2020 Irish Champion Stakes (Leopardstown Saturday) Preview
Photo Courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Courtesy of Michael Adolphson
Race: Irish Champion Stakes
Grade: Group 1
Racecourse: Leopardstown Racecourse
Win and You’re In: $6 Million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)
· Contested over 10 furlongs
· Located in the outskirts of Dublin
· Relatively flat, left-handed course with a stretch of just over a quarter-mile
· Older horses carry 135lbs; Older Mares 132lbs; 3YOs 129lbs
· Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore has won eight renewals—all this century and starting with Giant’s Causeway (2000).
· John Gosden has won three of the past seven renewals.
· Decorated stallions Sadler’s Wells, Giant’s Causeway, New Approach and Sea the Stars won before heading to stud.
· A showcase for great race fillies/mares, it has been won by Park Express, Indian Skimmer, Snow Fairy, Timarida, Triptych, The Fugue and Magical.
· 1987 winner Triptych was 6th in the 1986 BC Classic and 4th in the 1988 BC Turf.
· 1988 winner Indian Skimmer was 3rd in the 1988 BC Turf.
· 1994 winner Cezanne was 9th in the 1994 BC Classic.
· 1996 winner Timarida is the dam of Timarwa, who was 6th in the 2007 BC Filly & Mare Turf.
· 1997 winner Pilsudski won the 1996 BC Turf.
· 1998 winner Swain was 3rd in the 1998 BC Classic.
· 1999 winner Daylami won the 1999 BC Turf.
· 2000 winner Giant’s Causeway was 2nd in the 2000 BC Classic.
· 2001 winner Fantastic Light won the 2001 BC Turf.
· 2003 winner High Chaparral won both the 2002 and 2003 BC Turf.
· 2004 winner Azamour was 3rd in the 2005 BC Turf.
· 2005 winner Oratorio was 11th in the 2005 BC Turf.
· 2006-2007 winner Dylan Thomas was 5th in the 2007 BC Turf.
· 2011 winner So You Think was 6th in the 2011 BC Classic.
· 2013 winner The Fugue was 3rd in the 2012 BC Filly & Mare Turf and 2nd in the 2013 BC Turf.
· 2015 winner Golden Horn was 2nd in the 2015 BC Turf.
· 2017 winner Decorated Knight was 10th in the 2017 BC Turf.
· 2018 winner Roaring Lion was 14th in the 2018 BC Classic.
Note: OR (Official Ratings) are provided. To give class context on those numbers, sprint superstar Lady Aurelia and champion Tepin were rated 122, Goldikova topped out at 125, Giant’s Causeway was rated 126 and the great Enable is rated 128.
(Charlie Appleby / William Buick) – 3/5
Godolphin | OR: 130
Ghaiyyath keeps being doubted by the pundits and keeps knocking down everything in his path, undefeated in four 2020 starts, including a phenomenal effort in the Juddmonte on Aug. 19. He is the top-rated horse in the world and takes the race right to his competition, liking to lead throughout. While he is very good at 12 furlongs, it is at this race’s 10 furlongs where he finds his groove, able to use his speed and run them into the ground from the get-go. The layout for this course, being a left-handed, quicker track, fits him like a glove and will be a perfect prep for the Longines Turf if he wishes to attempt to become the fifth horse to pull off the double. The sole issue he must address is the quicker turnaround between races, as his forward tactics can be taxing, no matter how easily he has defeated the best turf horses in the world this season. A deserving favorite, but he will be going up against horses who have come on significantly fitness-wise and must beat them again during a part of the season when everyone is peaking.
· VIDEO: 2020 Juddmonte International (G1) (Racing TV)
· VIDEO: 2020 Dubai Millennium (G3) (Meydan Racing)
(Aidan O’Brien / Seamie Heffernan) – 9/2
Coolmore (Smith, Magnier & Tabor) | OR: 121
The measure for top-class turf racing, six-time G1 winner and 2018 Longines Turf runner-up Magical is also the defending champion here and has won the past six times she has competed in her native Ireland—the past four in G1 company. On the plus side, is she should have improved a couple lengths since finishing a good second to Ghaiyyath last out at York, but the minus is that Ghaiyyath is back up against her and will again have the jump on her. From a tactics standpoint, she loves this course and her tactical speed will come in handy in a race that will surely be a chess match. What is super-interesting is that yard jockey Ryan Moore has opted for Japan over the great mare, so one would not be surprised if she goes forward pushes Ghaiyyath early, making this race into a test of stamina test and possibly setting it up for stallion career-bound Japan.
· VIDEO: 2020 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) (Racing TV)
· VIDEO: 2019 Champion Stakes (G1) (At The Races)
· VIDEO: 2019 Irish Champion Stakes (G1) (Racing TV)
· VIDEO: 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) (Breeders’ Cup)
(Aidan O’Brien / Ryan Moore) – 7/2
Coolmore (Smith, Magnier & Tabor) | OR: 121
Japan is the proverbial wise-guy horse in this race and rightfully so. He came out of his poor showing in the King George with an injury, has recovered and Ryan Moore has chosen him over defending champion mare Magical. Rated 121 and a two-time G1 winner last year, he has not won in four consecutive starts, including a fourth in the Arc to cap his excellent 2019 season, but has had excuses. Defeated by Ghaiyyath in the Coral-Eclipse (G1) in July, he enters off a break since late July, but must be respected if he’s at his best. He was only 2¼ lengths behind runner-up Enable in last year’s Arc, a race in which he defeated Magical by six and a faltering Ghaiyyath by 29 lengths. In third that day was Sottsass, but we will get to him in a moment. The bottom line with Japan is that he has always been very highly regarded and Moore choosing to partner is piquing a lot of interest—but everything must fall his way, much like it did in the Juddmonte International (G1) last year.
· VIDEO: 2020 Coral-Eclipse (G1) (Racing TV)
· VIDEO: 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) (At The Races)
· VIDEO: 2019 Juddmonte International (G1) (Racing TV)
(Jean-Claude Rouget / Colin Keane) – 7/1
White Birch Farm (Peter Brant) | OR: 119
Wearing the Brant green silks so familiar to racing fans in the USA, Sottsass is a half-brother to his champion Sistercharlie and recent G3 winner My Sister Nat. France’s champion 3-year-old of 2019, he has been considered a disappointment this season, as hopes have been very high. Still, he won the Prix Ganay (G1) in determined style and should have benefited greatly from a second last out over taxing ground in the Prix Gontaut-Biron (G3) at Deauville. It is worth noting that the only time he has faced his three more-fancied foes (Ghaiyyath, Japan and Magical), he beat them when a dynamite third in the Arc. Rouget won this race with Almanzor in 2016 with a similar type and must be respected. Local rider Colin Keane takes the reins—a jockey who must not be underestimated, much like this three-time G1 winner.
· VIDEO: 2020 Prix Gontaut-Biron (G3) (Equidia)
· VIDEO: 2020 Prix Ganay (G1) (Equidia)
Armory (25/1) and Leo de Fury (40/1) are quality types, but stepping up against the very best. Coolmore’s Armory enters off an excellent 10-furlong win for Aidan O’Brien in the Royal Whip Stakes (G3) and has room for improvement, being a 3-year-old with limited runs. This looks of a race to test his class at this point in his development. Leo de Fury is trained by the always-capable Jessica Harrington and disappointed in the Royal Whip last out. He is shooting for the stars, but all three of his wins have been at this distance, including June’s Mooresbridge Stakes (G3).
Synopsis: It will be intriguing to see what Heffernan does with Magical early, as she has the pace and stamina to make things interesting with the deservingly heavy favorite and world’s top-rated galloper, Ghaiyyath. Sottsass is seemingly overlooked for capable connections and Japan is the wise-guy horse, still assumed capable of great things. Armory could improve for a piece of the pie and dismiss Jessica Harrington (Leo de Fury) at your own peril. Let the drama unfold!
Matron Stakes: French Oaks winner Fancy Blue (2/1) will look to stamp her ticket to the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in the ‘Win and You’re In’ Coolmore America ‘Justify’ Matron Stakes (G1). Over one mile, it will be a cutback in trip for the Donnacha O’Brien trainee and she must reoppose fellow Michael Tabor color-bearer Peaceful (5/2), who was only a neck back in the French Oaks and won the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) one effort prior, defeating Fancy Blue by two lengths. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, she will be difficult to beat back at this distance. Another G1 winner, Albigna (5/1) seeks to return to form and looks to eye a return to America with a big effort in the famous Niarchos silks. Last year, a tough trip at Santa Anita resulted in a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) as one of the favorites. Amid a breakout year, Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey-turned-trainer Johnny Murtagh entered two, with G3 winner Know It All (12/1) appearing one to watch after a sharp third in the Prix Rothschild (G1) in early August. Group 3-winning yardmate Champers Elysees (10/1) brings a three-race win streak into the race, but is stepping up in a big way. A win for Murtagh, who won this three times as a jockey, would be his first at the G1 level. Eleven are entered in this thrilling one-turn mile that produced 2019 Filly & Mare Turf winner Iridessa, as well as 2015 runner-up Legatissimo.
Champions Juvenile: The KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) is a clash of the major yards of Ireland, featuring future stars over a mile looking for a ‘Win and You’re In’ ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Ballydoyle is represented by maiden Van Gogh (5/1), a blue-blooded son of American Pharoah and Oaks winner Imagine. Jessica Harrington has slight favorite Cadillac (2/1), who won a July maiden over this course like a star before finishing a good second over soft ground in the Futurity Stakes (G2) last out. Donnacha O’Brien has lone-start course and distance winner Fernando Vichi (4/1), who is garnering plenty of buzz, while brother Joseph brings well-seasoned dual winner Snapraeterea (9/1) and recent winner Liffey River (6/1). Ger Lyons must not be forgotten here with the USA-bred Ides of August (9/1) and Reve de Vol (33/1), who both won maidens this summer in smart fashion. Johnny Murtagh enters Fourhometwo (12/1), a good winner at Galway in August, while legendary trainers Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger are represented by the capable Blue for You (11/1) and Jack Duggan (20/1), respectively.
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The 2020 fall meet at Belmont Park opens this weekend, with the $250,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) headlining the Saturday card.
- September 17, 2020
The one-mile turf race, a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) on November 7 at Keeneland, drew eight runners, with 2019 Preakness winner War of Will and tough mare Starship Jubilee will do battle with some local stars.