The Irish Champion Stakes is the highlight of a very good card at Leopardstown tomorrow evening. I preview it and provide my best tips for the race. It looks a good renewal providing the 8 that are declared all face the starter. The ground is uncertain. At 17:30 on Friday evening Leopardstown report that the ground is still good to firm, but with rain forecast later on, and showers for tomorrow, it is likely to be softer by the 6.50 race time tomorrow.
Al Kazeem looked an unlikely runner in this earlier in the week but he now looks set to take his place unless the track totally misses the rain. It’s not as if he doesn’t act on good to firm, he’s won 3 group 1 races this year, and they all had GF as the official ground. It did seem to be even faster last time at York though, when he was 3rd to Declaration of War and Trading Leather. That’s a key race as all 3 renew rivalry tomorrow.
Al Kazeem went through the race like the best horse, and looked set to win when he loomed upsides Trading Leather, when asked to go on though he ran around a little, and eventually finished 1 1/2l behind Trading Leather back in 3rd. There are a few possible explanations for that defeat, one is that he didn’t let himself down on the ground, and that’s possible as he normally puts his head down and battles. He was also given a mid season break and the race seemed to be an afterthought when it looked like it might be easy pickings, it may be he needed it slightly. Another plausible explanation is that he didn’t like being in front so soon, in his other wins he had a target to aim at until inside the final furlong. Whatever the excuse he clearly didn’t find what looked likely, and since he normally does find plenty off the bridle I think its fairly safe to say he wasn’t at his best.
Declaration of War was the beneficiary of both Al Kazeem and Toronado running below their best. He is a tough horse as that was his 6th group 1 of the year, and 3rd in 3 weeks. His previous runs showed him up as below the really top horses though, and I don’t really think he improved at York. With more cut in the ground tomorrow than at York I expect he will find it hard to back up that victory. Another factor to consider is that while he has held his form so far, he’s no certainty to do so again after another hard race.
Trading Leather won the Irish Derby but it was a very poor renewal and the 3 year old colts that ran in the Irish and English Derbies really don’t look up to much. After a credible 2nd in the King George, albeit well beaten by 5l, he put up a determined display to battle back for 2nd to Declaration of War at York. While he had an excuse at Ascot when he pulled too hard, he didn’t look any better than the result last time, and while he’ll probably run well again, he will need both of the other two to run below form to prevail.
The Fugue is a top class filly, winning two group 1’s against her own sex, the latest when a very easy winner of the Yorkshire Oaks over 12 furlongs. Despite that win I still think that her optimum conditions, is 10 furlongs on fast ground. She got that when a 3 1/2l 3rd to Al Kazeem in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot. That was her first start of the year though, and she looked to be given a bit too much to do, staying on quite well when asked for her effort. She disappointed next time, again behind Al Kazeem before bouncing back next time. If the ground remains fast she has a chance tomorrow, but surely not much bigger than her current price of 4/1, and if it goes good to soft then she’d have less.
Kingsbarns is a fascinating contender, after winning a maiden on soft ground, he was very well backed to win the Racing Post trophy, again on soft. He didn’t beat much though, yes Trading Leather was in it, but he didn’t run his race, the best the 2nd horse has managed since was 3rd in a group 3 at Ascot, the 3rd hasn’t run since, and the 4th has been well beaten in his 3 starts. Kingsbarns did win quite impressively though, and he could still be a very good horse. This is some ask first time back , considering he’s clearly had problems. The fact Aidan runs him in this suggests he’s going well again, but at the same time, Aidan’s record with horses running in Group 1’s off a break of 200 days or more is not inspiring. In the last 4 years he’s had 16 runners, with no winners, and only 2 of them placed.
Princess Highway looked like a group 1 winner in waiting on a quick glance at her 6l win from The Fugue in last years Ribblesdale. If ever there was a case for sectional times this was it though. As visually impressive as she was, with the 3rd and 4th rated 111 and 112 at the time, I’d venture she ran to no higher than 110 that day. Shirocco Star kicked for home far to far out and as a result made this a real test, she didn’t get home herself, and neither did The Fugue. Princess Highway was one of only 2 horses who ran optimally, the other was the 4th placed horse Salford Art, rated just 96 going into the race and beaten just under 7l. She hasn’t looked any better than a 96 horse before, or since, and all that happened that day was two horses who were ridden optimally made themselves look far better than they actually were. Considering that was also over 12 furlongs and she stayed on really strongly then Princess Highway would be a shock winner of this. The same applies to Parish Hall, and Euphrasia will likely come last.
Al Kazeem has looked a better horse than Declaration Of War and The Fugue on his best efforts this season, he started 11/8 at York, with Declaration of War at 7/1, and I don’t see the logic in having them almost the same price tomorrow. It seems a big overreaction to his defeat there. Even if it was good to firm again tomorrow I’d make him favourite, and if as seems likely it comes up good or good to soft, I’d make him a strong favourite. I think Kingsbarns has a really tough task and even if he is up to this standard, he will still do very well to win tomorrow. The 5/2 Al Kazeem is with