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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.

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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.

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.

Golden Wonder – Arc Glory for Golden Horn

Golden Horn wins Arc

Golden Horn wins Arc

Golden Horn proved himself a class apart with a stunning victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

Many had hoped for a history making success for the wonderful Treve, but there can be no denying, that on the day that mattered, it was Gosden’s exceptional colt that proved to be in a league of his own. For months we had been told that the horse needed good ground or quicker to be seen at his best, and so it proved with the result never looking in doubt.

It was anticipated that an outside draw would cause jockey Dettori a major headache, but it seems rider and trainer had agreed on tactics to resolve this potential threat. From the off the Italian ploughed a lonely furrow away from the field. Gradually he steered the Epsom Derby winner across, joining the pack in a handy second position. So simple, yet so effective was the manoeuvre that in no time at all Golden Horn was in the perfect spot, poised to make his move whenever Dettori decided to press the button.

Whilst Gosden’s colt appeared perfectly placed, it’s probably fair to say that Treve, though ridden similarly to her win in 2013, was probably held a little too far off the pace. The winner along with Andre Fabre’s duo of Flintshire and New Bay, were able to get first run and somewhat got away from the flying filly. Try as she may, on ground quicker than ideal, she failed to land a serious blow, and though getting within a length of the runner-up, never seriously threatened the winner.

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The result served to confirm the strength of the previous year’s Arc with the ever consistent Flintshire again finishing second with Treve a close fourth. Splitting those two was Fabre’s three-year-old French Derby winner New Bay. He looked a major threat turning for home, but lacked the finishing kick of the winner and had to settle for third.

It was another tremendous training achievement from Fabre. A year rarely passes when he doesn’t possess a major contender for the main event. Flintshire now looks likely to head to America for the Breeders’ Cup, whilst a decision will be made as to whether New Bay stays in training for another year, with the inevitable target being a second crack at the Arc. He’d surely prove to be one of the leading contenders with the race set to be run at Chantilly in 2016, the scene of his French Derby success back in May.

For Treve, the time has finally come to take up stud duties after a dazzling career on the track. Connections were clearly disappointed with the defeat, yet philosophical, with her trainer Criquette Head-Maarek saying: “We tried for the hat-trick and we didn't manage it but she is nevertheless still a champion. Thierry said she was a little less brilliant than usual. We mustn't look for excuses, we were beaten by a better horse on the day and that's all. She has still run a very good race.”

She retires having won nine of her 13 career starts, six of those at Group 1 level. Few would argue that she goes down as one of the all-time greats.

As for Golden Horn, Gosden’s hero retires to stud at the end of the season, but may now head for a final career run at the Breeders’ Cup in America. Much will depend on how he comes through his Longchamp exertions, but his trainer has a long and successful relationship with America’s stellar meeting and will be keen for one last hurrah. Gosden said: “He retires to stud and the owner is quite keen on the Breeders' Cup. It gives us one day short of a month, he's got a great constitution and he travels well. If he's in good order next week, there's no reason why he can't go there.”

The trainer then highlighted the likely target, saying: “I walked the turf and the dirt when I was at Keeneland the other day for the sales. He'd love the turf course and there's no reason for him not to run in the Turf.”

Whatever lies ahead for Golden Horn, his place in history is already assured. The son of Cape Cross has had a sensational career on the track, and the chances are that he will prove just as potent at stud.

Coolmore and Darley go Toe-to-Toe

Darley's Dubawi

Darley's Dubawi

Coolmore’s Galileo remains King of the Stallions, with valuable high profile victories over the weekend confirming his status.

There were St Leger wins on either side of the Irish Sea for Order Of St George and Bondi Beach, both sons of the mighty Galileo, and an impressive performance in the Moyglare Stud Stakes from juvenile filly Minding. Away from Team Ballydoyle, David O’Meara travelled to Canada and took the Woodbine Mile with another son of Galileo in the much improved Mondialiste.

And though many may have soon forgotten what he looks like, the stallion’s most successful offspring of the season to date is Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas’ winner Gleneagles. His earnings have played a major part in maintaining his sires place at the head of affairs.

But there is one horse in particular that has challenged Coolmore’s finest over the summer. The team at Darley will be thrilled with the successful season that Dubawi is having. Resident at Dalham Hall, his career at stud continues on a steep upward curve. With 20 Group winners in 2015 alone, he had further success at the weekend in the form of Arc hopes New Bay and Postponed.

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Luca Cumani’s colt has already tasted Group 1 success with victory in the King George at Ascot in July. He took Sunday’s Qatar Prix Foy in typically gutsy fashion, and in a faster time than Treve produced in winning the Prix Vermeille. New Bay won the French Derby in May and looks to be his country’s leading middle-distance colt. He stormed to victory in the Prix Niel.

Al Kazeem has arguably been the stallion’s standout offspring to date. He took the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Coral-Eclipse before his final career victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh back in May. He finished just ahead of Postponed on that occasion, though sadly picked up the injury that forced his retirement.

Further Group 1 victories have come during the summer thanks to Erupt in the Grand Prix de Paris, not to mention the stunning success of Arabian Queen in the Juddmonte International at York. She certainly has the speed more typical in Dubawi progeny, though her habit of failing to settle in a race prevented her from running to her best behind Treve in the Prix Vermeille on Sunday.

Such success on the track ensures that the demand for Dubawi’s services at stud has soared. His offspring command enormous fees in the sales rings. With a world leading average of £647,000 in 2014, his 2015 yearlings have broken records at Arqana. An incredible €2.6 million was paid for a Dubawi colt at the Deauville August sales.

Galileo versus Dubawi is set to rumble on for many more years. In a season where much anticipated clashes have failed to materialize, the greatest of them is already taking place. Two of Europe’s powerhouses have been slugging it out throughout the summer, and that battle for supremacy between Darley and Coolmore shows no sign of abating.

Arc Trials Day Preview: Treve’s Back (Allez Treve!)

Treve bids for a second Prix Vermeille

Treve bids for a second Prix Vermeille

LONGCHAMP ARC TRIALS DAY, by Nigel Howard

Longchamp stages its Arc Trials meeting this Sunday with six Group events on offer, three of which are major prep races for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Top billing goes to the Group 1 Prix Vermeille (1m4f) which sees the return of the mighty Trêve in her preparation for an unprecedented triplé in Europe’s premier race.

This will be her third appearance in the Vermeille after finishing fourth last year on the back of a troubled season but having won the race in her classic year for Al Shaqab Racing, who bought a majority share in the filly soon after her scintillating victory in the 2013 Prix de Diane.

TRÊVE comes into this renewal on the back of a long summer break but with two impressive performances under the saddle earlier in the season. In May she won the Group 2 Prix Corrida (1m4f) easily and then took the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, on ground perhaps faster than ideal, at the end of June beating Flintshire. He has since won a Grade 1 in the US and is again a likely adversary in the Arc.

Defeat on Sunday would be a huge disappointment for her ever-growing legion of supporters. On paper she is the clear favourite but, despite its G1 status, this remains a trial and not the ultimate objective. TRÊVE was soundly beaten in the race last year and yet bounced back with a superb performance in the Arc. Criquette Head has handled her with aplomb this term and is looking forward to her reappearance.

Head said, “Sunday is important as we will see if she is still in the same form as she was at Saint Cloud. The race comes at the right time in her preparation. She has some strong opposition in the form of Arabian Queen and Sea Calisi. Any rain can only be in her favour.”

Indeed, Trêve’s main dangers come from the classic generation with the three year olds in receipt of 8lbs from their elders. ARABIAN QUEEN, shock winner of the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York, tackles 1m4f for the first time but owner Jeff Smith believes the daughter of Dubawi will appreciate the step up in trip and this race is her sole objective. The same is true of SEA CALISI, a daughter of Youmzain and recent third in the Yorkshire Oaks. François Doumen, her trainer, is quietly confident, “Everything is good. We haven’t been hard on her since her York run. It’s a top race but she’s improving”.

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The Aga Khan’s colours are carried by CANDARLIYA, a daughter of Dalakhani and winner of the Group 3 Prix Minerve (1m 4½f) at Deauville last time. That represented her fourth straight win yet she remains relatively unexposed. Alain de Royer-Dupré, her trainer and winner of the race seven times, was realistic about her chances when he said, “She is very relaxed and handles all ground conditions. We don’t really expect to beat Trêve but hope to run a place. This is really her Arc. The three year olds get a considerable weight allowance from the older horses”.

DIHNA acts as pacemaker for the favourite so a strong gallop is expected and indeed needed if TRÊVE, who has a tendency to run quite freely in her races, is to settle after this long layoff. Her adoring supporters will expect nothing less than a win but one feels that Thierry Jarnet, her regular jockey, will be looking to take care of her in the event of a close finish. If any horse were to give TRÊVE a race, preference would be for ARABIAN QUEEN who has the generous weight advantage and is running in the race to win, not as preparation for the Arc.

Attention is turned to the three year old colts in the Group 2 Prix Niel (1m4f) with just 7 going to post for this year’s renewal. The Niel has been the stepping stone for previous Arc winners Montjeu, Sinndar, Dalakhani and Hurricane Run amongst others, with Rail Link being the last colt to do the double back in 2006.

This year sees a mouth-watering clash between Prix du Jockey-Club hero, NEW BAY, and the unbeaten Grand Prix de Paris winner, ERUPT, both sons of Dubawi. NEW BAY turned up at Deauville in August where he showed he could handle soft conditions with a smooth success in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano (1m2f). This will be his first attempt at the classic distance but connections seem in little doubt that he will handle the step-up in trip.

Erupt ran out an impressive winner of the Grand Prix de Paris in July beating the Andre Fabre-trained Ampere by 2 lengths. The same horse finished 4 lengths behind NEW BAY at Deauville so a line through him gives NEW BAY the upper hand. Heavy ground may have played a part in that result but on the bare form lines, the Khalid Abdullah-owned NEW BAY is a worthy favourite.

Opposing are the Grand Prix de Clairefontaine (Listed 1m4f) first and second MING DYNASTY, trained by Mikael Delzangles, and Freddie Head’s MIGWAR. The latter was sent off the short priced favourite on the day but MING DYNASTY ran out a good winner and his trainer was delighted with the performance. Qatar Racing has since bought a half share in the King’s Best colt with the owner’s retained jockey Andrea Atzeni taking over in the saddle from fellow Italian Umberto Rispoli. MIGWAR was far from disgraced in defeat and was making his reappearance after a long layoff. Retained jockey Olivier Peslier holds this son of Invincible Spirit in high regard and improvement is expected.

Next up is the Group 2 Prix Foy (1m4f), reserved for four year olds and upwards and the race chosen as the warm-up event for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes winner POSTPONED. Another son of Dubawi, Luca Cumani’s colt looked to be the obvious choice in this race until Alain de Royer Dupré switched Dolniya from the Prix Vermeille. Consequently, the Foy has a much more solid look about it as DOLNIYA is a Group 1 winner in Dubai and most recently ran third to Trêve in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. With Golden Horn having been pulled out of the Ascot showpiece, POSTPONED’S victory in the King George was considered bloodless. Where he finishes in relation to DOLNIYA tomorrow should give us more insight into the value of his form.

Away from the Arc, the other Group 1 event on the card is the Prix du Moulin run over a mile. This provides another chance for ESOTERIQUE to strut her stuff after a wonderfully successful Deauville festival. First she ran second to Muhaarar in the Prix Maurice de Gheest over an inadequate 6½f and then the following week she produced a stellar performance to defeat TERRITORIES in the Prix Jacques Le Marois. The daughter of Danehill Dancer loves some cut in the ground and with rain forecast over Paris at the weekend she should have the conditions she prefers. She looks the one to beat.

TERRITORIES, who re-opposes would seem to be held on their Deauville running and preference is for the Aga Khan’s French 1000 Guineas winner, ERVEDYA. She ran with credit when second to Amazing Maria in the Prix Rothschild over a mile at Deauville at the beginning of August. She has Group 1 winning form on rain softened ground and is likely be the one to chase ESOTERIQUE home tomorrow.

 

Top-class European action with Treve the Star of the Show

Wonder-Filly Treve

Wonder-Filly Treve

A truly stunning weekend lies ahead with high-class European racing from Longchamp, Leopardstown, the Curragh and Doncaster.

The English Derby winner Golden Horn will look to get his season back on track, when running in the Irish Champion Stakes. Yet again there has to be a slight worry over conditions with rain forecast to arrive overnight. Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle may well prove his sternest challenger with the weather likely to again scupper the mouth-watering clash with Gleneagles.

Over the channel the French Derby winner New Bay is set to step-up in trip for the Prix Niel. He faces a major test in the form of Grand Prix de Paris victor Erupt. Connections of both will be hoping the race proves a perfect prep with the Arc just around the corner.

The Irish St Leger takes place at the Curragh on Sunday along with a whole host of top-class juvenile events including the Moyglare and the National Stakes. Whilst at Doncaster on Saturday, the final English Classic takes place when a field of eight assemble for the Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes.

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But it’s at Longchamp on Sunday that the undoubted star of the show steps back on the track. The wonder-filly Treve runs in the Qatar Prix Vermeille as she continues her preparation towards a bid for an unprecedented third Arc victory in October. It was very much this same race last year that sowed a seed of doubt over Treve’s ability to add to her first Arc triumph. A lacklustre performance appeared to reveal a horse in decline. However, physical ailments were overcome, and when the big day arrived she once again dazzled.

Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek appears confident of her filly’s wellbeing, when recently saying: “three weeks ago she had a lot of energy when she went back on the turf for the first time and she pulled a lot. The time after that it was the same, she was very free. Today she was a lot more relaxed. It shows me she is getting stronger."

A victory on Sunday would of course be pleasing for connections, but the trainer will have her eyes firmly on that one date in October. Treve faces eight rivals this weekend including Golden Horn’s York conqueror Arabian Queen. David Elsworth will be hoping his filly can build on her stunning Juddmonte International success. Her ability to settle in the race will prove key to her performance.

Aidan O’Brien is represented by his Pretty Polly winner Diamondsandrubies. She flopped at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes, but had previously beaten Legatissimo, Secret Gesture and Pleascach at the Curragh. She is clearly talented and capable of a huge run. The French three-year-old Candarliya has run up a series of wins and carries the famous Aga Khan silks. Successful three times from the last 10 renewals, the owner famously took the race in 2008 with the stunning filly Zarkava.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, few will make the mistake of last year, in doubting the chances of Treve when they return for the Arc in October. It’s set to be a thrilling and highly informative few days.

Deauville test for Arc hope New Bay

French Derby winner New Bay

French Derby winner New Bay

There’ll be plenty of interest in Newbury’s race card on Saturday with the Group 2 Betfred Hungerford Stakes and the Group 3 Betfred Geoffrey Freer the highlights. York’s Ebor meeting is also on the horizon with the potential clash of the summer between Gleneagles and Golden Horn.

However, for today’s piece I’d like to focus on action in France. Just a week ago Muhaarar was thrilling fans over the channel at Deauville when winning the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Without doubt the summer’s number one sprinter looks to have earned himself a break, before a likely return in October’s Champions Day meeting at Ascot.

This weekend the French track hosts more high-class action, with a three day meeting which includes the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois on Sunday. Andre Fabre’s Territories is a short priced favourite in an international field which could include Toormore and Estidhkaar. On Saturday attention turns to the potential French stars of the middle-distance. We are likely to see movement in the Arc market as Andre Fabre’s New Bay takes on his stable companion Ampere.

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Ground is set to be quite testing this weekend, and there’s every possibility that this could be replicated in October’s Arc. Fabre and owner Khalid Abdullah have decided to keep New Bay to his own age group for the Prix Guillaume d'Ornano, which is run over 1m2f. The trainer said: “He will run in Deauville and he can act on any ground. ”

Beaten in the French Guineas when probably given a little too much to do, New Bay then swept passed the whole field to win the Prix Du Jockey Club at the end of May. A clash with Golden Horn in the Coral-Eclipse appeared on the cards, but Fabre feared a trip in the heat and the quick ground at Sandown would prove to be against his colt.
Both trainer and owner have a strong record in the Arc, though their last success together was back in 2006 with Rail Link. Khalid Abdullah has won the race twice in the last nine years. Workforce, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, took the event in 2010. Tomorrow’s event looks to have enough quality to test New Bay’s credentials as a serious Arc prospect.

His main challenge is likely to come from stable companion Ampere. He was beaten by the impressive Erupt in last month’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris. He didn’t get the clearest of runs that day, and though the winner did it well, Ampere remains very lightly raced and open to plenty of improvement. Storm The Stars was back in third that day, and he sets a decent standard.

Dariyan has also seen the back-end of Erupt this summer, when fourth in the Group 3 Prix du Lys Longines at Chantilly. He has since taken a Group 2 at Maisons-Laffitte, giving the form some credence. The Aga Khan’s colt is not without a chance on Saturday, but should find Fabre’s pair a little too classy.

Treve remains the favourite for the Arc in October with the aforementioned Erupt the other leading French challenger. With Golden Horn’s participation questionable, a strong performance from one of Fabre’s colts tomorrow should see them take high order in the market for Europe’s leading middle-distance event.