Al Kazeem stands ground
THE renaissance of the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes looks set to gather further momentum tomorrow after all the perceived big guns were the among eight confirmed at yesterday's final declaration stage for Leopardstown's marquee Group One.
Roger Charlton had ruled Al Kazeem out of the €750,000 feature, but a revised weather forecast that is predicting heavy rainfall in the Dublin area before off-time has prompted him to declare his star five-year-old under James Doyle.
Declaration Of War and Trading Leather (Kevin Manning), both of which finished ahead of Al Kazeem when he suffered a first defeat in five starts since May 2012 in last month's International at York, are also declared for an absolutely mouth-watering rematch.
Declaration Of War's trainer Aidan O'Brien gives the unbeaten juvenile Kingsbarns a seasonal debut in the 10-furlong showpiece, while Trading Leather's handler Jim Bolger is doubly represented with the Ronan Whelan-ridden Parish Hall.
Joseph O'Brien sticks with Declaration Of War and Seamie Heffernan rides Kingsbarns.
John Gosden will send over his Yorkshire Oaks heroine The Fugue (William Buick) as Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen chase the first win of the season for Princess Highway, which slammed The Fugue when sluicing up in the 2012 Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot.
Given the manner in which the internationally renowned event had become lamentably one-sided for much of the past decade, the final field is a tremendous affirmation of the race's rehabilitation.
A year ago, Snow Fairy's popular triumph for Ed Dunlop and Frankie Dettori brought an end to the locals' nine-year monopoly.
Of the previous five winners, four had returned long odds-on. Following yesterday's confirmations, Declaration Of War eased to a general 5/2 favouritism, reflecting the added depth that Al Kazeem's unexpected participation would lend to proceedings.
Charlton has reiterated that significant rain needs to fall on ground that is officially described as good to firm if Al Kazeem is to run.
If it does, Lorcan Wyer, clerk of the course at Leopardstown, fears that Declaration Of War may be a casualty, though the versatile Ballydoyle colt did win over 10 furlongs on heavy ground at the Curragh last year. "We're not sure exactly how much (rain the track will get), but, from Friday midnight through to early Saturday, we are maybe looking at 15 or 20 millimetres," Wyer said.
"To give a guide to how it may go, I'd say it may be no worse than yielding or good to soft, but that's an estimated guess.
"Unfortunately, that may be slow enough for Al Kazeem, but if it's slow enough for him, it will be too slow for Declaration Of War."
In contrast to a line-up that boasts the winners of 10 Group Ones, tomorrow's Matron Stakes comprises just one, the 2011 Phoenix victor, La Collina.
While the defection of Gosden's Elusive Kate due to a poor blood test takes from the supporting race's quality, it is very competitive, with the consistent Say and the much-improved pair Fiesolana and Wannabe Better among a record 12-strong field for the mile Group One.
Wannabe Better's rider Wayne Lordan will have to dash home to ride Tommy Stack's smart filly, as he is due to partner Eddie Lynam's Slade Power in Haydock's Sprint Cup, which is due off at 3.50, a little less than two hours before the Matron's 5.45 slot.
Johnny Murtagh will partner Tom Hogan's big-race regular Gordon Lord Byron in the six-furlong Group One that he finished second in 12 months ago.
In his guise as a trainer, Murtagh has said that he will leave a decision on whether or not Royal Diamond will tackle the Melbourne Cup until after he has tried to defend his Irish St Leger crown on Sunday week.
Royal Diamond's regular Ballydoyle foe Ernest Hemingway is also an intended starter, while Mark Johnston says that the mile-and-six-furlong Group One has been Universal's target "for some time now."