Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath bids to continue his flawless 5-year-old campaign in Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes (G1) at Leopardstown, where he’ll meet defending champion Magical, Japan, and French invader Sottsass in the “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Ghaiyyath readily defeated Magical last time out in the Juddmonte International (G1) at York, earning a free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). That marked his fourth consecutive front-running tour de force, including the June 5 Coronation Cup (G1) in course-record time at Newmarket and the July 5 Eclipse (G1) dethroning a flabby Enable.
As a measure of how much Ghaiyyath’s stature has increased, in early September 2019 he was crushing the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1). Now he’s left his stablemate from the Charlie Appleby yard, Barney Roy, to handle the German duty Sunday. Regular rider William Buick stays aboard Ghaiyyath as they venture into Ballydoyle’s home court.
Aidan O’Brien is responsible for half of the six-horse field, with Magical and Japan joined by 3-year-old Armory. Although Magical and Japan have been unable to contain Ghaiyyath this summer, both are eligible to do better. Magical had won her first two starts of the season at the Curragh, the Pretty Polly (G1) and Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1), before being outpaced at York on Aug. 19. But considering the value that her Irish connections place on Irish Champions Weekend, it wouldn’t be a surprise if O’Brien left a bit of improvement in Magical on the turnaround.
Yet note that Coolmore’s go-to rider, Ryan Moore, is on Japan. A close third in the photo with Enable behind Ghaiyyath in the Eclipse, Japan surprisingly came up empty in his rematch with Enable in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). O’Brien revealed the next day that he’d exited the Ascot feature sore with a stone bruise. With his back class as the hero of the 2019 Juddmonte International, Japan can’t be overlooked despite going winless this term.
Armory just regained the winning thread in the Aug. 14 Royal Whip (G3) after a series of losses, most recently fourths in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and Tattersalls Gold Cup. Jockey Seamie Hefferman sticks with Magical, so Wayne Lordan gets Armory.
Sottsass, Sistercharlie’s champion half-brother, has been performing capably if not setting France alight. A gallant third in last fall’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), leaving Japan and Magical in fourth and fifth respectively, Sottsass needed his comeback run when fourth in the May 11 Prix d’Harcourt (G2). The Jean-Claude Rouget trainee moved forward to take the June 14 Prix Ganay (G1), just scraping home from Way to Paris, and missed narrowly to Skalleti on heavy going in the Prix Gontaut Biron (G3). Colin Keane picks up the mount on the classic winner who has his optimal conditions for the first time in quite a while.
Rounding out the sextet is Jessica Harrington’s longshot Leo de Fury, winner of the Mooresbridge (G2) but fifth in his next pair to Magical and Armory.
The Saturday program features two additional Breeders’ Cup Challenge events.
A Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) berth is up for grabs in the Matron Stakes (G1) over a mile. French Oaks (G1) and Nassau (G1) victress Fancy Blue goes for a Group 1 hat trick for jockey-turned-trainer Donnacha O’Brien, who must overcome both his father and brother. Aidan fields Peaceful, victorious over Fancy Blue earlier in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and a near-miss third to her at Chantilly, as well as the hardy So Wonderful and a newly-blinkered Love Locket. Joseph is double-handed with New York Girl, the Irish 1000 Guineas fourth who shortens up following sevenths in the Irish Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1), and recent Argentine recruit Wilds Dreams.
Harrington’s Albigna has yet to run up to her juvenile Group 1-winning form, but could be at her best now in her third start off the layoff. Stablemate Valeria Messalina comes off a last-stride loss to the multiple Group 1 veteran One Master in Glorious Goodwood’s Oak Tree (G3). Johnny Murtagh likewise has a pair of contenders in Know It All, third in the Prix Rothschild (G1) in her latest, and the progressive Champers Elysees who made it three in a row in the Fairy Bridge (G3).
The KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf (G1), could be the rebound spot for Cadillac. The Harrington pupil was a smashing debut winner here before finishing second at odds-on in the Futurity (G2) at the Curragh. That was on soft-to-heavy, and Cadillac will get a better canvas on Saturday.
Also exiting the Futurity are the respective fourth and sixth, Joseph O’Brien’s Snapraeterea and Aidan’s Van Gogh, a royally-bred American Pharoah maiden who was a terrific second in the Tyros (G3) two back on this course. The Ger Lyons-trained Reve de Vol, eighth in the Tyros, had captured his Fairyhouse debut.
Blue for You warrants respect as a Galway maiden winner for Dermot Weld, while Murtagh’s Fourhometwo also scored at Galway. Jack Duggan won first up at Tipperary for Jim Bolger. Donnacha’s Fernando Vichi and Lyons’ Ides of August sport local maiden wins. Joseph’s Liffey River, just edged in his unveiling, broke through at Punchestown in his follow-up.
The opening race, the 7-furlong Ingabelle Stakes, could have Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) implications with Prix du Calvados (G2) fourth No Speak Alexander, last-out maiden winners Earth Strike and New Emerald Bay, and the Ballydoyle duo of More Beautiful and Monday among the entrants.
Later on the card, the Boomerang Mile (G2) pits British shippers Century Dream, Safe Voyage, and Escobar against Ballydoyle’s Lancaster House, Royal Dornoch, and Vatican City as well as Ancient Spirit and the Aga Khan’s Sinawann.
Post time for the Ingabelle is 9 a.m. (ET). The Matron kicks off the Breeders’ Cup Challenge races as the 3RD at 10:10 a.m., followed by the Champions Juvenile (10:40 a.m.) and Irish Champion (11:10 a.m.).
Irish Champions Weekend continues Sunday at the Curragh, with “Win and You’re In” events for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Turf Sprint (G1).