Derby favourite Free Eagle may return to Leopardstown for Group Three

Dermot Weld says Sapphire is unlikely to run this year

The hugely exciting Free Eagle, already favourite for next year’s Derby, could make a quicker than expected second career start at Leopardstown’s Irish Champion Stakes fixture on Saturday week.

Dermot Weld has nominated the Group Three Icon Breeders Cup Turf Trial as an option for Free Eagle who earned rave reviews from the trainer and jockey Pat Smullen when making a scintillating debut at the Co Dublin track this month.

That was enough to have bookmakers installing the son of High Chaparral as favourite for next year’s blue-riband race at Epsom, with Ladbrokes as low as 8 to 1.

Beresford option
Weld initially nominated the Beresford Stakes at the end of September, or the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, as targets for Free Eagle but is now pondering returning to the course and distance of that exciting first start.


“He may well run in the Group Three at Leopardstown in two weeks’ time,” he said yesterday. “We haven’t asked him to do anything really since he ran . . . It could be the race at Leopardstown, or the Beresford at the Curragh next.”

Orchestra, who finished a five-and-a-half length runner-up to Free Eagle, has since boosted the form by winning easily at Tipperary.

Free Eagle is a half brother to high-class mare Sapphire, winner of the big mares event at Ascot on Champions Day last year, but who now looks like not making it to the track in 2013.

“She’s had a hold up and I would say is unlikely to run this year,” said Weld who had been targeting Sapphire at a title-defence at Ascot. “I will discuss with the owners [Moyglare Stud] what we’ll do next with her.”

Weld is closing on the €1 million prize-money mark in Ireland this year, but has yet to strike at Group One level, something he aims to put right with some of his star stayers later in the season.

Rite Of Passage holds an entry in the Irish Leger but is unlikely to make that race. Weld may instead send out those two high-class mares, Pale Mimosa and Voleuse De Coeurs.

“Rite Of Passage will probably go for a race like the Prix Du Cadran [on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe day] rather than the Leger,” said Weld.

Seldom-seen star
"He needs long distances. It is very much day by day with him, but he's coming along," added the trainer of the seldom-seen star who hasn't run since returning from a 510 day absence to win at Ascot last October.

Before that the trainer's Group One focus will be on this Sunday's Moyglare Stud Stakes where he plans to run the sponsor's hope Carla Bianca, runner-up to Australia on her debut.

“She’s our likely runner although I wouldn’t like to see too much rain during the week,” added Weld.

English trainer Hugo Palmer is hoping for the opposite in order to take his Irish Cambridgeshire hope Ascription to the Curragh this weekend. Palmer blamed quick going at Haydock for defeat last time.

“He’s in the Irish Cambridgeshire but he needs cut in the ground. It was too quick in the final furlong for him at Haydock. I took a risk and it didn’t pay off. If it’s on the soft side of good he’ll go over and have a good chance. If not, he’ll possibly wait for one of the valuable seven-furlong handicaps at Ascot in October,” he said.

"There's also a Listed in France in October at the back of my mind, but I won't run him too many more times because I think he'd be perfect for the Tapeta races in Dubai."

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column