Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Rip Van Winkle looks Champion material

Damien McElroy

The Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes has produced many thrilling duels in recent renewals and another keen battle for supremacy, invariably involving a couple of Ballydoyle stars, is in prospect today at Leopardstown.

Bedevilled by bad weather for the past two years, the principal flat race of the season at the Dublin course will be staged on a well-watered track, affording the presumed principals a re-run of their exciting clash on a similarly safe surface at York.

It is just 18 days since Johnny Murtagh pounced with a reinvigorated Rip Van Winkle in the closing strides to snatch the Juddmonte International spoils from Henry Cecil's Twice Over.

Back on home soil at a venue where he has won in the past, Murtagh's mount is odds-on with all the major firms to repeat the feat now at a slightly shorter trip and over a track which Twice Over's connections reportedly believe may suit the Observatory colt better.

While the distance from the home turn here is much less than at York, hopes that Twice Over might be less vulnerable to attack in the closing stages could founder on a number of issues.

The climb to the post in Leopardstown is much stiffer than it might appear from the stands, the runner-up had the element of surprise on his side during the Ebor Festival and year-younger Rip Van Winkle could strip even fitter and more alert on this occasion.

Twice Over has been the more competitive of the pair this summer and had tougher races as a consequence, firstly when outpaced in Ascot by Byword and then when taking what looked a somewhat sub-standard Coral-Eclipse at Sandown before the York showdown.

Full marks though to Henry Cecil for committing his current star performer to the rematch in a top-class contest. Cecil has seen his faith in Tom Queally handsomely rewarded and Twice Over does appear a much better proposition than Mark Johnston's supplemented multiple scorer Sea Lord to become the first English-trained winner since Grandera denied Hawk Wing in 2002.

Course specialist Famous Name, in the same ownership as Twice Over, might find 10 furlongs in Group One company beyond him again and, conversely, this intermediate distance may not facilitate Cape Blanco to perform to the level he showed when taking the Irish Derby.

Unable to cope with Japan-bound Harbinger off a generous pace in the King George at Ascot, Cape Blanco is a durable and genuine colt that's expected to prove a more potent threat to the presumed principals than Beethoven.

With three of the six runners today hailing from Ballydoyle, champion trainer Aidan O'Brien is in the enviable position of being long odds-on to make it a half-dozen Irish Champion Stakes victories and it all adds up to Rip Van Winkle being the colt to lead them home now, and compensate him for Sea The Stars accounting for both Fame And Glory and Mastercraftsman in last year's memorable version.

Rainbow View was the Coolmore Matron Stakes winner on that occasion to sustain the excellent record of English raiders in today's twin Group One contest and the prize could go for export yet again, despite the return to action of Dermot Weld's Bethrah.

Coronation Stakes one-two Lillie Langtry and Gile Na Greine plus Cork winner Hen Night back up Weld's early season course and distance scorer in a decent home defence that could struggle, however, to contain Falmouth Stakes one-two Music Show and Spacious.

Runner-up at Deauville to the brilliant Goldikova since overtaking a free-running Spacious at Newmarket, Music Show would look a worthy favourite to cope with these six rivals presuming there's a proper pace to play to her strengths.

English pair South Easter and Nanton could be left to scrap for minor places in the preceding Kilternan Stakes as Dermot Weld unveils French import Cashelgar and Tommy Stack saddles Noll Wallop. Cashelgar, with a rating of 110, merits the utmost respect, even if personal preference is for Noll Wallop (109) which is expected to be well suited by a step up in trip to 10 furlongs.

Irish Independent

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