LEOPARDSTOWN Sat: Irish Champions Day is perhaps the biggest day of racing on the Flat in Ireland. Saturday’s eight-race card features five Group races, including the Group 1 Matron Stakes and Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, one of the strongest 1m2f races run anywhere in the world.
⭕ There’s plenty to look forward to, and the meeting begins with the competitive Listed Ingabelle Stakes (1:45pm) for two-year-old fillies, run over 7f. Ger Lyons has won the last two renewals, so his Apricot Ice is worthy of plenty of respect. She found Aidan O’Brien’s Content too good on her debut over this course and distance, but that rival had the benefit of experience and it could be a different story now with improvement expected from this daughter of Bated Breath.
⭕ Next up is the Champions Juvenile Stakes (2:15pm), a Group 2 over a mile. While it’s difficult to know what the form of Diego Velazquez’s maiden win at the Curragh amounts to, one thing is for sure this Frankel colt left the impression that there was a huge amount still to come. A £2.4m purchase, he is closely related to Broome and Point Lonsdale, so is bred to take high rank and holds an entry in the Dewhurst next month. He looked green on his debut, but still won by over fourth lengths and he should relish this step up in trip.
⭕ Dermot Weld hasn’t won the Group 1 Matron Stakes (2:45pm) since 2011, but that drought looks set to end as he fields the two outstanding contenders – Tahirya and Homeless Songs – in this mile contest. Both fillies have always been held in the highest regard, but while Homeless Songs hasn’t won for three starts, including on her sole run this season, Tahirya comes here after back-to-back Group 1 victories in the Irish 1000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes. Her only blip in her five-race career came in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, where she probably lacked a touch of race fitness due to a rushed preparation. She’s a top-class three-year-old and should be very hard to beat, especially in receipt of 5lbs from her stablemate.
⭕ The much-anticipated rematch between Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel comes next with the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes (15:20pm), Ireland’s premier 1m2f race. Auguste Rodin’s performance in the King George at Ascot was too bad to be true and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bounce back to form, but it’s difficult to trust him after that. King Of Steel looks more solid and could be ideally suited by this 1m2f trip. There could be better value elsewhere though, and while Al Riffa has been beaten twice so far this season, there was lots more to like about the way he quickened up when narrowly missing out in a Group 2 in France last time. He has a bit to find on figures and may not want ground this quick, but with a better pace to aim at it could see him involved and he may be the each way value under Christophe Soumillon.
⭕ The Dullingham Park Stakes (3:55pm) is a Group 2 over a mile. Buckaroo might be the one to be on here, now dropping back in trip from 10 furlongs. On his last two starts, Joseph O’Brien’s colt has just been caught out over that distance, including when headed close home in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan in May. He won over course and distance earlier in the season and he looks to offer more value at the prices than favourite Victoria Road.
⭕ The final Group race of the day is a Group 3 over 1m4f (4:30pm). While only seven runners are set to go to post, this looks a tough puzzle to solve. Adelaide River brings the best form into this on the back of his seconds in the Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris, but he is still without a win since his debut and might be worth taking on again. The horse with most upsides could well be Valiant King, who finished a neck second to Desert Hero in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot and then bumped into Vauban at Navan last time. On that form, he doesn’t have as much to find as the ratings suggest and looks worth chancing.
⭕ The first (5:05pm) of two valuable handicaps that conclude the card is run over 1m6f. Joseph O’Brien holds a strong hand here with three of the four market leaders. Of them, Nusret and Etna Rosso are strongly respected but if there is a handicap blot in here it might well be Comfort Zone. This four-year-old was a winner on good ground over 1m4f on the Flat and finished third in a 1m4f handicap off a one-pound lower mark. Last season, he was largely campaigned over hurdles, winning two Grade 2 contests at Chepstow and Cheltenham. A mark of 86 might now underestimate his ability.
⭕ The concluding handicap (5:40pm) is run over 7½f. Aidan O’Brien’s Broadhurst has only had one handicap start, when narrowly losing out over a mile at Naas in May. He looked a horse with a few quirks there as Ryan Moore endeavoured to deliver him late to win but he was just outbattled at the line. However, he looked to have plenty in hand of his mark of 93, so it’s surprising that he hasn’t gone up in the weights after that effort. Cheekpieces now go on and it will be disappointing if he doesn’t go one better.