbing me, but to be fair to my horse, when the other horse came to him he put his head down and tried very hard.

“He travelled very strong, quickened well and when he did get by him, my lad fought back very bravely.

“He’s been a revelation from winning the premier handicap in Galway to these Group Twos. It’s a brilliant training performance.”

Halimi claimed handicap honours
Halimi claimed handicap honours (PA)

Halimi (18-1) swooped inside the final furlong of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Petingo’ Handicap to collar the gutsy Springbank and repel the late thrust of Shoshone Warrior for Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning.

“I just spoke to the boss and he’s delighted with the horse. He’s a nice progressive type,” said Bolger’s daughter, Una Manning.

“We’re thrilled with him and he’ll go for more of the same. It’s nice to win a big pot like this on Champions Day.”

Murtagh celebrates Group One glory with Champers Elysees

Champers Elysees completed her meteoric rise through the ranks as she gave Johnny Murtagh his first Group One success as a trainer with victory in the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

The three-year-old won a Curragh handicap on her seasonal bow in June, but after winning a Listed heat at the Galway Festival and a Group Three at Gowran just 10 days ago, Murtagh – who has been enjoying such a fine season – opted to pitch her into top-level company.

Teaming up with Colin Keane for the first time, Champers Elysees was ridden with restraint through the early stages, as Love Locket set the pace and it looked at one point as though the winner’s stablemate Know It All would take the prize before Peaceful took over in the final furlong.

However, Champers Elysees was flying on the outside, sweeping through in the shadow of the post to give Murtagh a memorable triumph.

Peaceful kept on for second, with 9-4 favourite Fancy Blue keeping on for third, just ahead of the Cieren Fallon-ridden Know It All.

Murtagh, who won the race three times in the saddle, said: “It feels great. I’m sick of everyone saying ‘you had such a great career as a jockey’ – that’s in the past and it’s the now I’m worried about.

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“It’s been a brilliant year, but to win a Group One on Champions Weekend means everything. That’s why we get up in the morning.

“We believe we have the team to compete in Group Ones and we want to be on this stage.

“I have to say thanks to my wife, my family, as they have been very supportive and to all the staff back at the stables and everybody who supports us, including the owners, through a tricky year.”

He went on: “She was always a good filly and I did think she’d make up into a stakes filly. The amount she has improved is unbelievable.

“She has improved a lot physically and she’s now started to know she’s good. Handicap, Listed, Group Three and now she’s a Group One winner. When those fillies start improving, there is no end to them.

“I was watching both of them and thought Know It All ran a cracker as well, she was there all the way and might have just got outstayed.

“I could see her (Champers Elysees) coming with Fancy Blue and I thought it was going to be a battle, but the way she quickened up in the last 100 yards, Colin said, was very impressive.

“She’s a very good filly.”

Murtagh could now head to Newmarket with Champers Elysees, and a trip to the Breeders’ Cup meeting will also be under consideration.

He added: “I don’t know where next as this was the main plan. I suppose the Sun Chariot in Newmarket is there, it’s fillies only again and I wouldn’t mind staying in with the fillies.

“There is also a chance to go over to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. We’ll sit down, enjoy tonight and then make a plan about where to go next.

It was a red letter day for Johnny Murtagh
It was a red letter day for Johnny Murtagh (PA)

“The Breeders’ Cup is an option and a mile around there would suit her down to the ground as she’s quick and has a great turn of foot.

“It’s been a magical season. I’m a very good trainer and I just need better horses!

“When I get them, these are the results. It’s very hard to source horses in Ireland, but when we do I’m not behind the door in telling people that we are able to do the business once we get the right horse.”

Mulrennan seeking Group One gold with Que Amoro

Paul Mulrennan is relishing the opportunity to bid for Group One glory aboard Que Amoro in the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.

The Michael Dods-trained filly is well fancied for the first of four top-level prizes on offer on the second afternoon of Irish Champions Weekend, having pushed star sprinter Battaash all the way in the Nunthorpe at York.

Que Amoro looked likely to sidestep this weekend’s five-furlong contest, but with a recent change to Covid-19 protocols meaning British-based jockeys are now allowed to ride without having to quarantine for two weeks, she was given the green light to travel to Ireland.

Mulrennan said: “I was delighted when the quarantine rules changed – I’m very much look forward to riding her on Sunday.

“She’s come out of York very well. It was a hell of a run in the Nunthorpe – I’ve not seen many horses get Battaash off the bridle like she did, so it was a great effort.

“If she can reproduce that sort of performance this weekend, I think she’s the one they’ve all got to beat.”

Que Amoro is one of seven British challengers in a field of 15 runners, with Simon and Ed Crisford’s A’Ali, Kevin Ryan’s Glass Slippers and the John Quinn-trained pair of Keep Busy and Liberty Beach also part of the raiding party.

The home team is headed by Denis Hogan’s Make A Challenge, who has won four of his six starts this season and is five from eight overall at the Curragh.

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The Moyglare Stud Stakes appears likely to be dominated by the O’Brien family, with Aidan and his two sons Joseph and Donnacha all saddling major contenders.

The hot favourite is Joseph O’Brien’s Pretty Gorgeous following her impressive display in the Debutante Stakes over the course and distance three weeks ago.

“I’m looking forward to running her – she’s a very exciting filly,” said the Piltown handler.

“She couldn’t have been any more impressive last time in very heavy going. Obviously she handled that, but she’s also won on better ground, so she’s versatile ground-wise.

“I’m really looking forward to the weekend for her.”

Pretty Gorgeous is reopposed by Donnacha O’Brien’s Debutante runner-up Shale and Aidan O’Brien’s Debutante third Mother Earth.

Donnacha O’Brien said: “It will be tough to beat Joseph’s filly, but I’m hoping that on nicer ground we can get a bit closer and possibly even put it up to her.”

Aidan O’Brien, who also runs recent Flame of Tara Stakes winner Divinely, said: “Mother Earth ran a nice race in the Debutante. We were feeling our way up to seven furlongs and didn’t want to boldly expose her. We were happy with the run and hope she might progress.

“Divinely is like her sister Found, who was able to compete at seven and was very comfortable when she stepped up to a mile – she’s very likeable in everything she does.”

Classic honours are up for grabs in the Comer Group Irish St Leger, for which Twilight Payment is the likely favourite for Joseph O’Brien, after landing both the Vintage Crop Stakes and the Curragh Cup over the course and distance this season.

O’Brien said: “He’s seven, but he ran a career-best last time on figures.

“He’ll probably need to do so again, but if he does, it puts him right in the mix. We’re excited about running him and we’re hopeful of a good performance.”

Aidan O’Brien saddles last year’s Irish Derby hero Sovereign, who was last seen chasing home Enable in the King George, as well as three-year-old filly Passion.

Dermot Weld’s defending champion Search For A Song, Jessica Harrington’s Barbados, the Willie Mullins-trained Micro Manage and Luke Comer’s Raa Atoll complete the home team, with Roger Varian’s Ebor winner Fujaira Prince flying the flag for Britain.

Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting mare Magic Wand sets the standard on ratings in the Group Two Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes.

So far this season the daughter of Galileo has won the Lanwades Stud Stakes, placed fourth in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and finished fifth in the Nassau at Goodwood.

O’Brien said: “It’s a nice race to break her into the autumn – she’ll probably go on her travels after this.

“We’re not sure how far we can go. We think we can go to Hong Kong and America, but we have to do the quarantine beforehand. They would be the two big ones on her agenda.”

Jessica Harrington has a strong hand, with both One Voice and Cayenne Pepper bringing top-level form to the table.

Joseph O’Brien also fires a couple of bullets in Bolleville and Thunder Nights, and said of the latter: “She won at the Curragh last time, beating Albigna, and won very well.

“She’s a filly who has just improved and improved all season. We’re really looking forward to running her.”

Foley keen on Lucky Vega chance in National Stakes

Shane Foley expects the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes to be one of the races of the weekend as he prepares to ride Lucky Vega against Battleground and Master Of The Seas at the Curragh.

Lucky Vega arrives on the back of arguably the most impressive performance by a juvenile this season in the Phoenix Stakes, when Jessica Harrington’s youngster quickened away to win by three and a half lengths.

Sunday’s assignment represents a different task – with Aidan O’Brien’s Chesham winner Battleground and the Charlie Appleby-trained Superlative Stakes scorer Master Of The Seas in opposition – but Foley is feeling confident.

“From day one he’s always been a nice horse,” said Foley, speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview.

“He had a little hold-up after his maiden win, which meant it was a bit of a rush getting to the Railway Stakes. He got beat in that, but improved no end for it and showed what he was capable of in the Phoenix.

“He’s laid-back, so should have no problem going up to seven furlongs. Looking at it, it looks one of the races of the weekend – with Battleground and Master Of The Seas.”

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Battleground followed up his Ascot win in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, and now gets to race closer to home.

“He’s a big, powerful horse and has done very well physically since Goodwood – and we’re looking forward to running him,” said O’Brien.

“He’s handled good ground and slowish ground.”

Appleby has won the last two editions of the National Stakes with the ill-fated Quorto and last year’s champion juvenile Pinatubo – so is bidding for a hat-trick.

Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby
Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He worked nicely during the week, and we’re very pleased with him,” said the Godolphin trainer.

“It’s going to be a good race. I saw Battleground at Ascot and I was at Goodwood when he won. I respect Jessica Harrington’s horse as well – he won the Phoenix well.

“Thankfully it’s a race we’ve had a bit of luck in in recent years, and it would be nice to continue it.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon bolted up on his debut, but lacks in experience compared to the others.

“Obviously it’s a big step up in class from a maiden straight into a Group One, but we didn’t have many other options,” said the Owning Hill trainer.

“He’s in at the deep end, but couldn’t have won his debut any easier.”

Ken Condon with Law Of Indices

Ken Condon, with Laws Of Indices (INPHO/PA)Ken Condon’s Laws Of Indices had Lucky Vega behind him when winning the Railway but was then only fourth in the Phoenix.

“He’s not ground dependent, and he’s a very straightforward horse,” said Condon.

“Physically, he’s doing very well.

“I’m very happy with where he’s at – he looks a picture, and I think he’ll give a good showing.”

Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney is another who has Group race-winning form to his name – over course and distance in the Futurity Stakes.

Fancy Blue bids to add Matron glory to Classic success

Donnacha O’Brien is looking forward to starting Fancy Blue’s autumn campaign in the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The filly gave the first-season trainer a first Classic success in the French Oaks at Chantilly and backed that up in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwoood.

“It’s a great weekend, the biggest in Irish racing and I’m excited about having horses to run,” he said.

“Fancy Blue starts out on her autumn campaign in the Matron Stakes and while the trip might not be ideal, she does have good form over a mile and she ran well in the Irish Guineas over this distance.”

Peaceful, who beat Fancy Blue in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and was a close third to her in France, is one of three rivals trained by his father, Aidan. So Wonderful and Love Locket are his other runners with 11 declared in total.

Johnny Murtagh is hoping Know It All can repeat her run in the Prix Rothschild when she was only beaten three-quarters of a length in third place behind Watch Me.

“Know It All ran very well in the Rothschild in France, so the plan was always to come back to the Matron,” he said.

“She’s fresh and well – she’s the best horse we have in the stable. I thought if we had a good horse this year, it was her.

“She ran well last year and just got caught in a Group Three, but this year has gone quite smoothly for her. Her first run was nice, she won a Group Three the next time, so we’re all guns blazing towards the Matron Stakes.

“She’s a very big filly, good breeding. Sheikh Fahad owns her and she has a good sire (Lord Kanaloa) – I didn’t know much about him, but he’s one of the top stallions in Japan.

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“I think she’s going there with a great chance. She has to improve seven to 10lb to be involved in the finish with all the good fillies’ that are in it.”

Murtagh also saddles Champers Elysees, who has won her last three races culminating in a Group Three at Gowran Park.

“When she won at the Curragh, I thought ‘this one will get some black type’. She was supposed to be sold, but the deal fell through,” he said.

“Her performance in Galway blew me away. I was very surprised the way that she won, the way she travelled and the way she quickened on ground that we weren’t sure about.

“Since Galway she’d had very clear run – it’s been smooth, her work has been good and she hasn’t missed a day. At the start of the year, did I think she would be rated 110? No, but she has a great heart. She’s always been a couple of lengths behind Know It All, but she’s getting closer now.

“She has to improve seven to 10lb again and it’s her first time over a mile.”

O’Brien senior is happy to give Vatican City another chance in the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Mile.

“We went a mile and a half in the Derby and it was probably too far,” he said.

“We brought him back to a mile at Goodwood and he got galloped into going down the hill. A shoe got pulled off and he lost his action quickly. It was a non-event and we learnt nothing from it. He’s very well.”

The Ballydoyle handler also has Lancaster House and Royal Dornoch in the 10-runner field.

Ken Condon is hoping Trais Fluors will put his best foot forward.

“If you look at his form when he was trained by a master in Andre Fabre, he didn’t win enough,” he said.

“He’s good at coming third or fourth and we often joke ourselves that he could be third in a Group One and be third in a claimer – he’s just that type of horse.

“If everything fell right and he’s in good humour and on a going day, he’s a talented sort of horse. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet – he’s mercurial, but he has enough ability to run well.”

British interests rest with John Quinn’s Safe Voyage, the David O’Meara-trained Escobar and Century Dream, representing Simon and Ed Crisford.

O’Brien senior feels Tiger Moth’s class will stand him in good stead in the Group Three Paddy Power “Is It 2021 Yet?” Stakes.

The Galileo colt was just beaten by his stablemate Santiago in the Irish Derby on only his third start and has his first race since then.

“He’s good. He’s had a nice long break and is in good form. We think he’s a mile-and-a-quarter, mile-and-a-half horse,” he said.

“He has a little bit of class.”

Tiger Moth now takes on older horses, including Buckhurst and Patrick Sarsfield.

Murtagh steps Fourhometwo up into Group Three company in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes after opening his account on his second start at Galway after a sound debut run when runner-up at Gowran.

“He was still a bit green at Galway, a bit raw and learning on the job, but he’s a gorgeous horse and is owned by some really nice people that I met out in Australia,” said Murtagh.

“He’s a talented horse and we will find out how good he is.”

There are plenty of promising types among the 10 runners, including the Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Liffey River and Snapraeterea.

“Both have earned their place in the race and we’re hoping they can run with credit in what looks a good race,” he said.

Irish Champions Weekend offers Joseph O’Brien chance of more big-race gains

It can easily be forgotten in all that Joseph O’Brien has achieved in racing that he is still a few years shy of his 30th birthday.

The 27-year-old had a brief but very successful career in the saddle, which saw him come within a length of winning the Triple Crown aboard Camelot, land six Irish Classics as well as four in England, and become the youngest jockey ever to ride a winner at the Breeders’ Cup.

When he eventually lost an ever-increasing battle with the scales, it was pretty obvious he would follow his father, the record-breaking Aidan, into the training ranks.

Few could have predicted quite the level of his astonishing start, though, as he has already won the Melbourne Cup, tasted success at the Breeders’ Cup and claimed the Irish Derby – he has even won the Irish Gold Cup over jumps.

But the one meeting now which dominates his thoughts is Irish Champions Weekend, and he is preparing his strongest team to date, which includes hot favourites for the Irish St Leger in Twilight Payment and the Moyglare Stud Stakes with Pretty Gorgeous.

“It’s one of the premier weekends of racing – I suppose in the world you could say,” said O’Brien.

“It attracts some of the best horses in the world – the best horse in the world at the moment in Ghaiyyath – and it’s something we all look forward to immensely.

“This meeting has such a spot on the world stage now, this is where you want to have winners. The best horses, the best jockeys – I mean the Champion Stakes this year is one of the best races anywhere in the world. Unfortunately I don’t have a runner in it this year – the aim is to make sure I’m in it in future.”

Joseph O'Brien (left) with brother Donnacha and father, Aidan (right)
Joseph O’Brien (left) with brother Donnacha and father, Aidan (right) (PA Wire)

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As well as competing against his father on a daily basis, younger brother Donnacha is now making waves in the training ranks.

“We’re all extremely competitive in every race between ourselves, but obviously this weekend we all want to have winners. Dad has some good chances and so does Donnacha. It would be nice if we could all get on the scoresheet,” he said.

“We all get on, there’s a bit of winding up but not too much. We all try to do our best and wish each other luck.”

O'Brien enjoys the patronage of leading owner JP McManus over jumps
O’Brien enjoys the patronage of leading owner JP McManus over jumps (PA Wire)

Irish Champions Weekend begins at Leopardstown on Saturday – and O’Brien has every chance of kicking off with a winner through Earth Strike in the Ballylinch Stud Irish EBF Ingabelle Stakes.

“She’s a course and distance winner, this looks the logical next step,” said O’Brien.

The first Group One of the weekend is the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes, in which O’Brien fields an interesting runner in Wilds Dreams.

He said: “She came to us from Argentina, where she was unbeaten on turf. Obviously this is a big step up, she’d done most of her winning over shorter distances so we’re just hoping she runs a good race.”

The Owning Hill handler then has two solid chances in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes.

“Snapraeterea ran very well at the Curragh and going up to a mile shouldn’t be any issue for him, while Liffey River won his maiden very well last time. Both have earned their place in the race and we’re hoping they can run with credit,” he said.

Buckhurst and Patrick Sarsfield then go in the Paddy Power ‘Is It 2021 Yet?’ Stakes – formerly the Kilternan Stakes.

“Patrick Sarsfield’s winning run came to an end in Germany, but he ran a really good race so you’d have to be hopeful of another good run,” said O’Brien.

“You could say Buckhurst’s best runs have been at 10 furlongs, but he has run over this trip (12 furlongs) before so we’re hoping for a good run.”

Sunday at the Curragh could be special for O’Brien, with solid chances in all the big races, among them Thundering Nights in the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes.

He said: “She won at the Curragh beating Albigna and won very well. She’s a filly who has just improved and improved all season. We’re really looking forward to running her.”

O’Brien is excited about Pretty Gorgeous in the Moyglare Stud Stakes and following her impressive win in the Debutante Stakes she is a warm favourite.

“I’m looking forward to running her, she’s a very exciting filly. She couldn’t have been any more impressive last time in very heavy going and I’m really looking forward to the weekend for her,” he said.

Thunder Moon in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes is another live chance, having bolted up on his only outing.

“He won well on his debut, Jim Bolger’s horse has (New Treasure) was behind him and came out and won a Group Three. Obviously it’s a big step up in class from a maiden straight into a Group One, but we didn’t have many other options,” said O’Brien.

Then Twilight Payment, an ex-Bolger inmate, bids to give O’Brien another Classic in the Irish St Leger.

O’Brien said: “He’s seven, but he ran a career-best last time on figures. He’ll probably need to do so again, but if he does it puts him right in the mix. We’re excited about running him and we’re hopeful of a good performance. It should be nice ground, but he handles most types anyway.”

Whatever happens this weekend, you get the feeling O’Brien will be a dominant force at the meeting for decades to come.

Joseph O’Brien is a columnist for Betfair and his views can be read at: https://betting.betfair.com/horse-racing/

Song faces seven in defence of her Irish Leger title

Search For A Song is set to face seven rivals when she bids for back-to-back victories in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger at the Curragh on Sunday.

The Moyglare Stud Farm-owned filly provided trainer Dermot Weld with an eighth success in the final Classic of the Irish season 12 months ago, leaving him one short of the record set by the late Vincent O’Brien.

Search For A Song is winless in three starts this season, but did run with credit over an inadequate trip when third behind the top-class Magical in the Tattersalls Gold Cup on her latest appearance.

Twilight Payment is the likely favourite for Joseph O’Brien, after landing both the Vintage Crop Stakes and the Curragh Cup over the course and distance this season.

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Aidan O’Brien saddles last year’s Irish Derby hero Sovereign, who was last seen chasing home Enable in the King George, as well as three-year-old filly Passion.

Jessica Harrington’s Barbados, the Willie Mullins-trained Micro Manage and Luke Comer’s Raa Atoll complete the home team, with British hopes carried by Roger Varian’s Ebor winner Fujaira Prince.

The first of four Group Ones on day two of Longines Irish Champions Weekend is the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes, which has attracted 15 high-class sprinters.

Denis Hogan’s prolific five-year-old Make A Challenge faces an eight-strong British contingent which includes the Michael Dods-trained Que Amoro – runner-up to Battaash in the Nunthorpe at York last month – and Simon and Ed Crisford’s course and distance winner A’Ali.

Joseph O’Brien’s hugely impressive Debutante winner Pretty Gorgeous is a short-priced favourite for the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

She is reopposed by Donnacha O’Brien’s Debutante runner-up Shale and Aidan O’Brien’s Debutante third Mother Earth, while Ken Condon has both Teresa Mendoza and Thunder Beauty in a field of 13 juvenile fillies.

The Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes throws up a fascinating Anglo-Irish clash between Master Of The Seas and Battleground.

The unbeaten Master Of The Seas bids to provide Charlie Appleby with a third straight win in the seven-furlong contest, following the recent triumphs of Quorto and Pinatubo.

Aidan O’Brien has won the race on 11 occasions and is represented by his star juvenile colt of the campaign so far in Battleground – winner of the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Vintage at Goodwood this summer.

The pair are joined at the head of the betting by Harrington’s Phoenix Stakes victor Lucky Vega in what could well be the strongest two-year-old race of the season so far.

Group Two honours are up for grabs in the Blandford Stakes, which features O’Brien senior’s Magic Wand and Harrington’s pair of Cayenne Pepper and One Voice.