Friday 22 September 2017

Al Kazeem can reign for Doyle

Cut in ground crucial ingredient to help seal Champion Stakes glory

James Doyle: partners Al Kazeem
James Doyle: partners Al Kazeem
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but this evening's €750,000 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown has all the ingredients to be an utterly tantalising affair.

For too long, the Red Mills-sponsored Group One became lamentably one-sided, to the point that it lost its lustre as an international event of genuine merit.

A year ago, Snow Fairy's popular triumph over Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey breathed fresh life into the 10-furlong feature's ailing prestige, and this is another resounding tonic.

Al Kazeem, such a revelation this term, tops the page after an unexpectedly wet forecast prompted Roger Charlton into a late rethink.

His newfound aura of invincibility fell at York, and Declaration Of War and Trading Leather, the two horses that exploited his vulnerability on fast ground there, step back into the ring here.

As the winners of the year's Tattersalls Gold Cup, Prince Of Wales's Stakes, Eclipse, Queen Anne, International and Irish Derby, the trio bring star quality to the party.

Throw in John Gosden's Yorkshire Oaks heroine The Fugue and the eagerly awaited comeback of Declaration Of War's unbeaten Ballydoyle stablemate Kingsbarns, and you've got an epic middle-distance showdown of season-defining proportions.

At the time of writing, the ground is described as good to firm, but a deluge of up to 20mm of rainfall is forecast to hit the Foxrock area before the off. Charlton has said that most of it would need to materialise if Al Kazeem is to be allowed participate.

In the event that it does, his stable star appeals as nap material to reassert his authority under the impressive James Doyle.

Aidan O'Brien has done a tremendous job with Declaration Of War, and the manner in which the four-year-old knuckled down at York was testament to his versatility, given the precocity of his Queen Anne rout.

Having won over this trip in heavy at the Curragh in 2012, it would be wrong to say that he doesn't handle a cut. Still, at this level, he prefers to feel his hooves rattle.

A similar comment applies to The Fugue, and Jim Bolger has often said that Trading Leather, which went to York on the back of a fantastic second to Novellist in the King George, needs decent ground to show his best. Al Kazeem is a different proposition.

From the day that he stunned Camelot at the Curragh in May, Charlton has insisted he would only take so much racing on fast ground.

THEORY

At York, that theory came home to roost, as Al Kazeem didn't let himself down when Doyle turned the screw. Back on a more forgiving surface, then, he would be strongly fancied to redress the balance in a race that promises a real treat.

Contrastingly, the Group One Coolmore Matron Stakes lacks a single heavyweight contender, though it doesn't lack intrigue. Having supplemented the game Fiesolana at a cost of €20,000, Willie McCreery has backed his improving stable star to deliver in this grade.

Tommy Stack's Wannabe Better and Dermot Weld's soft-ground loving Caponata are others of note, while Joseph O'Brien has opted for Just Pretending over both Say and Magical Dream.

Preferred, though, is the French raider Kenhope. Placed behind Elusive Kate and Sky Lantern already this term, Thierry Jarnet's partner boasts the most finished profile.

The O'Brien father-son axis is likely to have a big say in the opening two-year-old contests with Shell House and Masai, but they might be up against it with Australia in the Icon Breeders' Cup Juvenile Trial.

Ballydoyle's runaway Killarney scorer Kingfisher is another to consider here, but Free Eagle had previously seen him off in some style on his facile debut over course and distance last month.

Dermot Weld's Moyglare Stud-owned colt heads the market for the 2014 Epsom Derby having also beaten the subsequent ready Tipperary winner Orchestra that day.

If Free Eagle follows up here under Pat Smullen, that position would look justified. In the last race, 19 largely in-form sorts do battle in a cracking long-distance handicap.

The irrepressible Connor King rides Jessica Harrington's Weather Watch, whose recent second here suggests that he could prove the most aptly named winner of the day.

Irish Independent

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