Golden Horn and Gleneagles head a star field of eight horses declared for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown tomorrow, a race that will have an earlier start time due to weather concerns.
The Classic-winning pair were set to meet in the Juddmonte International at York last month, but Gleneagles was a late withdrawal due to the ground, while Golden Horn suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Arabian Queen.
The much-awaited showdown between John Gosden’s Derby and Eclipse winner Golden Horn and the Aidan O’Brien-trained dual 2000 Guineas scorer Gleneagles is on again, but connections of the latter are concerned about the ground turning soft.
Gleneagles has not been seen since making it three from three for the year in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
O’Brien is also represented by Secretariat Stakes winner Highland Reel and top-class filly Found.
Last year’s winner The Grey Gatsby is set to defend his crown for Kevin Ryan, while Dermot Weld’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes hero Free Eagle is another major contender.
Corine Barande-Barbe’s French superstar Cirrus Des Aigles and Jim Bolger’s Irish 1,000 Guineas and Yorkshire Oaks heroine Pleascach complete a stellar field.
The only withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage was Legatissimo, who goes for the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes on the same card.
To ensure the Champion Stakes will be run on the best possible ground, it will now be the fifth event of the card at 5.45pm, having originally been scheduled as race seven at 6.50pm.
The feature will be the first race to be run on fresh ground on the outside track, while the first four contests are on the inside course.
Rain is forecast overnight on Friday, but Saturday is expected to be dry.
Nessa Joyce, Leopardstown’s racing and operations manager, explained the reasoning behind the changes to the programme.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can for our Group One races to give them the best ground,” she said.
“We’d already planned in advance by making two tracks, the first four on the inside and the last four on the outside.
“We are going to have the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes as the first race run on the outside track. It hasn’t been raced on at all this year.
“The rain is still an unknown factor. We still don’t know and, because of the 48-hour declarations, we’ve had to make the decision today.
“We have simply swapped the fifth and seventh races. We spoke to all the trainers before we did it and they were happy to do it and that the jockeys would not be inconvenienced if they were coming from Doncaster.
“We felt it was in the best interests on the day and give everyone a crack at the best ground.
“It’s fast ground at the moment. On the outside track it’s good to firm, firm in places. We are looking at another dry day today, so it might tighten up another bit, so we are well prepared if there is rain coming and any that comes or way.
“At the moment we believe it will rain overnight on Friday and stop at 3am Saturday morning, which gives Saturday a dry and bright day.
“It’s our Group One showpiece and we have to do everything to protect it and we have another Group One [the Matron Stakes] as well. It’s a fair thing for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Amazing Maria is set to face nine rivals when she bids to complete a Group One hat-trick in tomorrow’s Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes.
David O’Meara’s filly has proved beyond doubt there was no fluke about her shock victory in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot by securing back-to-back top-level wins in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and the Prix Rothschild at Deauville.
Amazing Maria is joined on the trip from Britain by the Marco Botti-trained Euro Charline, last seen finishing fourth when defending her crown in the Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park in Chicago.
The home team is headed by 1000 Guineas and Nassau Stakes heroine Legatissimo.
David Wachman’s stable star had the option of taking on the boys in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes on the same card, but instead sticks to her own sex and drops back in distance to the mile.
The supplemented Ainippe is an interesting contender for Ger Lyons, stepping up in class following a couple of Group Three successes this summer.
Brooch, Iveagh Gardens, Military Angel, Raydara and Steip Amach complete the Irish contingent, with Alain de Royer-Dupre’s French raider Cladocera rounding off the field.
Dermot Weld has warned Fascinating Rock will only run in the KPMG Enterprise Stakes tomorrow if the heavens open before the Group Three contest.
The four-year-old showed he can be a force to be reckoned with when he has conditions to suit by finishing second to Al Kazeem in the Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh in May.
Though he disappointed when only fifth in the Winter Hill Stakes at Windsor recently, Weld has not lost faith in his talented middle-distance performer and has identified the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 17 as a potential alternative to this weekend’s race if the going is fast in his homeland.
“He’s ground dependent and if the forecast shows there’s an awful lot of rain he will run. Without rain, he’s unlikely to run,” Weld told At The Races.
“He ran a superb race in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.
“I’ve always thought the English Champion Stakes, if we got similar weather as last year, would be the race for him.”
Frankie Dettori had been linked with the ride on Bondi Beach at Doncaster, but will now head straight to Leopardstown to partner Derby winner Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes after the Group One showpiece at the Dublin track was brought forward 65 minutes, from 6.50pm to 5.45pm.
With the St Leger not due off until 3.45pm it would have left Dettori little time to fly to Ireland.
“We can only go one place. There’s not sufficient time to ride in both races,” said his agent Ray Cochrane.
“There is, but you’d be putting people through a lot of sweat, so we’re going straight to Leopardstown.
“There’s nothing any of us can do about the weather. We want to do the best for the people we’re riding for. It’s as simple as that.
“Frankie had rides in the first four races at Doncaster, the last one being in the Leger and then we were going to shoot over to Ireland and be there in good time.
“Now, they’ve changed it by bringing it forward there’s no point thinking of trying to do both.
“Frankie’s had a good run with John Gosden and Golden Horn is the best ride he’s got all year.
“He’s riding Golden Horn and Euro Charline at Leopardstown and then more likely Frankie will ride in France on Sunday.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved