Who will shine in the feature races at Leopardstown and The Curragh this weekend? Andy Stephens studies the biggest contests.
WATCH: On The Wire Video Podcast - Johnny Ward and the team share their best bets for Leopardstown and the Curragh this weekend plus are joined by special guest Seamie Heffernan
How do you follow an Irish Champion Stakes clash between St Mark’s Basilica, the joint highest-rated horse in world, and two of the sport’s other leading lights in Tarnawa and Poetic Flare?
It’s an unenviable task for organisers of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend but four Group One races, 24 hours later, with this season's top two-year-old in action. should enable them to have a good go at it.
Make no mistake, the top-class action is going to come thick and fast at Leopardstown and The Curragh, with the added bonus of 4,000 racegoers allowed at each venue. That will provide some much-needed atmosphere and help ensure the victors get the recognition they deserve on their return to the winner’s enclosure.
Those unable to get a ticket will be able to watch all 14 races live on Racing TV. Here’s a guide to all the Group One action on offer.
1.40 Leopardstown: Coolmore America "Justify" Matron Stakes (1m)
Mother Earth wins the 1000 Guineas
Champers Elysees needs to step up on her efforts this year if she is to become the first two-time victor of the Group One contest.
There has been only one winning favourite in this since 2010, with Laurens, Winter, Qemah, Rizeena and Misty For Me all beaten at 7-4 or shorter.
MOTHER EARTH heads the betting (2-1 at tne time of writing), but the 1000 Guineas heroine is hard to find chinks in and she has solid prospects of becoming the seventh successive three-year-old to land this prize.
She’s continued to run well since Newmarket, being placed in the French 1000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes (both those races on softer going) before being runner-up in a hot renewal of the Falmouth Stakes and then getting back to winning ways in the Prix Rothschild last time. She has a smashing attitude.
Aidan O’Brien, her trainer, is also represented by Irish 1000 Guineas winner Empress Josephine, and Friendly, but Ryan Moore has chosen to ride Mother Earth.
Pretty Gorgeous and Shale were leading two-year-olds but have not gone to the next level this term.
Selection: MOTHER EARTH
2.45 Leopardstown: Irish Champion Stakes (1m 2f)
Aidan O’Brien relies on St Mark's Basilica here and the Ballydoyle maestro intimated last week that he would be happy for the Coral-Eclipse winner to fly solo because of the colt’s straightforward nature.
St Mark’s Basilica missed the Juddmonte International after a cut he suffered on the gallops became infected but his build-up for this contest has apparently gone smoothly and his emphatic defeat of Addeybb and Mishriff in the Coral-Eclipse last time looks even better after the latter’s subsequent easy win at York.
He’d previously pulled off the French 2000 Guineas/French Derby double and, of course, last year was champion two-year-old after his Dewhurst triumph. The niggle, though, up against top-class opposition, is that he never run on fast ground. Indeed, Timeform are of the opinion that he has never raced on anything quicker than good to soft.
Dermot Weld spoke to Gary O'Brien after Tarnawa's comeback win
TARNAWA has shown her effectiveness and all surfaces and Dermot Weld’s fabulous mare gets the nod. Her exploits last autumn, including a Breeders’ Cup defeat of Magical, read well and all her powers looked intact when she surged clear on her return at Leopardstown in August. Some will point to the drop from 1m 4f being a negative but she’s got plenty of speed and has lost only once in five starts over 1m 2f.
Poetic Flare adds spice, having won the 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes this term plus been placed in three other Group One contests. He’s 2/2 at the track and as tough as any horse in training, but is going to have to settle early if he’s to be as effective as he is over a mile.
It’s difficult to look beyond the big three, with Patrick Sarsfield, the other contender in the field, chalked up at 33-1.
2.55 Curragh: Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes (5f)
The Verdict: Angus McNae looks at Winter Power's Nunthorpe success
British raiders have won eight of the past 13 renewals and again look to hold the aces.
WINTER POWER was a superb winner of the Nunthorpe at York last month, when she had Dragon Impulse, who may reoppose, a length and three quarters back in third. She is the one to beat and would be the third successive filly to prevail after Glass Slippers and Fairyland.
Glass Slippers is back to defend her crown, and she should be sharper for her comeback run when third in the King George at Goodwood. If Winter Power is not over her exertions at York, then she is the one most likely to take advantage.
Mooneista looks the pick of the home team after her defeat of Gustavus Weston in the Sapphire Stakes over course and distance in July. She was favoured by racing near the stands’ side that day, but there’s little doubt she’s made great strides since being beaten in her first six races last year as a juvenile.
Selection: WINTER POWER
3.30 Curragh: Moyglare Stud Stakes (7f)
Sky Lantern, Minding and Love have all won this. en route to Classic glory in recent years, and it’s usually a race to monitor closely.
Joseph O’Brien won with 25-1 chance Intricately in 2016, but we won’t get those kind of odds about AGARTHA, who is improving in chunks and recorded a slick time when making all in the Group Two Debutante Stakes over course and distance last time, when chased home by Sunset Shiraz (pair clear). Watch above.
The daughter of Caravaggio, available at 100-30, looks most straightforward and she can emulate Skitter Scatter, the last to pull off the Debutante/Moyglare double in 2018. She would also be the seventh successive Debutante winner to go on and win at the highest level.
Homeless Songs impressed when beating Agartha at Leopardstown in July but her subsequent 66-day absence is a concern, while the runner-up has clearly shown significant improvement.
Cairde De Go is fast-tracked to Group One company after winning in good style over course and distance in August. She looked promising that day but this will ask a lot more of her.
Aidan O’Brien is seeking a tenth win in the race but his principal hope, Prettiest, seems to have gone backwards after running well behind Sandrine at Royal Ascot.
4.05 Curragh: Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (7f)
Few will be in a hurry to oppose POINT LONSDALE, who can provide Aidan O’Brien with his 12th win in a race with a great roll of honour.
Four runs have yielded four wins for Point Lonsdale; two of them gained in runaway fashion at this course. He had to roll up his sleeves to repel Reach For The Moon in the Chesham, but the runner-up has more than done his bit for the form and Point Lonsdale has continued to thrive, following up in the Tyros Stakes before brushing aside Maritime Wings in the Futurity Stakes last time.
O’Brien has not landed the National Stakes since Churchill delivered in 2016, but there will be some long faces at Ballydoyle if he is upstaged.
Ebro River already has a Group One win to his name, having landed the Phoenix Stakes here last time, but he is unproven beyond 6f and the Middle Park Stakes looks a better fit for him.
Charlie Appleby has landed two of the past three renewals, with Quorto and Pinatubo, and his unbeaten Native Trail has to command respect. He was game when beating Masekela (subsequent Listed winner) and Dhabab (previously an unlucky sixth in the Coventry) in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last time, but mastering Point Lonsdale is going to be something else.
Selection: POINT LONSDALE
4.40 Curragh: Comer Group International Irish St. Leger (1m 6f)
There’s little doubt that this race will have been at the top of Search For A Song’s agenda since she won it for a second time last year.
She will be difficult to beat if at her peak after almost four months off, but she’s also inclined to run the odd stinker.
TWILIGHT PAYMENT has finished behind Search For A Song in the past two renewals of this, but he didn’t get the rub of the green when beaten a couple of lengths into third 12 months ago.
He subsequently went on to win the Melbourne Cup and looked on good terms with himself when recording a sixth course win here last time, when he had Emperor Of The Sun back in third. The course executive will have to name a name a race after him if he makes it a magnificent seven.
His stablemate, Baron Samedi, has been a revelation in the past year and should not be discounted despite having his winning sequence halted in France last time. Sonnyboyliston, the Ebor winner, has to enter calculations, while Aidan O’Brien said last week that Passion, fifth last year, has been aimed at this for a while.
Selection: TWILIGHT PAYMENT
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