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A look ahead to Irish Champions Weekend

Wed 9th Sep 2020, 08:00

Ghaiyyath is the star attraction at Leopardstown on Saturday
© Photo Healy Racing

€3.6 million and 6 Grade 1’s — not a bad set up for the 7th edition of Irish Champions Weekend, especially given the current COVID landscape that racing finds itself deeply entrenched in. There are worries aplenty in our game, consistent with the wider world of course, but for these two days at Leopardstown and the Curragh, we truly have something to savour — an oasis of treats to distract any troubled souls.

Centre-stage on Saturday at Leopardstown, no matter what happens on the undercard, is surely the Ghaiyyath-infused Irish Champion Stakes at 4.10pm. Charlie Appleby has handed his superstar four runs in 2020, and he has repaid the faith handsomely with four resounding victories — beginning in Dubai in February and culminating in the Juddmonte International romp last month, taking in the small matter of a Coronation Cup and a Coral-Eclipse en route.

Ghaiyyath has simply carried all before him, dispatching Magical, Kameko and Lord North disdainfully at York in what will surely rival his Coral-Eclipse win as his career defining performance to date.

Beating Enable and Japan at Sandown was impressive, but maybe the ‘Queen of the Turf’ wasn’t cherry ripe and is Japan all that good anyhow? On the flip side, he blazed a trail up the Esher hill into a fierce headwind.

It seems there’s not much he can’t cope with. But there will be a different aspect to Saturday’s race that will be gnawing at Charlie Appleby’s conscious and subconscious thoughts — with 6 entries in the race, it would be foolish to believe that Ghaiyyath won’t have at least one or two Ballydoyle flies buzzing around him. His class says he should swat them away, but it is a set-up he hasn’t encountered yet.

If you watch just one race this weekend, make it this one — 4.10pm Saturday, The Irish Champion Stakes — don’t miss it.

The most valuable race at the Curragh on Sunday is the Irish St Leger, coming just a day after the Doncaster version, there are slight differences — not least that the Irish St Leger is open to horses of all ages, as opposed to the Classic generation at Doncaster.

That hasn’t stopped three-year-olds winning the Irish St Leger, and in fact since the inception of Irish Champions Weekend in 2014, horses of that age have won it three times. Aidan O’Brien is responsible for two colts winning, while Dermot Weld’s filly Search For A Song won it last year, and is back for a repeat performance on Sunday having warmed up nicely over an inadequate 1m2f in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.

Passion (left) winning at Naas last month
© Photo Healy Racing

Aidan O’Brien only has three entries, somewhat surprisingly, and it might be his three-year-old filly Passion (remember her, of Oaks-front running fame) who is the most interesting. Runaway 2019 Irish Derby winner Sovereign is in there too, but given Passion’s brother Capri won an Irish Derby and Doncaster St Leger in his three-year-old season, I can’t help but feel her whole season has been geared around Sunday’s race.

What price you say? 16/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing — don’t say you weren’t told. Check out whichbookie.co.uk for more info about the best bookmaker offers.

Of interest on the underbill are Joseph O’Brien’s eyecatching debutant third Toshizou, who could appear in the Champions Juvenile on Saturday or the National Stakes on Sunday. While, Willie Mullins’ Sayo would be a live one in the Petingo Handicap over 1m5f at Leopardstown on Saturday.

Comments which would also apply to Richard Fahey’s raider Mr Lupton, in the Bold Lad Handicap at the Curragh on Sunday. A Sayo and Mr Lupton each-way double looks a goer to me, should they both turn up of course. One horse that is guaranteed to turn up, in a physical and mental sense is the mighty Ghaiyyath — I can’t wait!

by Will Smith , Racing analyst at www.whichbookie.co.uk