Strong international challenge for Longines Irish Champions Weekend 2017
June 2, 2017
Dual Guineas winner Churchill and stablemate Minding head the list of entries for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown but the home team face a potentially tough international challenge with last year’s winner Almanzor, star miler Ribchester and Japan’s Horse of the Year, Kitasan Black, also among the initial entry.
The race is the feature on day one of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend on September 9, with the day two highlight at the Curragh – the Comer Group International St Leger on September 10 – already anticipating a rematch between last year’s first and second, Wicklow Brave and Order Of St George.
Early entries for both the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes and the Comer Group International Irish St Leger continue to grow year on year – both races have 67 entries, further increases on 2016.
Aidan O’Brien’s star three-year-olds, Churchill, Winter and Rhododendron are among his 20 entries, a list that includes seven-time Group 1 winner Minding and Epsom challenger Cliffs Of Moher. Dermot Weld is also strongly represented: The Grey Gatsby, successful in this race for trainer Kevin Ryan in 2014, and recent Grade 1 Man o’War Stakes winner Zhukova, are among his entries. In all, there are 33 Irish-trained entries.
Almanzor became the first French-trained winner at Longines Irish Champions Weekend last September, winning a renewal of the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes so high-class it was named last season’s highest-rated race in Europe and joint-highest rated Turf race in the world.
Almanzor confirmed himself as the World Champion three-year-old on Turf when following up in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot in October for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and the four-year-old heads a French entry of five that also intriguingly includes Newmarket Guineas third Al Wukair, Mekhtaal, winner of the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly last weekend, French 2,000 Guineas winner Brametot and leading QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club hopeful Recoletos.
Kitasan Black gained an automatic place in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes with his success in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin at the beginning of April and has since gone on to win the Grade 1 Tenno Sho for the second year running at Kyoto his trainer Hisashi Shimizu said this morning:
“Kitasan Black returned to my barn at Ritto last week. I have entered him in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes as this race is still an option as his first start in Europe”.
A total of 28 British entries, the same number as last year, have been made for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes. Ribchester, a clear-cut winner of the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month, has been put in the race by trainer Richard Fahey while leading Epsom Derby hope Cracksman, in the same colours as 2015 winner Golden Horn, could represent John Gosden, who also has Jack Hobbs in the race. Saeed bin Suroor has made six entries, including Best Solution, another big hope for the Epsom showpiece on Saturday.
The Comer Group International Irish St Leger at The Curragh is the feature event at the Curragh on Sunday, September 10 and can boast an initial entry of 67 horses, an increase of 15 on last year. The Willie Mullins-trained Wicklow Brave readily accounted for Aidan O’Brien’s Order Of St George in this race last year and the pair head the entries for the final classic of the season, a race worth €500,000 for the first time. Mullins has also entered Max Dynamite, runner-up in the Melbourne Cup in 2015.
Other notable Irish entries include Ballydoyle’s Idaho, Capri, Venice Beach, Yucatan and Douglas Macarthur while Torcedor, unbeaten in two starts since joining Jessica Harrington, Jim Bolger’s Twilight Payment and the John Oxx-trained Naughty Or Nice also catch the eye.
Iraklion, fourth in the Group 2 Comer Group International Oleander-Rennen at Hoppegarten last month, has been entered by German trainer Christian Sprengel while the Andre Fabre-trained Waldgeist, successful in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud last October, could carry the hopes of France.
There is a strong British representation of 28 entries which compares favourably to 16 last year and 13 in 2015. Dartmouth edged out Simple Verse to win the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup last month and both could represent Sir Michael Stoute and Ralph Beckett. Big Orange, trained by Michael Bell, was a good winner of the Group 3 Henry II Stakes at Sandown early last week while the progressive Frontiersman has been entered by Charlie Appleby. Harbour Law, last season’s Doncaster St Leger winner, could yet represent Laura Mongan.
Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland, said, “It is hugely encouraging that the entries the both the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes and the Comer Group International Irish St Leger have once again shown an increase on the previous year. It is a mark of how far Longines Irish Champions Weekend has come in a short space of time and we are committed to further growing the event as it cements its important position on the international racing calendar.”