Monday 21 May 2018

Harzand can prove himself a true Champion

Pat Smullen and Harzand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Pat Smullen and Harzand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Wayne Bailey

Even we Dubs who grew up surrounded by concrete are familiar with the name Massey Ferguson, the company which is partly named after Harry Ferguson, a Co Down man who helped develop the modern tractor.

We are all acquainted with the story of the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903, but it's less known that alongside tractors, Ferguson was an aviation pioneer too and was the first person in Britain or Ireland to build, and then fly, his own aeroplane, in 1909.

It caught on quickly. A year later in 1910, big crowds gathered at Leopardstown racecourse to watch Ireland's first ever air show.

The following day, the Irish Independent reported that "never before has such a large assemblage gathered at Leopardstown. It is roughly estimated that 6,000 paid for admission to the ground, but more than double that number must have viewed the flights from points of vantage outside".

The grandstand, this paper reported, "showed a remarkable display of rank and fashion".

Almost 106 years to the day, big crowds of all rank and fashion are once again expected at Leopardstown to watch what might be described as flying machines - although this time they are of the equine variety.


Along with the Curragh tomorrow, the Foxrock venue plays host to the top-class Longines Irish Champions weekend with no less than ten Group races spread over the two-day event.

Today's feature is the Irish Champion Stakes (6.45), for which bookmakers have chalked up Aidan O'Brien's Minding as favourite, ahead of Dermot Weld's Harzand.

For sure, the 1,000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks winner has extremely strong claims and has won six of her last seven races all of which were Group Ones.

But racing against your own sex doesn't always give the full picture, and this is surely her toughest assignment to date, especially if we get a little cut in the ground and it becomes a physical test against the males.

Of course, she won the Oaks on softer going, so that might not hold her back, but this is a little more open than the market suggests and at a price in the region of 11/4, I'm happy to avoid the Galileo filly this evening.

Weld is yet to win this race but Harzand can put that right, and odds of 3/1 or thereabouts seem generous.

A son of Sea The Stars, the mile and a quarter trip might be a little on the short side but all the best horses are reasonably versatile and the way he took control in the Epsom Derby was quite striking.

As it stands, he's 5/1 for the Arc in early October and this may well turn out to be the race of the weekend.

The likes of Almanzor and Found are live threats too and I wouldn't put anyone off backing either of those each-way if they don't fancy one of the market leaders.

A little earlier on the same card, French raider Qemah is tipped around 5/4 in the Group One Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (5.35).

Trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, the Danehill Dancer filly has made just one trip abroad but it proved fruitful as she put in one of the best performances of her career to win the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

She later went on to win the Group One Prix Rothschild at Deauville with a bit in hand, and she seems to be getting into the swing of things, having disappointed when third in a Group One at that course in May.

John Gosden's Persuasive is the one most likely to present a challenge under Frankie Dettori. She's unbeaten in five runs and is improving with every race although the highest level she's tackled is Group Three, so this is a significant step up in class.

Across the water at Chester, Hereawi ticks all the right boxes in the Betway Stayers Handicap (5.0), and her forecast price of 13/8 seems reasonable considering just four runners go to post.

For whatever reason, the inside draw at Chester has not proved quite as advantageous this term as it has in years past, but Hereawi's position in stall one certainly won't be a hindrance and I hope to see Fran Berry get her out in front on the inside rail as early as possible, as she prefers to race prominently.

She was third of four runners in a handicap at Salisbury last time, which looks disappointing on paper, but it was quite a tactical race and she lost ground moving towards the near side to make a challenge.

She remains on the same mark of 84 and I expect her to bounce back to form this afternoon. A drop of rain will help.

Tomorrow's Irish St Leger at the Curragh (4.50) is a race best watched without a bet.

Last year's winner Order Of St George looks head and shoulders above the opposition, and is described by O'Brien as being in "great order".

However, bookmakers are certainly taking no chances on the Royal Ascot Gold Cup winner, which was as short as 1/5 in the betting yesterday evening.


A field of 22 go to post for the Ladbrokes Portland Handicap (2.35) and it's as tricky as it sounds, with almost half the field in with some sort of chance.

One horse that might be getting overlooked around 16/1 is last year's runner-up Harry Hurricane, a four-year-old colt trained by George Baker off the same mark of 95. He was rated 98 in July having put in some decent shifts, which included success in a competitive handicap at York, and this 5f trip would appear to be his optimum distance.

More recently, he was fifth behind Boom The Groom and Duke Of Firenze in a top-class sprint handicap at York off a mark of 96, and he could have finished closer had he found a gap earlier.

Today's selections

2.35 Doncaster: Harry Hurricane (e/w)

3.25 Chester: Sayesse (e/w)

3.45 Doncaster: Idaho

5.0 Chester: Hereawi

5.35 Leopardstown: Qemah

6.45 Leopardstown: Harzand

Irish Independent

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