IN the world of horse racing, the second weekend in September is about as big and bold as it gets at any stage of the calendar year.
Doncaster host the oldest European classic, the St Leger tomorrow afternoon, while Parislongchamp stage the Grand Prix de Paris. Yearling auctions continue at pace in Deauville and Kentucky but the best of the action is here at home.
It’s Irish Champions Weekend – first run in 2014, ICW has become Irish flat racing’s premier event with €3.6 million in total prize money this year, the meeting attracts the best international competition to Leopardstown and the Curragh for two days of the best racing witnessed anywhere in the world.
Sixteen races over two days including four Group 1’s but there’s no disguising the main dish on the menu, the Irish Champions Stakes is the race that everyone wants to win and is always targets by overseas challengers and fortunately for us fans, this year is no different.
John Gosden saddles his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes winner Lord North, Jean-Claude Rouget’s sends Sottsass, the horse who beat last weekend’s Prix du Moulin winner Persian King in the Prix du Jockey Club last year.
This formidable pair combined with a home team consisting of Magical, Japan and Vatican City would ordinarily get you to the endge of your seat but the addition of the world’s highest-rated racehorse Ghaiyyath gets you off the chair and completely to your feet!
Charlie Appleby has been reserved in his approach to this race, not confirming his stable star’s participation until the very last minute but the fact that he is declared with William Buick to ride is a huge boost for the race and the weekend as a global event.
Here we have the best horse in the world playing an away game on our turf. Will anything be able to catch him at Leopardstown tomorrow? This is his toughest assignment to date but he is the best horse in the race.
Earlier on the same card, Europe’s finest fillies do battle over a mile Matron Stakes, a race that was won last year by Iridessa, the mare that would go on to land the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita for Joseph O’Brien.
However, this year its Joseph’s younger brother Donnacha who saddles the Favourite with Fancy Blue. She beat Aidan O’Brien’s Peaceful in the Prix de Diane over the summer but it wouldn’t surprise many were Peaceful able to turn the form around this weekend.
There is four Group 1 races up for grabs at the Curragh on Sunday, the first being the Flying Five Stakes which includes prolific sprinting star Make A Challenge bid for a first win at the highest level, not only for himself but for his trainer Denis Hogan and jockey Joe Doyle. Conditions look ideal for this horse and despite a strong British challenge, he remains the horse with the best course form. Were he to land the spoils, it would be one of the stories of the weekend.
There are also two top-level races for juveniles, the Moyglare Stud Stakes for fillies and the National Stakes for the colts. Pinatubo blew us away in the latter race last year, providing us with the most impressive juvenile performance of 2019 when beating Armory by 9 lengths before being crowned Europe’s Champion Two-Year-Old.
This Sunday, Charlie Appleby saddles Master Of The Seas for Godolphin, an impressive winner of the Superlative Stakes, just like Quorto for the same connections in 2018 before he triumphed at the Curragh.
Master Of The Seas is a hugely exciting colt, unbeaten in his two starts to date but this will be another level. Royal Ascot and Goodwood winner Battleground combined with Phoenix Stakes winner Lucky Vega, means this race could crown another champion, such is the depth of this year’s affair.
At this stage of the season, Battleground appears Ballydoyle’s best juvenile and looks to possess the same willing attitude as his great mother Found. It remains to be seen if he possesses the same level of ability but he too looks full of immense promise.
All in all, this weekend has something for everyone. Don’t forget that the Epsom Derby hero Serpentine returns in the Grand Prix de Paris on Sunday and that Frankie Dettori deputises for an otherwise engaged Ryan Moore aboard Irish Derby winner Santiago in tomorrow’s St Leger at Doncaster.
This is flat racing at its best!