Saturday 17 March 2018

Winner can be Found in Champion Stakes renewal that evokes Fantastic memories

Moore: will be aboard Minding. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Moore: will be aboard Minding. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

If one were asked for a Qipco Champion Stakes memory, one might summon involuntarily from the depths of the mind thoughts of Fantastic Light, Galileo, High Chaparral and Falbrav.

After Fantastic Light broke the heart of Galileo in 2001, Sunday Independent writer Ian McClean reported: "They came to crown a king at Leopardstown but found that the crown did not quite fit (in) a rematch which caused more stir at the Foxrock venue than any flat race I can remember."

Falbrav's rider Darryll Holland will never relish recalling the 2003 edition, finding traffic in a seven-runner field while Michael Kinane gleefully deployed the bus lane on High Chaparral. That septet boasted 17 Group Ones between them as they milled about at the start.

About 20,000 watched Fantastic Light. There will hardly be 20,000 today - perhaps 15,000 - but those who travel can relish a showpiece that stands up with the best renewals; a race for the ages.

Dettori's quest to equal Kinane's record seven victories in the €1.25m ten-furlong homage to virtuosity ran aground when Dermot Weld scratched Fascinating Rock. That is about the only potential player which got the day off.

In pitching Minding, Found and Highland Reel into the ring, the Coolmore/Ballydoyle axis had done more than enough for the race; supplementing Sir Isaac Newton was akin to paying a whopper of a bill for the table, leaving the credit card behind the bar - and then giving everyone a ride home.

Was it a difficult one for Ryan Moore in calling on Minding? Most likely not but Found, beaten a length in last year's renewal, was probably whispering her credentials to the great man.

On the face of it, Found is no Minding. However, we clearly do not know how good Minding is. Today we find out, and that is what the Champions Stakes should be all about: pitching the boys against the girls, three-year-olds versus elders, milers tackling middle-distance steeds at a trip in between.

Speaking to this paper on Thursday, Seamus Heffernan spoke of Found's "massive chance". She gives the impression that the big field over ten furlongs will be the next thing to perfect.

She travelled beautifully in the Yorkshire Oaks, has been trained to peak for another autumnal campaign and is available at 10/1, whereas her stablemate is disputing favouritism with fellow dual-Classic winning three-year-old Harzand.

Last evening, they each traded at a best-priced 3/1. Minding has been utterly dominant against three-year-old fillies, showing remarkable trip-versatility.

Harzand has thrived at a mile and a half and there has to be a doubt about his pace for this distance, for all that there is none about the confidence of his trainer, Weld, who has yet to win the race.

Its depth is such that 2014 winner The Grey Gatsby is a fancy price. Compatriot Hawkbill won an Eclipse but nobody seems to rate his chance. Even the French could not resist, with three representatives.

The other Group One, the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron, is ripe for export. Qemah arrived on Thursday with stablemate Almanzor, a leading hope in the Champion.

Their trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, rarely runs any of his horses in Ireland but one can see why the lure was great today and Qemah appeals as the class act.

The under-card has no Group One but quite a few Group One-class horses, including US Army Ranger, which has Moore's help in the Group Three KPMG Enterprise Stakes, in which stable ally Tree Of Knowledge may be tasked with making it a nice pace for the likely favourite and O'Brien's third runner, Bondi Beach.

Bondi Beach is a high-class course-and-distance winner and looks much better value at 5/1 than US Army Ranger does at around even money. He gets lock status.

Classic winner Awtaad would ensure an emotional post-parade for 84-year-old trainer Kevin Prendergast if he can gleefully accept a class drop in the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes.

Breeders' Cup winner Hit It A Bomb, which travelled sweetly in his prep at the track, may have his measure under Moore, who should have less of a sweat on General Macarthur in the Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile Stakes.

Today's two handicaps boast an aggregate purse of €300,000. In both races, the Aga Khan-Weld-Pat Smullen team appeals, with the hardy Radanpour selected in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund 'Petingo' Handicap and Sikandarabad a major player in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund 'Sovereign Path' Handicap.

Leopardstown has it all today: beautiful weather, horses and people. Bring it on.

Irish Independent

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