No Arabian Queen but stellar Champion race still on cards
Arabian Queen will not renew rivalry with Golden Horn at Leopardstown on Saturday but the other main protagonists for a potentially epic Qipco Irish Champion Stakes remain in the mix after yesterday's five-day entry stage.
John Gosden's brilliant Derby victor tasted defeat for a first time when foiled by the David Elsworth-trained 50/1 shot Arabian Queen in the Juddmonte International at York last month.
Elsworth had considered supplementing Arabian Queen for Saturday's €1.1m Group One, but the lack of rainfall in the Dublin area recently means that his three-year-old will instead lock horns with the dual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Treve in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp on Sunday.
The ground at Leopardstown was yesterday officially changed from good to good to firm, good in places on the outside track, which will be utilised for the climax of day one of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend on Saturday evening.
All told, that was a welcome development for those eager to see the marquee event realise the full extent of its staggering potential.
Dermot Weld's Free Eagle, deeply impressive in landing the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, and the redoubtable French legend Cirrus Des Aigles are both intended participants at this stage regardless of the ground conditions, as is the reigning title holder, The Grey Gatsby.
David Wachman's Legatissimo and Jim Bolger's Pleascach are two Classic-winning fillies that were also unveiled among the nine entries to go forward for the race yesterday, although the Matron Stakes is understood to be Legatissimo's more likely destination.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Found and his Secretariat Stakes winner Highland Reel are other three-year-olds engaged in the Champion.
However, it is the prospect of a belated showdown between their stablemate Gleneagles and Golden Horn that really gets the juices flowing.
If the ground holds up, the classy dual 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes winner will likely oppose his Classic-winning rival.
That particular duel was thwarted by rain-softened ground at York, and, despite Elsworth's decision not to add Arabian Queen to the field, it isn't out of the question that a similar eventuality could unfold.
One usually reliable weather forecasting website indicates that approximately 17mm of rain could fall in the area between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening.
If that were to materialise, then O'Brien, whose son Joseph is expected to ride Gleneagles should he run rather than partner any of the stable's three contenders in the St Leger at Doncaster, would have another big decision to make.
O'Brien has already nominated the QE II at Ascot next month as a potential alternative for Gleneagles, which is a top-priced 4/1 for Saturday's race.
Golden Horn hardened into as low as 7/4 at the top of the ante-post market yesterday, with Free Eagle easy to back at up to 11/4. It is 10/1 bar the three.
Of the 10 to go forward for the Matron Stakes over a mile, David O'Meara's Amazing Maria could be the most potent threat to Legatissimo. The rejuvenated grey is chasing a Group One hat-trick following triumphs at Newmarket and Deauville.
There is a further threat of rainfall into Sunday, but the depth of entries for ICW's second leg at the Curragh is even more striking.
Last year's Palmerstown House Irish St Leger victor Brown Panther is one of 16 left in the mile-and-six-furlong event, along with the likes of Weld's Forgotten Rules and Brian Meehan's Newbury winner Agent Murphy.
In all, there are a massive 227 entries for the eight races, with next year's 1,000 Guineas market leaders Ballydoyle and Tanaza among 15 in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
On a card brimful of quality, the 2,000 Guineas ante-post favourite Air Force Blue is one of 14 in the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes.
Meanwhile, Tony McCoy will line up alongside Johnny Murtagh in the Clipper Logistics Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster today.
The recently-retired 20-times champion jockey will ride the Brendan Powell-trained Gannicus in the straight-mile contest, with Murtagh getting the leg up on Commissar.