On Saturday’s Irish Champions Festival kickoff, classic-winning sophomores Auguste Rodin and Tahiyra raced into the Breeders’ Cup picture by defeating older horses in a pair of “Win and You’re In” contests.
Auguste Rodin was back to his brilliant best in the Irish Champion (G1), booking his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and highlighting a four-win day at Leopardstown for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore. The Aga Khan’s homebred Tahiyra extended her winning skein to three in the Matron (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race linked to the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
The Festival concludes Sunday with four more Group 1s at the Curragh.
Irish Champion (G1)
Although the market ultimately rallied around Auguste Rodin as the 11-4 favorite, the Epsom and Irish Derby (G1) star entered with a question mark after being eased last time out in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot. The faster conditions on Saturday were sure to suit the Deep Impact colt, who has proven capable of a spectacular rebound in the past. A bitterly disappointing flop in the 2000 Guineas (G1), Auguste Rodin roared back at Epsom. But could he do it again, in the second half of the season, in one of the world’s deepest races?
Auguste Rodin confirmed that he is indeed a turnaround artist. Well placed by Moore the dark bay stalked as Ballydoyle’s defending champion Luxembourg and pace enforcer Point Lonsdale made it a true gallop. In contrast, British shippers King of Steel, Nashwa, and Alflaila were all reserved further back in the 1 1/4-mile test.
Luxembourg kicked for home once Point Lonsdale was through, but Auguste Rodin got the perfect seam to split his stablemates. Deploying his superior turn of foot down the lane, he overhauled Luxembourg by a half-length in a swift 2:02.68.
Nashwa rallied to finish a close third, just missing second by a short head. King of Steel, who was in better position by the top of the stretch, appeared outpaced on the cutback in trip and checked in another half-length back in fourth. Slow-starting Alflaila, last for much of the way, improved into fifth. Point Lonsdale retreated to sixth, followed by Onesto, last year’s runner-up, and Sprewell. Al Riffa was scratched.
Auguste Rodin, O’Brien’s fifth straight Irish Champion winner and 12th overall, continues to enhance his resume as a stellar stallion prospect for Coolmore. An outstanding two-year-old who captured the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) and the Champions Juvenile (G2) on this very card in 2022, he was lauded as a potential hope for the elusive British Triple Crown. His no-show in the Guineas dashed any such notions, but he silenced his doubters with a superb finish in the Derby. Auguste Rodin was more workmanlike when turning the classic double at the Curragh, and his rapid flame-out in the King George left lingering questions.
O’Brien pinpointed one commonality between his bitter disappointments at Newmarket and Ascot, aside from ground concerns: flying over on the plane. He’d literally shipped to Epsom, taking the boat from Ireland. That plane issue has to factor into his travel prospects for Santa Anita, but otherwise, the conditions for the Turf itself would be ideal. Both O’Brien and Coolmore partner Michael Tabor sounded bullish about advancing to the Breeders’ Cup, pending what the other “lads,” John Magnier and Derrick Smith along with co-owner Westerberg, think.
If Auguste Rodin does attempt a transatlantic adventure, he could take care of unfinished business for his dam, the Galileo mare Rhododendron, and “aunt” Magical, both multiple Group 1-winning highweights. Rhododendron was an arguably unlucky second in the 2017 Filly & Mare Turf, and her full sister Magical was twice runner-up in the Turf (2018 and 2020).
One of the brightest stars from last year’s Festival, when bolting up in the Moyglare Stud (G1) at the Curragh, Tahiyra added another major prize to her resume in the Matron. The Dermot Weld pupil was making her first start versus elders, off a nearly three-month break, but she delivered her typical closing flourish all the same as the odds-on favorite.
Regular pilot Chris Hayes was mindful not to give Tahiyra too much ground to make up, over a track that was playing kindly to handy types. The Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation (G1) heroine was accordingly nestled just a few lengths off the leaders. Pace-tracking Just Beautiful made her bid for glory first, hoping to steal a march on Tahiyra, but the favorite was already cruising into contention. Sweeping 1 1/4 lengths clear, the daughter of Siyouni finished the mile in 1:37.50.
British shipper Rogue Millennium got up to deny Just Beautiful runner-up honors by a half-length, and Meditate was along belatedly for fourth. Next came Jumbly, Zarinsk, Prosperous Voyage, Ocean Jewel, Olivia Maralda, Clever and Cool, Gozen, and Cadeau Belle. Tahiyra’s stablemate, Homeless Songs, was withdrawn.
Now 5-for-6 lifetime, Tahiyra is a half-length away from perfection. She was second in her comeback in the 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, where the scrappy Mawj had the benefit of recency. Weld had cautioned that Tahiyra wasn’t quite primed. The bay indeed moved forward three weeks later to win the Irish equivalent, and she maintained that form at Royal Ascot.
Weld mentioned that Santa Anita is on the radar as a possibility. While Tahiyra has yet to race beyond a mile, she’s certainly bred to go farther, and Hayes indicated that she would relish a step up in trip. Tahiyra is a half-sister to multiple Group 1 vixen Tarnawa, winner of the 2020 Turf. Both are out of the Group 3-placed stakes scorer Tarana, by Cape Cross.
Champions Juvenile (aka Golden Fleece) (G2)
O’Brien not only won the Champions Juvenile for the 10th time, but he also sent out the exacta. Odds-on Diego Velazquez had to fight harder than expected to see off his front-running stablemate, Capulet, by a half-length in 1:40.46 for the mile.
A Frankel half-brother to Group 1 globetrotter Broome and the aforementioned Point Lonsdale, Diego Velazquez had overcome greenness to dominate his debut at the Curragh. The flashy bay appeared more clued-in here, and he needed to be to prevail under a Moore drive.
Capulet, a son of Justify who had scored first out at Dundalk, marked himself as one to follow by pulling 3 1/4 lengths clear of the rest. Atlantic Coast staved off Deepone for third, and Bremen, Formal Display, and Democracy concluded the order under the wire. Bad Desire was scratched.
Diego Velazquez secured a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), but a junket to Santa Anita is unlikely. He’s earmarked for the Oct. 28 Vertem Futurity Trophy, the same itinerary as Auguste Rodin last fall.
Rest of Leopardstown
The O’Brien/Moore tandem struck with yet another favorite, Adelaide River, in the 1 1/2-mile Paddy Power (aka Kilternan) (G3). The Australia colt was finally breaking through after a series of stakes placings, including runner-up efforts in the Irish Derby (to Auguste Rodin) and Grand Prix de Paris (G1) in his last two. Sent straight to the lead, he put away a challenge from the older Mashhoor, opened up, then gamely persevered as six-year-olds Al Aasy and Layfayette bore down late. Adelaide River held on by a half-length in a final time of 2:31.05.
Fellow classic veteran White Birch reported home a close fourth, but another smart sophomore, Valiant King, faded to fifth. Mashhoor gave way in sixth, beating only Young Ireland.
The Ballydoyle win quartet was completed by Broadhurst, with a whirlwind rally from last in the 7 1/2-furlong premier handicap dubbed the Sovereign Path. The No Nay Never colt had been penciled in for Royal Ascot’s Britannia H. before being sidelined, and he responded to cheekpieces here at odds of 5-1.
The day’s other big handicap, the 1 5/8-mile Petingo, went to the Jessica Harrington-trained filly Satin. The first-time cheekpieces angle was in play again in her 14-1 upset with Shane Foley, and she gave sire Australia a quickfire double after Adelaide River.
Trainer Natalia Lupini celebrated her first big win courtesy of juvenile filly Kitty Rose in the opening Ingabelle S. From the first crop of Invincible Army, the sharp Naas debut winner surged past Ballydoyle hotpot Content by 2 1/2 lengths to stay unbeaten. Her time of 1:30.14, under Billy Lee, wasn’t far off Broadhurst’s 1:29.44 over the same distance later on the card.
The only visitor to plunder a prize on Saturday was Flight Plan in the Dullingham Park (aka Solonoway) (G2). Fittingly sporting the colors of Clipper Logistics, the nom de course of Steve Parkin who sponsors the race via his breeding operation, the Karl Burke trainee went wire to wire with Danny Tudhope. Favored Buckaroo just salvaged second from the troubled Victoria Road.
Flight Plan negotiated the mile in 1:38.89, more than a second slower than Tahiyra in the Matron. The Night of Thunder sophomore had held his own versus elders in his past two, placing in the Pomfret S. to next-out French Group 3 winner Poker Face and finishing third in the Strensall (G3).