Archie Watson’s Champions Day hero Glen Shiel returns to action in the Group Two Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh.
The Hambleton Racing-owned seven-year-old made giant strides last season, progressing from finishing second off a mark of 100 on the second day of racing’s resumption to winning the British Champions Sprint Stakes.
That was a first Group One victory for his jockey Hollie Doyle – which grabbed all the headlines – but it was no fluke either, given Glen Shiel had been second in the Haydock Sprint Cup on his previous outing.
While Saturday’s ground will be testing, conditions are not expected to hinder Andre Fabre’s former inmate, who won a Group Three over course and distance last summer.
“The Greenlands has always been the plan for Glen Shiel’s first run of the season, and I have been very happy with his preparation,” said Lambourn trainer Watson.
“The rain and the track hold no fears for him, and I hope he can start off his season by running a very good race.”
Glen Shiel has been a bargain buy for his owners, costing £45,000 in May 2019.
Simon Turner, of Hambleton Racing, said: “Glen Shiel’s owners are buzzing to have him back in action.
“He was the only syndicate-owned Group One winner in Europe last year, and the dream is firmly alive he can be just as good this year. Archie is very happy with how he’s trained, and he should enjoy the ground.”
Paddy Twomey’s Sonaiyla, the David O’Meara-trained Summerghand and Joseph O’Brien’s Speak In Colours appear to be his major rivals – but the latter’s trainer admits the six-year-old grey has not been at his best this term.
“Speak In Colours has a great record at the Curragh, but has yet to hit top form this season,” said O’Brien.
“There was encouragement in his latest start, and he’ll handle this ground better than most, but he’ll need to bounce back to something like his best if he’s to win.”
The Lanwades Stud Stakes also carries Group Two prestige, with seven fillies chasing valuable black type.
Johnny Murtagh’s Matron Stakes winner Champers Elysees heads the market but carries a Group One penalty for that success.
Jessica Harrington runs Valeria Messalina, who was behind Champers Elysees in the Matron but had pushed One Master very close before that at Goodwood.
However, Harrington fears the testing conditions could be against her.
“She’s in great form. She’s got to start somewhere – she’s being aimed at Royal Ascot (Duke of Cambridge entry), so we really need to get a run into her,” said the County Kildare trainer.
“But I took her out the last time at the Curragh because the ground was soft.
“She’s never run on soft ground, and most of her family didn’t like it. So I would be a bit worried about the ground for her, but she’s got to get out there and have a run.
“All her form is on good or good to firm, apart from once second on good to soft (2019 Oh So Sharp Stakes).”
The Gain Marble Hill Stakes is the other Group Three on the card.