North American racing fans have plenty to look forward to this weekend, between the kickoff of the 2018-19 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) points races at Churchill Downs and the Woodbine Mile (G1) anchoring a terrific slate on the turf. But those various Breeders’ Cup Challenge events are only half of the “Win and You’re In” races scheduled over Saturday and Sunday – the other half will take place across the Atlantic during Irish Champions Weekend.
Free berths to five Breeders’ Cup races are on offer through the two-day festival, shared between Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh on Sunday. At this preliminary stage, the fields are yet to be finalized, so consider this more of a sneak peek of coming attractions.
Saturday’s eponymous Irish Champion (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), is the focal point at Leopardstown. Roaring Lion is the clear antepost favorite after capturing the Eclipse (G1) over archrival Saxon Warrior and the Juddmonte International (G1) over top older horse Poet’s Word, the latter already giving him his Breeders’ Cup Turf ticket. French Derby (G1) winner Study of Man is confirmed for his first start outside of France, while Cracksman would spur immediate intrigue if enough rain comes to make ground conditions suitable.
On the Irish Champion undercard, star filly Alpha Centauri is trading at a prohibitive odds-on price as she seeks her fifth straight Group 1 mile in the Matron (G1). In her personal case, the Matron is a stepping stone to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). But it’s officially earmarked as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), so the Matron would have to witness an upset if it’s to supply an actionable ticket to that destination. Also expected are French Oaks (G1) heroine Laurens, shortening up after a non-staying sixth in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and onetime classic fancy Clemmie, yet to recover her juvenile form and still trying to find a way to threaten Alpha Centauri.
A Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) berth is up for grabs in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2), the first Group race of Irish Champions Weekend. But with other options in the division – e.g., Saturday’s Champagne (G2) on St Leger Day at Doncaster and Sunday’s Vincent O’Brien National (G1) at the Curragh – we’ll have a grasp on this contest when final declarations are made Thursday.
Turning to that second act of Irish Champions Weekend at the Curragh on Sunday, the Moyglare Stud (G1) serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Prix Morny (G1) victress Pretty Pollyanna was the one to beat on form, until connections changed course Monday and opted for the September 29 Cheveley Park (G1). The Moyglare will come into focus after Friday’s declaration stage, when trainer Aidan O’Brien will reveal his hand that might include Just Wonderful.
The Flying Five (G1), as its name implies, offers a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Upgraded to a Group 1 for this renewal, the five-furlong dash promises another clash between King’s Stand (G1) winner Blue Point and Nunthorpe (G1) near-misser Mabs Cross. Havana Grey, who dethroned Caspian Prince in the course-and-distance Sapphire (G2), and Hit the Bid are others in the mix.
Although its 1 3/4-mile distance doesn’t lend itself to a spot on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge roster, the Irish St Leger (G1) demands a mention as the Curragh’s Sunday anchor. Two-time champion Order of St George is the headliner, but O’Brien indicated that the six-year-old is “just feeling his age at the moment” and might not be ready in time. That could signal a changing of the guard, with sophomore stablemate Flag of Honour poised to step up from scores in the Curragh Cup (G2) and Irish St Leger Trial (G3).