The trainer/jockey tandem of Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore won two of the three Breeders’ Cup Challenge events on Saturday’s opening day of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown. Luxembourg battled to victory over Onesto in the Irish Champion (G1), securing a place in the Turf (G1), and Auguste Rodin captured the Champions Juvenile (G2) to enter the Juvenile Turf (G1) picture. Later, the Paddy Twomey-trained Pearls Galore sprang a surprise in the Matron (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Luxembourg and Auguste Rodin proved to be a poignant double for their owners, Westerberg and the Coolmore partners. Coolmore impresario John Magnier is mourning the loss of his mother, Evie Stockwell, whose funeral is set for Monday.
Irish Champion (G1)
Luxembourg fulfilled O’Brien and Moore’s belief that he would improve significantly from his comeback in the Aug. 13 Royal Whip (G3). Sidelined by injury after his fine third in the 2000 Guineas (G1), the Camelot colt was in a race against time to get to the Irish Champion. He just made it to the Royal Whip, and scraped home, his class supplying enough to make up for what he lacked in fitness.
Much more was required in this prestigious affair. Luxembourg therefore went off at 7-2, with bettors backing French colt Vadeni into 7-4 favoritism. Those keeping faith in Luxembourg, who had been an unbeaten Group 1 winner at two, were rewarded.
Ballydoyle stablemate Stone Age sped forward in the pacemaking role on the soft going, followed by another O’Brien charge, Broome, in a chasing second. Luxembourg was well placed in fourth early, ahead of Vadeni, Onesto, and the trailing Mishriff. Onesto improved his position on the inside under a heady ride by Stephane Pasquier, shading Luxembourg as they approached the turn.
As Stone Age came back to the field down the stretch, Onesto was on the premises to strike first in his bid for glory. But Luxembourg was quickening virtually in tandem, and the pair pulled away to fight out the finish. While Onesto knuckled down and tried to preserve his narrow advantage, Luxembourg kept finding to assert by a half-length. The winner navigated 1 1/4 miles in 2:12.58 – a time 5.78 seconds faster than standard on soft ground, according to irishracing.com.
Vadeni didn’t have the clearest of passages, and jockey Christophe Soumillon had to alter course for daylight. The Aga Khan’s homebred finished a creditable third in the circumstances, completing a clean sweep for the three-year-olds. In the process, Vadeni beat fourth-placer Mishriff again to confirm their Eclipse (G1) result. Stone Age, Alenquer, and Broome concluded the order of finish.
Luxembourg sports a nearly-perfect mark of 6-5-0-1. The bay flashed serious potential in his Killarney debut and followed up with a romp in the Beresford (G2). Luxembourg polished off his juvenile campaign in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1), putting himself on course for this spring’s Guineas and especially the Derby (G1). Unfortunately, hopes of emulating dual classic-winning sire Camelot were dashed. Stumbling at the start at Newmarket, he did well to close for third in the Guineas, and a setback ruled him out of Epsom.
Luxembourg’s rebound has set him up for a tilt at the Oct. 2 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and a likely rematch with Onesto. Vadeni is reportedly not stepping up in trip for the Arc, but instead pointing to the Oct. 15 Champion (G1) at Ascot. Mishriff’s connections remain interested in the Breeders’ Cup, with the Turf his possible objective.
Overlooked at 16-1 in the Matron, Pearls Galore had better form in the book than her odds implied. The Haras de Saint Pair homebred was the near-misser in this race last September, prior to a runner-up effort to Space Blues in the Prix de la Foret (G1) and a decent sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Pearls Galore was kept in training to pursue a Group 1 laurel, and she began her 2022 mission in encouraging fashion. Defeating males in the Apr. 6 Heritage S. at this course and one-mile trip, the Invincible Spirit mare added the May 22 Lanwades Stud (G2) and finished second to Order of Australia in the July 17 Minstrel (G2). But her latest was a disappointing fifth in the Prix Rothschild (G1), beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Saffron Beach over Deauville’s straight mile. Thus she was in the shadow of Saffron Beach, and star sophomore Homeless Songs, here.
Back at her preferred Leopardstown, and adding cheekpieces, Pearls Galore was a different animal. She accomplished her goal by taking command of the Matron early and putting on a front-running show. Saffron Beach, her nearest pursuer throughout, attempted to challenge, but Pearls Galore drew right away from her. Under Billy Lee, she extended her margin to three lengths in 1:44.36. Her time was more than a second faster than British shipper Jadoomi clocked in his Boomerang (G2) (1:45.38) one race earlier, and a total of 4.30 seconds better than soft-ground standard according to irishracing.com.
Saffron Beach held second by a length from Ballydoyle’s Tenebrism. Homeless Songs, the 5-4 favorite, was in a stalking position in proximity to Tenebrism, but lacked her typical punch in fourth. Next came Honey Girl, Affogato, Star Girls Aalmal, Concert Hall, and Lights On, who had an insurmountable task once rearing out of the gate. Agartha and Panama Red were withdrawn due to the ground.
Pearls Galore earned a ticket to the 1 3/16-mile Filly & Mare Turf, but she’s never raced beyond a mile while compiling a record of 17-7-4-1. If connections opt to advance to the Breeders’ Cup again, chances are she might take another crack at the Mile. Saffron Beach has had the Filly & Mare Turf in her datebook for quite a while.
Homeless Songs is expected to try the Prix de la Foret on Arc Day, as reported by Racing Post. Although out of luck with her, trainer Dermot Weld scored earlier on the card with Duke de Sessa. Up on the line in a thriller in the 1 1/2-mile Paddy Power (aka Kilternan) (G3), the three-year-old inflicted heartbreak on Thunder Kiss who had been denied in this same race a year ago. The duo produced an exacta for owner/breeder Newtown Anner Stud.
Champions Juvenile (G2)
Hot favorite Auguste Rodin obliged in the Champions Juvenile (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Needing time after his sharp maiden win July 2 at Naas, the son of Deep Impact and multiple Group 1 star Rhododendron continued to shape very much like one for the future here.
Auguste Rodin settled a few lengths off the contested pace, as Ballydoyle stablemate Tower of London vied with Serious Challenge, and pounced on them in the stretch. Although flicking his ears and appearing to have more up his sleeve than he let on, Auguste Rodin had 1 1/2 lengths to spare over Joseph O’Brien’s filly Caroline Street. The handsome dark bay negotiated the mile in 1:45.25.
The Donnacha O’Brien-trained Alder rallied to take third from Serious Challenge, completing an O’Brien family trifecta. Tower of London dropped back to last, well below what his debut victory portended.
Already prominent in the market for the 2023 Guineas and Derby, Auguste Rodin is likely to be seen on a British racecourse next. Aidan O’Brien indicated that the Westerberg/Coolmore runner could revert to seven furlongs for the Oct. 8 Dewhurst (G1) or stick to a mile for the Oct. 22 Vertem Futurity Trophy.
Ballydoyle also had the favorite in the opening race, the Ingabelle S. for juvenile fillies, but Library couldn’t catch front-running Zarinsk. Trained by Ger Lyons and ridden by Colin Keane, the Juddmonte homebred was taking a class drop following fourths in the Airlie Stud (aka Balanchine) (G2) and Silver Flash (G3). Poor starts were decisive in both losses, and Zarinsk kept her cool here, to her tactical benefit.