Cirrus boosts Champion as Walsh eyes Australia trip
A Qipco Irish Champion Stakes that already has a mouth-watering look to it received a further boost yesterday when Corine Barande-Barbe indicated that the Group One is on Cirrus Des Aigles' agenda.
Barande-Barbe was speaking following the unveiling of the entries for the original version of the 10-furlong event at Ascot on October 17. Her popular nine-year-old gelding is one of 46 entered for the £1.3m Champions Day event, with the names of Irish stars Gleneagles and Free Eagle also on the list alongside that of the brilliant Derby hero, Golden Horn.
Gleneagles, Golden Horn and Free Eagle all have the Juddmonte International at York on August 19 as an option, as well as Leopardstown's Irish Champion Stakes the following month. Last year's Kevin Ryan-trained Leopardstown victor The Grey Gatsby is due to take in both races.
Others' plans for the €1.1m Irish Champion Stakes on September 12 remain fluid, but confirmation that Cirrus Des Aigles will participate en route to Ascot is a real boon for the country's premier Flat race.
The game French veteran has won seven Group Ones, most recently toppling Al Kazeem - which went on to win the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh before being retired earlier this week - in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp in May. He subsequently picked up a slight injury when fourth of four behind Solow in the Prix d'Ispahan.
"Cirrus Des Aigles is recovering well and is on schedule to run in the Irish Champion Stakes as a prep race for the Champion Stakes at Ascot, with the Prix Dollar a possibility in between the two," Barande-Barbe said yesterday.
Bookmaker Paddy Power installed Cirrus Des Aigles at odds of 10/1 for the Irish Champion, with Free Eagle the firm's 2/1 favourite ahead of Gleneagles at 5/2 and The Grey Gatsby at 5/1. Gleneagles has also been put in the QE II Stakes.
On Sunday, Aidan O'Brien will bid for his 14th win in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh. He has Air Force Blue, Painted Cliffs and Washington DC engaged in the season's first juveniles' Group One, with Air Force Blue's Royal Ascot conqueror Buratino one of five cross-channel entries among 10 in total.
Also on Sunday, Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron, Evanna McCutcheon's Maarek and Tracey Collins's Majestic Queen all feature in the entries for the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville. The same day, Ruby Walsh will take up the offer of a ride on local legend Bashboy in the Australian Grand National. The ride on the dual winner of the Ballarat race became available due to regular rider Steve Pateman being suspended.
"This is a new adventure for me," Walsh (above) told Racing UK. "It's good prize-money, prestigious racing and it was nice to be asked. It was a very unexpected phone call, but a nice one all the same."
Walsh has spoken with colleague Stephen Gray, who has had stints riding in Australia, ahead of flying out tomorrow. "He said it was a fine, level track - pretty straightforward," he explained, "so we'll take it as we find it."
Bashboy's trainer Ciaron Maher said of the booking: "It's funny how it all worked out, really. I was sitting back in my chair at home a week ago thinking, 'Who on earth's going to ride Bashboy?' I suddenly thought about Ruby, but just accepted it was pie in the sky.
"Then I remembered that Mike Symons, who is the chairman of Melbourne Racing Club, knows Willie Mullins quite a bit. Mike spoke to Willie and when we found out that Ruby was keen, we couldn't really believe it."