October 20, 2021

Breeders’ Cup implications from Irish Champions Weekend go beyond WAYI races

Roaring Lion nabs Saxon Warrior again in the Irish Champion, a WAYI for the Breeders' Cup Turf (From Leopardstown Racecourse photo via Twitter)

While discussion of the fallout from Irish Champions Weekend centers upon the five Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events, other races at Leopardstown and the Curragh turned up clues for the first weekend in November at Churchill Downs.

On Saturday’s card at Leopardstown, Roaring Lion racked up his third consecutive Group 1 tally in the Irish Champion (G1), earning a redundant second ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) after pocketing one in the Juddmonte International (G1). This was a superb effort from the John Gosden trainee, considering he had to sprint from well off the pace, in a tactical race made to order for archrival Saxon Warrior.

Subsequent news of Saxon Warrior’s career-ending tendon injury prompts the inevitable “what might have been,” but Roaring Lion remains a serious Turf contender – if he comes. With his Qatari ownership sponsoring Champions Day at Ascot, the October 20 Champions S. (G1) is next. Will he wheel back two weeks later?

The Matron (G1) result was similarly blotted by the injury to odds-on Alpha Centauri, who chipped a fetlock apparently just as she drew up to confront Laurens. That tough-as-nails warrior was a 10-1 overlay as the French Oaks (G1) winner, and her forward style would make her very intriguing if trainer Karl Burke uses the Matron’s free berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

Least likely to make an appearance at Churchill is Madhmoon, the smashing winner of the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) offering a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) perk. Octogenarian trainer Kevin Prendergast indicated that the Shadwell homebred might be sighted only once more this term, in the Doncaster race formerly known as the Racing Post (now Vertem Futurity) Trophy (G1).

Not to be overlooked are two O’Brien winners on the day. The progressive filly I Can Fly lived up to her name with a furious rally to reel in stablemate Kenya in the Boomerang (G2). That’s the same race that propelled Suedois to victory in last fall’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and on to Del Mar. Might I Can Fly emerge as a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) possible?

Stablemate Rostropovich, the Irish Derby (G1) runner-up, was game to hold on by a half-length in the 1 1/2-mile Group 3 rebranded the Paddy’s Rewards Club. Australia is among his options, but the tactical type wouldn’t be out of place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Note that O’Brien has other three-year-old colts to go to war with, including Saturday’s Doncaster St Leger (G1) hero Kew Gardens and the front-running winner of Sunday’s Irish St Leger (G1) at the Curragh, Flag of Honour.

During Sunday’s half of Irish Champions Weekend, Havana Grey secured a Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) spot – that he’ll probably take advantage of – in the Flying Five (G1). Another Burke sophomore like Laurens, he showed his trademark speed in a race that lost most of its key players during the week.

Scat Daddy youngster Skitter Scatter continued her streak in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) “Win and You’re In” Moyglare Stud (G1), going three-for-three since stepping up to seven furlongs. Would trainer Patrick Prendergast make a trip to Churchill with a classic prospect on the go since late March?

The Vincent O’Brien National (G1) was not part of the Challenge schedule, just as well since Godolphin’s exciting juvenile Quorto is looking at finishing the year in the Dewhurst (G1), if not calling it a season already.

But another Curragh winner does have Churchill on her agenda. The Aga Khan’s homebred Eziyra, third to Sea of Class in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) that also featured a non-staying Laurens, stamped her class on the 1 1/4-mile Blandford (G2). Trainer Dermot Weld has the rock-solid campaigner set for Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor (G1) en route to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.