The Fugue is big overseas Champion hope

Ground looks like turning against Al Kazeem and Cirrus Des Aigles

In 2012 Snow Fairy brought to a halt a near-decade of local success in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes and international hopes of landing this Saturday evening's €750,000 Leopardstown feature increasingly look like resting on John Gosden's star-filly The Fugue.

A brilliant winner of the Yorkshire Oaks just 12 days ago, the filly, owned by composer Lord Lloyd Webber, was among 13 entries left in the mile and quarter centrepiece of a €1.1 million card which is one of the highlights of Ireland's racing year.

As expected the cream of Irish middle-distance talent were among the 13 with Jim Bolger confirming his Curragh Derby hero Trading Leather on course for the race and Aidan O'Brien leaving in a half-dozen strong entry that includes the last two Epsom winners, Ruler Of The World and Camelot, as well as the Juddmonte victor Declaration Of War who bookmakers quickly installed as a 2/1 favourite.

Ground conditions
The international element has contributed immensely over the years to the Champion Stakes being officially rated among the world's top races but ground conditions could prove pivotal in the final make up of the contest which is due off at 6.50pm on Saturday.

Currently the going looks set to rule out both the top British horse Al Kazeem and France's Cirrus Des Aigles who were left in yesterday with a proviso that significant rain is required for them to travel. That doesn't appear on the cards though with watering having started at the Co Dublin track yesterday on ground conditions that were officially firm, and with no significant rainfall expected before the big race.


Al Kazeem already has an Irish Group One to his credit this season in the Tattersalls Gold Cup but trainer Roger Charlton said yesterday: "James Doyle walked the course (on Sunday) before his Group One winner at the Curragh and described the ground as being very quick. So unless there is a change in the weather forecast before the weekend, Al Kazeem is looking a doubtful starter."

Chantilly based Corrine Barrande-Barbe is in a similar predicament with Cirrus Des Aigles who has yet to win this year, having begun the campaign as the world's top rated runner. "The owner wants to wait and see whether there is going to be any rain in Ireland so we have left him in the race. If there is plenty of rain, he will run, but if there is no rain, he will not. If he does not run on Saturday, he will run in the Prix Dollar (October 5th) and then the Champion Stakes at Ascot," she said.

Fingers crossed
That leaves Leopardstown's authorities keeping their fingers crossed for The Fugue who loves a fast surface, and Gosden, a Champion Stakes winner with Muhtarram all of 20 years ago, has encouragingly left another of his top-flight fillies, Elusive Kate, in Saturday's other Group One, the Coolmore Matron Stakes.

There is no such uncertainty about Trading Leather, runner-up to Declaration Of War at York a fortnight ago, and Jim Bolger reported: “The plan is to run Trading Leather. He arrived home from York in good shape and he has been fresh and well since.”

Aidan O’Brien will eclipse even Mick Kinane’s record of seven Irish Champion Stakes victories if successful this weekend and although an immensely strong Ballydoyle entry also includes the Irish Guineas winner Magician and Kingsbarns, a top two-year-old of 2012, it appears that Declaration Of War is shaping up as the champion trainer’s number one contender.

“Declaration Of War was very good at York, and he has been in good shape since. He is a big hardy horse and he loves fast ground and he thrives on his racing. Good fast ground would be important to him,” O’Brien said yesterday.

Paddy Power didn't hesitate to make Elusive Kate, a Group One winner already this term at Newmarket and Deauville, as their 7/4 Matron Stakes favourite.

Willie McCreery's Fiesolana was supplemented into the mile event yesterday at a cost of €20,000 while Dermot Weld's Caponata also has the option of Saturday's Group Three KPMG Enterprise Stakes.
Paddy Power bet: 2 Declaration Of War, 5/2 The Fugue, 7/2 Trading Leather, 4 Al Kazeem, 9/2 Kingsbarns, 8 Magician, Camelot, 12 Ruler Of The World, 14 Cirrus Des Aigles, 16 Princess Highway, 20 Parish Hall.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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