(Published August 23, 2018) – Without doubt the best middle-distance race of the year in Ireland (and often the best in Europe, for that matter), the mile-and-a-quarter Irish Champion Stakes has a rich history of producing high-class winners and equally exciting finishes that live long in the memory. Run over the testing 10 furlongs at Leopardstown’s galloping left-handed track, there is a gradual uphill run to the finishing line that brings stamina into play, especially on testing ground.
Established in 1976, such is the prestige of the Irish Champion Stakes that the winner automatically receives an entry into the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the US just under two months later. Looking back at the winners of the last two decades, the role of honour is littered with horses who have won most of the world’s top middle-distance events; Daylami, Giant’s Causeway, Fantastic Light, High Chaparral, Oratorio, Dylan Thomas (twice), Sea The Stars, So You Think, and Golden Horn. Last year saw Roger Charlton’s Decorated Knight spring a 25/1 shock when just outpointing the high-class Poet’s Word.
Lion Roadshow Rolls On To Leopardstown
Following his convincing victory at York earlier this week in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes, John Gosden’s highly progressive three-year-old Roaring Lion is now a clear favourite to follow up in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, with the top price being the 7/4 on offer with William Hill. The son of Mastercraftsman is getting better and better this season, and having won the Dante Stakes at York in May, he finished third in the Derby then won the Coral Eclipse Stakes. Given a perfect ride by Oisin Murphy in Juddmonte International, the grey quickened at the perfect moment, just as favorite Poet’s Word found himself boxed in and struggling for room.
— York Racecourse (@yorkracecourse) August 22, 2018
Whilst he may have been slightly flattered by the three-and-a-quarter lengths margin of victory, few would suggest that Gosden’s charge wouldn’t have won anyway such was the turn of foot he displayed to go clear of his field. If he turns up at Leopardstown in the same form there is every reason to believe tthat Roaring Lion will again take some stopping in what is becoming a stellar season for the Qatar Racing-owned colt.
Could Poet’s Have The Final Word?
Poet’s Word (11/2 with Paddy Power) will be out for revenge over Roaring Lion, and will also want to lay the ghost of his defeat by rank outsider Decorated Knight in this race 12 months ago. He hit the front that day 100 yards out having been held up in the first half of the contest, only to get chinned close home by the surprise winner who finished with a wet sail. Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old is a much better horse this term though, his defeat of Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Ascot over 10 furlongs being followed by a tremendously game and high-class effort over an extra two furlongs when wearing down stable companion Crystal Ocean to win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot a month later.
It all went wrong though for the son of Poet’s Voice at York as he found himself trapped in a sandwich between the two Godolphin runners and the stands rail, after the leaders unexpectedly tacked across on entering the home straight and left James Doyle’s mount boxed. Just a few yards earlier he had been in the perfect position. Once he got out of the pocket, Poet’s Word stayed on well to finish second, although without the turn of foot we had seen in his previous two starts. It might be that those efforts have taken some toll on him, and he wouldn’t have beaten Roaring Lion even with a clear run, but Stoute’s imposing horse remains a major candidate for the Irish Champion Stakes and if arriving there fresh and well he should run a very big race once again.
John Gosden has indicated that Enable will not run at Leopardstown, and also appears set on going straight to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with the tremendous colt Cracksman, a horse who would have a mighty chance were he to be redirected to Ireland. It doesn’t look like that will be the case, but you can have as big as 12/1 with Sky Bet if you fancy second guessing the former champion trainer.
Ballydoyle Batallion On The Warpath
Aidan O’Brien has won the Irish Champion Stakes a superb seven times, starting with the tremendous Giant’s Causeway back in 2000, and most recently with So You Think in 2011. He is currently responsible for a remarkable 20 of the 35 entries for this year’s renewal and trying to figure out which of his army of thoroughbreds will run is as much a challenge as trying to find the winner itself!
Saxon Warrior (5/1 with MansionBet) is the obvious first candidate for Ballydoyle, the Qipco 2000 Guineas winner having run Roaring Lion to a neck in the Eclipse at Sandown in July. He finished five lengths behind his old rival at York however, and on balance it is hard to see him turning the tables. He is beginning to look more and more like a miler than anything else.
Lancaster Bomber is arguably the most interesting of O’Brien’s entries as he remains fairly unexposed at 10 furlongs. Runner-up last season in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Woodbine Mile in Canada, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the United States, he was a fine third to Rhododendron and Lightning Spear in a good renewal of the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May before stepping up to tackle 10 furlongs for the first time in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh a few weeks later.
Connections clearly had no stamina worries for the son of War Front who dashed off into the lead and kept on strongly to beat stable companion Cliffs Of Moher (14/1 with SportsPesa) by two lengths. Lancaster Bomber hasn’t run since then so would be a relatively fresh horse if taking his chance at Leopardstown, and the faster the ground, the better his chance. He isn’t worth considering on easy ground as he just cannot handle give underfoot, but if he gets his conditions he would be a very tempting each-way investment at 14/1 with 10bet. Cliffs of Moher was nearly three lengths behind Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior at Sandown and it’s hard to see hm turning things around.
Last year’s St Leger winner Capri is a fascinating O’Brien entry. He beat Cracksman over 12 furlongs in the Irish Derby last summer and reappeared in April to score over 10 furlongs at Naas in the Group 3 Alleged Stakes. He hasn’t been seen since – probably as he is at his best on easy ground and the dry summer wouldn’t have provided him with any realistic opportunities – so on soft ground he would not be without hope, especially if ridden positively to try draw the sting out of his rivals.
Two More Class Acts To Consider
Crystal Ocean (14/1 with Sky Bet), beaten just half a length by Capri in last year’s St Leger at Doncaster over a mile-and-three-quarters, landed the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown in April over the Irish Champion Stakes trip before taking the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes at Newbury, and the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, both over 12 furlongs.
Sir Michael Stoute’s colt ran a fine race in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in late-July, looking set for victory when bursting clear over a furlong out, only to be reeled in inside the final furlong by stable companion Poet’s Word. He might be vulnerable at 10 furlongs at this level unless the ground turns soft, in which case his stamina will come into play on a surface that suits him well.
French trainer Pascal Bary has handed the classy Study Of Man (14/1 With William Hill) an entry in this race, the Deep Impact colt having won the French Derby at Chantilly in June on soft ground over the extended mile-and-a-quarter.
He would be a fascinating contender if allowed to take his chance as he will surely come on considerably for finishing third behind Knight To Behold at Deauville last week after more than 10 weeks off the track. Fancied by many to go well in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October, Study Of Man is no forlorn hope to give the French a second success in the race in the last three years following Almanzor’s memorable last-to-first victory in 2016.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.