Free Eagle can step up to take Irish Champions Stakes at Leopardstown

Dermot Weld can claim glaring omission from CV in highlight of Champions Weekend

Free Eagle has been firmly centre-stage along with Golden Horn and Gleneagles among a perceived ‘big three’ for the Irihjs Champions Stakes. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Free Eagle has been firmly centre-stage along with Golden Horn and Gleneagles among a perceived ‘big three’ for the Irihjs Champions Stakes. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The weather outlook ahead of a potentially epic QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes could mean some uneasy sleep around Newmarket and Tipperary but the fact Dermot Weld is likely to have enjoyed a comparatively stress-free night on the Curragh further points towards Free Eagle’s claims for the ‘Longines Champions Weekend’ highlight.

Leopardstown’s €1.1 million feature is a glaring omission from Weld’s domestic big-race CV but 12 months after returning from injury to stamp himself a colt of huge potential by winning on the undercard here, Free Eagle can step up to put that right in the main event itself.

Even in a star-studded contest, with remarkably all eight starters Group or Grade 1 winners, there’s still a pecking order in terms of billing and on the long run-in to Irish racing’s showpiece weekend, Free Eagle has been firmly centre-stage along with Golden Horn and Gleneagles among a perceived ‘big three.’

However, crucially, unlike his three year old classic winning rivals, Free Eagle has been conspicuously absent from speculation as to whether he might or might not line subject to whatever the notoriously fickle Irish weather produces in terms of ground conditions.

This has steadfastly been his target since breaking his own Group 1 duck at Royal Ascot last June. And on what will be just his sixth career start, it’s not unreasonable to expect his best could be yet to come.

It will need to be because although he boasts an official rating of 123, it is still half a stone behind the Derby winner Golden Horn who earned that mark through beating The Great Gatsby a lot easier in Sandown’s Eclipse than Free Eagle did in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

That sort of mark, allied to how last year’s dramatic winner The Great Gatsby has been comparatively overlooked in the run-up, testifies to a potentially outstanding line-up.

The Great Gatsby hasn’t won this year but continues to show form at or near a level that saw him controversially trump Australia last season.

Cirrus Des Aigles, a true superstar of world racing, is making his comeback after injury but not since having had the thankless task of chasing home Frankel on his final start can the French horse have been so overlooked in big-race considerations.

Godolphin have an outstanding Champion Stakes record over the years and in Pleascach have a classic winning filly who also scored in last month’s Yorkshire Oaks while Found entered Arc de Triomphe considerations with a hugely impressive victory some weeks ago when stepped up from a mile for the first time.

It is the idea of her stable companion Gleneagles doing the same which has provoked so much anticipation though and there will be intense focus on Aidan O’Brien’s decision as to whether or not the colt runs.

Golden Horn too has ground factors hanging over him but John Gosden’s willingness to allow the outstanding Derby winner take his chance on good to soft looks to allow the English star more latitude. It was good to soft after all when Golden Horn lost his unbeaten record in York’s International and Gosden is inclined to put that down more to tactical error than surface.

In contrast, Weld knows Free Eagle is best on quick ground but also managed an admirably game third in last Autumn’s English Champion on heavy. The weather will have to be a real spoilsport for something similar to apply now but it’s that versatility, allied to having had just a single race already in 2015, which could steer things to Free Eagle.

Legatissimo would have been fancied by some shrewd judges if she’d lined up in the Champion but instead the Coolmore team has opted for the Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes over a mile.

The David Wachman-Wayne Lordan team have some unfinished business with the Matron - having seen Duntle controversially disqualified in 2012 - but it is a nagging doubt that Legatissimo’s sole poor effort this year came on soft ground here in the Spring.

Once again overnight weather could have a depressingly major influence and should it get soft, the French runner, Cladocera, may upset a few at a big price.

In the circumstances, Sanus Per Aquam, translated as ‘health through water,’ might be a topical winner of the Group 3 Juvenile Stakes while his stable companion Answered can strike in the Enterprise Stakes after running into Found last time.

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