Tag Archive for: Irish Champions weekend

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.”

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.

“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)

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.

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.