Champions Weekend: Minding gets chance to show pedigree

Dermot Weld targeting Harzand win in Champion Stakes at Leopardstown

History shows it takes an exceptional three-year-old filly to win the QIPCO Irish Champion Stake. This bodes well for Aidan O'Brien's chances of a record eighth win in Ireland's highest-rated race as Minding gives every indication of being just such a singular talent.

Acclaimed as perhaps the best filly the legendary trainer has ever had, Minding will need to prove it against a vintage field assembled for the feature race of the third Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

Irish flat racing’s €4.25 million shop window has fresh ambitions for generating a greater domestic audience profile and developing greater internationalisation in terms of actual competition.

Leopardstown's authorities aim to breach the 14,000 attendance mark on Saturday and with a trio of proven Group 1 stars from France lining up the international box can get ticked too.


But 40 years after it started the job of living up to its unambiguous race title, this is a Champion Stakes which again looks like achieving its perennial task of helping to establish Europe’s pecking order at the top of the middle-distance tree.

Different context

Park Express became the sole three-year-old filly to win it all of 30 years ago when the race was run at the Phoenix Park. It’s a very different context now, not the least of which is that this 2016 renewal stands out even by the standards of an exceptional roll-of-honour.

The dual-Derby hero Harzand attempts to emulate his sire Sea The Stars and allow his trainer Dermot Weld to fill the sole big-race gap on his CV in Ireland in the process.

Rain-softened ground almost derailed Sea The Stars in 2009 but predictions about the going on the currently slower “outer” track at Leopardstown reaching almost “yielding” by today will be music to the ears of the Weld camp.

Harzand was predicted by his jockey Pat Smullen to be a potential Leger type when he won the Ballysax here in April.

Now he is dropping back from a mile and a half and is up against the last two French Derby winners, Almanzor and New Bay, Eclipse victor Hawkbill, former winner The Great Gatsby and last year’s runner-up, Found. Most of all, the colt has Minding on his plate too.

Only Mick Kinane’s seven wins as a jockey equals O’Brien’s race record with all seven of the trainer’s previous wins secured with males.

Minding’s appearance in the Champion Stakes rather than the earlier Coolmore Matron Stakes is its own verdict on the standard of Ballydoyle’s classic colts in 2016. But after mostly looking a different class against her own sex all year, she will now be put to the ultimate test.

Quick going

In terms of ground it is worth recalling early season fears about Minding on quick going and how perhaps her most electrifying display came when overcoming trouble in running in a soft ground Oaks at Epsom.

Cut in the ground looks like a definite plus for the star French filly Qemah in the Matron in which Jean Claude Rouget's runner can once again eclipse both Jet Setting and the O'Brien hope, Alice Springs.

And if the theme of the first day of Champions Weekend comes down to that of the fairer sex emerging on top the boys, then Zhukova will be an appropriate Group 3 winner against Derby runner-up US Army Ranger.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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