Donn McClean looks at the Irish team for QIPCO Champions Day
By Donn McClean. Last Updated: 18/10/13 2:30pm
Maarek: Worthy favourite in the Sprint
QIPCO British Champions' Day 2012 was just one of those days on which the Irish winners flowed. It was like someone turned on the Irish winners tap and forgot to turn it off before Frankel came along in the Champion Stakes and claimed the day and the season.
Of the four Irish winners from last year, only Maarek returns tomorrow. Now with Barry Lalor, but just a couple of fields away from his old base at David Nagle's, Maarek has done nothing to suggest that he has disimproved for the change of address or the addition of a year. On the contrary, you can easily argue that he goes into tomorrow's race on the crest of a career-high.
The turn of foot that he showed at Newbury on his penultimate run, which took him from near last to a comfortable first in the space of less than a furlong, was impressive. You can point to the fact that he was competing at Group 3 level then, but he showed it again at Group 1 level at Longchamp two weeks ago in the Prix de l'Abbaye, when he scythed through his field to just get up and nab Catcall deep inside the final furlong.
By Pivotal, soft ground is crucial to Maarek, so let it rain some more. He has gelled well with Declan McDonogh - together they are two for two - he is at least as effective over six furlongs as he is over five, and you know that he handles the track, which is crucial when the track is Ascot's home straight. He is a worthy favourite.
Maarek will not be flying the Irish flag in the Sprint Stakes on his own, mind you. Sole Power is missing, but Eddie Lynam still fields three. Park Stakes winner Viztoria is fascinating, dropping back down in trip to six furlongs for the first time since her juvenile days. However, it may be significant that Wayne Lordan stays loyal to Slade Power.
It can't have been an easy decision, and Pat Smullen is obviously a great booking for the filly, but the fact that Lordan rides Slade Power probably gives an indication of the perceived pecking order at Dunshaughlin. The Dutch Art colt has now finished third in a July Cup and second in a Sprint Cup. He is a Group 1 winner waiting to happen, but he is going to need to be if he is going to win this Group 2 contest.
The other slight worry is that he has mis-fired on both of his attempts at Ascot. In mitigation, he messed up the start on both occasions and was playing catch-up thereafter. It could be just a coincidence that both tardy starts occurred at this venue. Hopefully he can get away on terms tomorrow.
It would be a mistake to under-estimate the third Lynam horse, Balmont Mast. The biggest price of the triumvirate he may be, but he is a top class sprinter, as he proved when he finished a close-up second in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen at Meydan last March, and he looked good in winning a Group 3 race at The Curragh last Sunday.
It would also be a mistake to under-estimate the fifth Irish horse in the race, Cape Of Approval. Tommy Stack's horse was well beaten in the Abbaye, but he was out in the middle of the track, he didn't have the run of the race, and the ground was not as soft as we thought it might be. Remember that he beat Maarek in a listed race at Cork in June, and the more rain that falls, the better his chance becomes.
Cirrus Des Aigles is going to be difficult to beat in the Champion Stakes, now that the rains have fallen and he has recovered his mojo. That said, Ruler Of The World has morphed into a fascinating inclusion, firstly because he is taking his chance in the race in the first place, and secondly because Ryan Moore rides him instead of the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Hillstar.
This will be the Galileo colt's first run over 10 furlongs since he won his maiden at The Curragh on his racecourse debut last April, but it is difficult to argue that he will be done for pace dropping back down in trip. It was his pace rather than his stamina that enabled him win a slowly-run Derby in June.
On the face of it, a seventh-place finish in the Arc was disappointing, but that doesn't tell the story of the race. He and Moore had engineered a perfect position for themselves at the top of the false straight, just off the pace and up on the outside with daylight in front of them. Then Treve came up on the outside, and Moore had a split-second decision to make: use up his horse to protect his position, or allow the filly pass and then chase her. They were a full half-mile from home, and the decision to not kick that early was a legitimate one.
As it happened, however, they never got a chance to set off in pursuit of the filly. Before she had gone past, Orfevre and Kizuna arrived on the outside. Then Al Kazeem and Haya Landa. In the space of a couple of hundred yards, Ruler Of The World slithered from the perfect position to an impossible one, and his chance was gone. Actually, he did well to keep on as well as he did to finish seventh.
Parish Hall deserves his place in the line-up. The 2011 Dewhurst winner, Jim Bolger's horse missed all of last season, but he has progressed steadily this term, and he looked good in winning a Group 3 race at Dundalk two weeks ago. Very soft ground would be a worry for the Teofilo colt, but he is not just a travelling companion for Dawn Approach.
Not that Dawn Approach needs a travelling companion. (If he did, Leitir Mor would be first with his hand up.) He is a seasoned traveler at this stage, having run more times away (seven) than at home (four). He was disappointing behind Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Jacques le Marois on his maiden voyage to France, but he came home a sick horse that day, so you can easily forgive him that.
You can also obviously forgive him his run in the Derby, going over a distance that was 50% further than his optimum and racing with the choke thrown out the window. Take those two runs off his cv, and he has won eight from nine - a National Stakes, a Dewhurst, a Guineas and a St James's Palace Stakes among them - and gone down narrowly to Toronado in the ninth.
It is a shame that Toronado is not in the line-up. The score in their private duel is still 2-1 to the Irishman, and it is a real pity that Richard Hannon's horse will not being afforded the opportunity the level the score. The betting between the pair of them would have been close, and the pre-race debate would have been closer still but, in Toronado's absence, Dawn Approach is the correct favourite.
Leitir Mor will no doubt be allowed to roll along from early, and last year's impressive Racing Post Trophy winner Kingsbarns is on a reputation-redeeming mission after his disappointing run on his only public appearance this season to date in the Irish Champion Stakes.
However, Gordon Lord Byron could be the forgotten horse of the race. Tom Hogan's horse is possibly better over seven furlongs than he is over a mile - and remember that he won the Sprint Cup over six - but he stayed a mile well when he won a Group 3 race at Leopardstown in August. Since then, he has won the Sprint Cup, and he has run a cracker to finish second to Moonlight Cloud in the Prix de la Foret, having set a fast pace.
He will love the easy ground, and he proved that he can operate at Ascot when he finished a close-up fourth behind Lethal Force in the Diamond Jubilee at the Royal meeting in June, doing best of those who raced on the far side. He has Johnny Murtagh for company, and he looks over-priced at 10/1 with Sky Bet.Murtagh has taken the brave decision to supplement Belle De Crecy to the Fillies & Mares Stakes, but it is a punt that is well worthwhile. Andrew Tinkler's mare has improved with just about every run this season, and she put up a career-best when she beat Hot Snap in the Group 2 Blandford Stakes at The Curragh last month. She led from a fair way out that day, but there was nothing lucky about her victory.
She is stepping into the unknown tomorrow, stepping up from 10 furlongs to a mile and a half. However, she races like she will get further than 10 furlongs and, although she is by brilliant miler Rock Of Gibraltar, she is a half-sister to The Miniver Rose, who put up her own career-best performance when she won the Park Hill Stakes over a mile and six furlongs. Also, Belle De Crecy could be allowed an easy enough time of it up front, and it is always dangerous to give Johnny Murtagh an easy lead.
Murtagh runs and rides Royal Diamond in the Long Distance Cup, one of a quarter of Irish raiders who will bid to overthrow the Queen's Estimate.
Dermot Weld, who sent out Rite Of Passage to win the race last year, will be represented by Pale Mimosa this year. The Singspiel filly - who races, like Rite Of Passage, in Dr Ronan Lambe's colours - could only finish seventh in the Irish St Leger on her most recent run, a race that was won by her lesser-fancied stable companion Voleuse De Coeurs. However, she had looked good on her previous run when she beat the tough and talented mare Missunited in the Listed Saval Beg Stakes. She has only raced six times, she has bundles of scope for progression, and you can be certain that her trainer has had this race at least in the back of his mind for her for a while.
Saddler's Rock showed a spark of his old form when he finished third in the Irish Leger. John Oxx's horses are running into form again now after a wholly forgettable season and, if the ground managed to dry out just a little, the son of Sadler's Wells could run a big race.
Eye Of The Storm is the only three-year-old in the race, but he is a really interesting runner. Beaten just a head by Sugar Boy in the Classic Trial at Sandown in April, when he had Galileo Rock and Libertarian behind him, Aidan O'Brien's colt has been quietly progressing in listed races since, and he proved that he stayed two miles when he battled on well to get the better of the afore-mentioned Missunited in a two-mile contest at The Curragh three weeks ago.
A three-year-old hasn't won this race since it was moved to Ascot, but there was no member of the Classic generation in the race last year, and Colour Vision finished a close-up third in the race as a three-year-old in 2011. Also, there were two three-year-old winners of the race in the last four runnings of it as the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket, and Eye Of The Storm receives a valuable 10lb from his elders.
Without being greedy, the sole Irish representative in the apprentice handicap, Bubbly Bellini, is not without a chance. Ado McGuinness' horse ran a cracker to finish second in a decent handicap on easy ground over this trip at Tipperary two weeks ago. He has run 63 times in his life, he has no secrets from anyone, but that run proves that he is on good terms with himself, a mark of 95 is manageable, and he will have the excellent Ronan Whelan for company.
Then they can turn off the tap.
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