Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

By Stephen Dwyer

Saturday September 4th 2010
Leopardstown 15:45
Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes (group 1)
€750000.00 added, 3yo plus, 1m 2f, Class 1, €434500.00 penalty

Those four simple lines should tell you all need to know about the Irish Champion Stakes. But they don’t. Tattersalls might need to consider their position on the naming convention; it is no longer the Tattersalls “Millions” but rather the Tattersalls “Three quarters of a million”. Down from a prize fund of €1,000,000 in 2009 to €750,000 this year, you might ask has the Irish Champion Stakes lost any of its gloss? Maybe, but then again this is not 2009 and paint is much scarcer now.

Looking back over past winners is like that moment in a University’s conferral ceremony when the Registrar awards honorary degrees to prestigious leaders in their field. Since 1976 we have seen Giant’s Causeway, Dylan Thomas, Sadler’s Wells, Inkerman, Daylami and of course, a contender for a new “himself” (Sea The Stars) claim the Irish Champion Stakes. The great sire, Sadler’s Wells, was quickest of all when Pat Eddery led the field on a merry dance in 1984. Aficionados will assert that particular race was in the Phoenix Park, and not Leopardstown, thus there may be some consternation over the time of the race. Still the fact cannot be disputed and that’s why it’s included.

The Champion Stakes, sitting as it does at the latter end of the flat season, is a very prestigious event. As of last year, the winner of the Champion Stakes earns an automatic invitation to compete in the three million Breeders’ Cup Turf race. This makes it the fourth race in Ireland to be included, along with the Moyglare Stud Stakes, the Phoenix Stakes and Pretty Polly Stakes. It’s a tempting carrot.

Saturday’s Leopardstown card revolves around the Champion Stakes and yet the six horses in the race have not had their seasons revolve around the Champion Stakes. Aidan O’Brien fields three of the six runners, Juddmonte and QE2 conqueror Rip Van Winkle heads the betting. Currently at odds of 4/6 it would appear in the bookmakers ring to be a penalty kick for the four-year-old. It is significant that the Ballydoyle team selected Rip Van Winkle ahead of Fame And Glory, who heads to France, and it sets up a rematch between Rip and Twice Over.

It is just over two weeks since Rip Van Winkle beat Henry Cecil’s Coral-Eclipse winner but remember it was only in the last 100 yards that Rip Van Winkle got to Twice Over with a storming late surge. The shorter straight at Leopardstown may lend an advantage to Twice Over, the gruelling final stretch at York played to Rip Van Winkle’s strengths last time out and it is unquestionably an interesting matchup.

Aidan O’Brien thinks very highly of Rip Van Winkle and indeed his stablemate, former Derby favourite Cape Blanco. Johnny Murtagh also believes that Rip Van Winkle is still improving and with Henry Cecil musing that a drop of rain would assist Twice Over, it will be an intriguing contest. The likely fast going might not be ideal for Twice Over but he is a tough, versatile sort and he won the Eclipse on ground that was good to firm. If he does win, it will be Henry Cecil’s first Group One victory in Ireland since Ramrura won the Oaks in 1999.

Cape Blanco, last seen when beaten 11 lengths by Harbinger will be ridden by Seamie Heffernan. The so called “second string” jockey at Ballydoyle demonstrated his natural craft and ability last weekend when winning the Moyglare in great style on board Misty For Me and another big run cannot be discounted. Another English challenger, the Mark Johnston Sea Lord, was supplemented for €75,000 on Monday. Fallon takes the ride, the going will suit but it is the colt’s first run over a mile and the first foray into Group One Company. It’s a big ask but why not take the chance?

Rip Van Winkle will probably win the Champion Stakes, he has the form, the ability, and he ticks all the right boxes, even in a field that lacks quantity but exudes quality. Additionally his connections in the race are unsurpassed.

Serious business The Champion Stakes, but then again, there’s €750,000 on offer here.

That’s a lot of paint.

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