Tuesday 20 March 2018

Golden Horn and Gleneagles declared for superstar showdown in Irish Champion Stakes

Golden Horn ridden by Frankie Dettori
Golden Horn ridden by Frankie Dettori

Keith Hamer

Golden Horn and Gleneagles head a star field of eight horses declared for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday, a race that will have an earlier start time due to weather concerns.

The Classic-winning pair were set to meet in the Juddmonte International at York last month, but Gleneagles was a late withdrawal due to the ground while Golden Horn suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Arabian Queen.

The much-awaited showdown between John Gosden's Derby and Eclipse winner Golden Horn and the Aidan O'Brien-trained dual 2000 Guineas scorer Gleneagles is on again - but connections of the latter remain concerned about the ground turning soft.

Gleneagles has not been seen since making it three from three for the year in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

O'Brien is also represented by Secretariat Stakes winner Highland Reel and top-class filly Found.

Last year's winner The Grey Gatsby is set to defend his crown for Kevin Ryan, while Dermot Weld's Prince of Wales's Stakes hero Free Eagle is another major contender.

Corine Barande-Barbe's French superstar Cirrus Des Aigles and Jim Bolger's Irish 1,000 Guineas and Yorkshire Oaks heroine Pleascach complete a stellar field.

The only withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage was Legatissimo, who goes for the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes on the same card.

To ensure the Champion Stakes will be run on the best possible ground, it will now be the fifth event of the card at 5.45, having originally been scheduled as race seven at 6.50.

The feature will be the first race to be run on fresh ground on the outside track, while the first four contests are on the inside course.

Rain is forecast overnight on Friday, but Saturday is expected to be dry.

Nessa Joyce, Leopardstown's racing and operations manager, explained the reasoning behind the changes to the programme.

"We're trying to do as much as we can for our Group One races to give them the best ground," she said.

"We'd already planned in advance by making two tracks, the first four on the inside and the last four on the outside.

"We are going to have the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes as the first race run on the outside track. It hasn't been raced on at all this year.

"The rain is still an unknown factor. We still don't know and because of the 48-hour declarations we've had to make the decision today.

"We have simply swapped the fifth and seventh races. We spoke to all the trainers before we did it and they were happy to do it and that the jockeys would not be inconvenienced if they were coming from Doncaster.

"We felt it was in the best interests on the day and give everyone a crack at the best ground.

"It's fast ground at the moment. On the outside track it's good to firm, firm in places. We are looking at another dry day today so it might tighten up another bit, so we are well prepared if there is rain coming and any that comes or way.

"At the moment we believe it will rain overnight on Friday and stop at 3am Saturday morning, which gives Saturday a dry and bright day.

"It's our Group One showpiece and we have to do everything to protect it and we have another Group One (the Matron Stakes) as well. It's a fair thing for everyone."

Press Association

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