Friday 19 January 2018

Boat filling up for champion

Star-studded cast set to line-up for the third running of Irish Champions Weekend

My Dream Boat, with Adam Kirby aboard, on the way to winning the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown last April. Photo: Edward Whitaker
My Dream Boat, with Adam Kirby aboard, on the way to winning the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown last April. Photo: Edward Whitaker

This day week the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes will take centre stage on the opening day of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown.

Now in the third year of the ambitious project, Irish Champions Weekend will see over €4,000,000 dished out to connections between Leopardstown and the Curragh the following day, and with both racecourses working tirelessly with Horse Racing Ireland to attract attractive crowd figures, the racing looks unlikely to disappoint.

In recent years the Irish Champion Stakes has jumped up the pecking order of world racing and is now rated the fourth highest flat race in the world, that is from a lowly position of 15th in the rankings just three years ago. This years renewal certainly looks unlikely to disappoint.

At this stage Aidan O'Brien is mulling over his options and is suggesting that he'll definitely be represented by a three-strong team, Highland Reel joining Minding and Found, if not four, with US Army Ranger not ruled out, and the hope is that Dermot Weld will be happy enough with the ground to allow Derby hero Harzand take his chance alongside Group One winner Fascinating Rock.

The Irish Champion Stakes is one of the races to have benefited from an injection of prize money thanks to Irish Champions Weekend and while that increase in the coffers makes little difference to most of the connections that will battle out the Champion Stakes, the prestige of the race is certainly returning to where it should be.

With the French Derby winner, Almanzour, set to be a rare Irish runner for Jean Claude Rouget, it may be a surprise to many if the winner doesn't come from the aforementioned names but that would be an unfair assumption to the remainder of the field with Prince Of Wales's Stakes winner, My Dream Boat, the latest to be booked in to the Dublin track.

The Royal Ascot winner caused something of an upset when beating Found by a neck at odds of 16/1 and Clive Cox's charge can currently be backed at 33/1 to win on Saturday which suggests plenty about how hotly contested the race is going to be.

Cox said: "He has taken a massive step forward into Group One company this season and I was delighted with what he has done at Royal Ascot.

"We finished off well in the autumn last year and I'm very much hopeful we can do the same this year. I'm glad he's had a break and he's just a very able individual, his progress through the last year is hugely impressive and he's a horse that I'm just pleased we've got on our hands."

While Minding is due to line up in the Champion Stakes, the only filly to have beaten her this season, Jet Setting, will go for the Matron Stakes on the same card and there's no shortage of confidence from her trainer, Adrian Keatley.

"Jet Setting is in good form and it's all systems go," he said of the filly who is now owned by the China Horse Club.

A poor run at Royal Ascot can be struck out according to the trainer who found valid excuses for her effort in the Coronation Stakes.

"She came home from Royal Ascot with a slight infection showing up and her bloods were all wrong so that is what happened," revealed the Curragh-based trainer.

"I wouldn't be worried about Ascot going into Leopardstown at all, she's in flying form and if she gets her ground she is the one for them all to beat.

"They are giving a lot of rain for Sunday, Monday and into Tuesday morning and hopefully it will keep coming.

"It's unclear how progressive some of the other runners are going to be and we'll obviously have to progress as well but if Jet Setting can bring her Irish Guineas form to the table, well, Minding is 2/1 favourite for the Champion Stakes and we are the only filly to beat her so I think she is the one to beat."

Keatley fears the French raider Qemah who is the general favourite for the race with the bookmakers who have chalked up the Matron Stakes but Jet Setting can be backed at 10/1 despite the confidence of her trainer with just a week to go.

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