September 28, 2022

Irish Champion anchors three Breeders’ Cup Challenge events at Leopardstown

St Mark's Basilica carries Tarnawa out wide in the 2021 Irish Champion (Photo courtesy Leopardstown Racecourse)

Saturday’s Irish Champion (G1) anchors three Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events at Leopardstown. The eponymous centerpiece of Irish Champions Weekend, the 1 1/4-mile prize offers a free ticket to the Turf (G1). Also on the Saturday card, the Champions Juvenile (G2) and Matron (G1) serve as “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and Filly & Mare Turf (G1), respectively.

Irish Champion (G1) – Race 5 (10:45 a.m. ET)

Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) winner Vadeni just beat older star Mishriff in the July 2 Eclipse (G1), and the two will get a rematch at Leopardstown. But other storylines abound, including the hoped-for renaissance of Aidan O’Brien’s Luxembourg and additional French interest in Onesto.

Vadeni employed his terrific turn of foot to go last to first in the Eclipse, racking up his third straight win for Jean-Claude Rouget. The Aga Khan’s homebred rates as the favorite to follow up here with Christophe Soumillon. He’ll get less of a weight concession from Mishriff this time, six pounds rather than the 10 he received at Sandown.

Mishriff was slightly unlucky in the Eclipse, as he met with trouble before coming up a neck sky of Vadeni. The Gosden veteran has run twice since, finishing a distant third in the 1 1/2-mile King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), and a commendable second to Baaeed in the Aug. 17 Juddmonte International (G1). Colin Keane picks up the mount.

Luxembourg’s unbeaten juvenile campaign sparked 2022 classic hopes. The Camelot colt furthered his Derby (G1) ambitions with a solid third in the 2000 Guineas (G1), only to miss Epsom due to injury. Luxembourg was just barely ready to resume in the Aug. 13 Royal Whip (G3), and his lack of fitness showed when he had to pull out all the stops to prevail by a neck. For that very reason, connections are optimistic that he’ll come on a bundle for the tightener. Ryan Moore is back aboard the once-beaten sophomore.

Onesto cuts back in trip from his signature win in the July 14 Grand Prix de Paris (G1), but the Frankel colt does not lack pace. A convincing winner of the about 1 5/16-mile Prix Greffulhe (G2) May 8, the Fabrice Chappet pupil was poorly drawn when a dead-heat fifth to Vadeni in the French Derby. Regular rider Stephane Pasquier accompanies him on his first foreign venture.

The William Haggas-trained Alenquer was set for the Juddmonte International until ruled out by a dirty scope. Although last in an Eclipse that didn’t pan out for him, the Adlerflug colt is better judged by his prior Irish visit, a victory in the May 22 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at The Curragh. Stable jockey Tom Marquand guides Alenquer, whose other notable wins at this distance are the 2021 Sandown Classic Trial (G3) (over Adayar and Yibir) and the Feb. 26 Winter Derby (G3) in track-record time.

Rounding out the seven-strong cast are a Ballydoyle pair who could be involved in pacesetting – Group 1 veteran Broome and Stone Age. Broome, the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up, was most recently a belated fourth in the Sword Dancer (G1). Stone Age, winless since the course-and-distance Derby Trial (G3) May 8, was likewise out of luck in his stateside attempts. Third in the Belmont Derby (G1), he comes off a fifth in the Saratoga Derby (G1). Seamie Heffernan gets the Stone Age assignment, with Wayne Lordan aboard Broome.

Matron (G1) – Race 7 (11:55 a.m. ET)

Homeless Songs has not been seen since her stunning performance in the May 22 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), with trainer Dermot Weld waiting for ease in the ground. The Moyglare Stud homebred now has her required conditions, and favoritism as she tries elders in the one-mile affair.

Her prime opponent is multiple Group 1 queen Saffron Beach, who spots the sophomores five pounds. The Jane Chapple-Hyam shipper is a beast on a straight course, as evidenced by her victories in last fall’s Sun Chariot (G1) at Newmarket, the June 15 Duke of Cambridge (G2) at Royal Ascot, and the Aug. 2 Prix Rothschild (G1) at Deauville in her latest. Leopardstown’s mile, however, is around a left-handed turn. That may make no difference to Saffron Beach, who was a creditable fourth versus males in the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.

The only other older distaffers in the line-up are Group 2 vixens Pearls Galore and Lights On. Pearls Galore, a subpar fifth in the Rothschild, is entitled to do better, especially adding cheekpieces. The Paddy Twomey mare was a close second in last year’s Matron and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Lights On, who beat males in the Apr. 22 Sandown Mile (G2), was last seen sixth behind Baaeed in the June 14 Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot.

Tenebrism, runner-up to Saffron Beach in the Rothschild, may find a turning mile more congenial. O’Brien’s daughter of Caravaggio has scored her marquee wins going shorter, in last fall’s Cheveley Park (G1) and the July 10 Prix Jean Prat (G1) over males.

Ballydoyle stablemate Concert Hall, third to Homeless Songs in the Irish 1000 Guineas in her last try at a mile, shortens up after a series of losses over further. Other Irish Guineas alumnae in the Matron are fourth-placer Star Girls Aalmal, fifth Agartha, and 10th Panama Red.

Agartha has since returned to winning form for Joseph O’Brien in the Aug. 26 Fairy Bridge (G3) at Tipperary, while Panama Red has subsequently placed twice versus elders in listed stakes at Killarney. Panama Red’s trainer, Ger Lyons, is double-handed with Affogato, sixth in the Brownstown in her lone stakes try. Star Girls Aalmal is one of two entrants, along with Honey Girl, for prominent cross-code trainer Henry de Bromhead, who tragically just lost his son, Jack, in a pony riding accident last Saturday. The racing community has expressed an outpouring of support for the de Bromhead family, making this weekend’s racing all the more poignant.

Champions Juvenile (G2) – Race 3 (9:40 a.m. ET)

Well-regarded Ballydoyle juvenile Auguste Rodin makes his long-awaited return after missing the summer highlights. The first foal produced by multiple Group 1-winning highweight Rhododendron, the Deep Impact colt has been odds-on in both starts. He was a troubled second in his June 1 unveiling at The Curragh, but scored handily next time out at Naas July 2. The step up to one mile figures to suit, and Moore takes the reins on the striking dark bay.

Aidan O’Brien also starts smart first-out winner Tower of London, who rolled over this course and distance July 21. Lordan rides the Galileo colt, a full brother to 2017 Irish Derby (G1) and St Leger (G1) hero Capri.

The younger members of the O’Brien clan are well represented. Donnacha sends out Alder, who edged eventual winner Hiawatha at Killarney July 11, and Joseph relies on the filly Caroline Street, a course-and-distance maiden winner who exits a sixth in the Aug. 27 Newtownanner Stud (aka Flame of Tara) (G3) at The Curragh. The lone entrant not trained by an O’Brien is Jim Bolger’s Serious Challenge, who toppled Hiawatha July 30 at Galway.