Qipco Irish Champion Stakes (Group 1) | 1m2f (outer track) | 3yo+ | RTE2/ATR
A season that started so impressively with victory in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas has left Saxon Warrior with plenty to prove as he clashes once more with Roaring Lion in the Leopardstown showpiece.
Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion will be meeting for the fourth time this year and, aside from the Guineas, the Aidan O'Brien-trained colt has finished behind the British raider in the Investec Derby, the Coral-Eclipse and the Juddmonte International.
O'Brien has landed the Irish Champion Stakes on seven occasions and So You Think, his most recent winner in 2011, was the last Irish-trained success.
Speaking on Friday, O'Brien said: "Saxon Warrior was a sick horse after the Eclipse and was just ready to start back when he went to York. We've been happy with him since the Juddmonte International and we think he has come forward well. He's in good form."
Stablemates joining Ryan Moore's mount in the line-up are Rhododendron, a Group 1 winner at two, three and four, Deauville and Athena, both of whom have achieved top-level success in the US.
"Rhododendron was going very well at Deauville last time when she was struck into, stumbled and almost fell turning into the straight. We're happy with her and hoping for a good run," O'Brien said.
"Deauville is a solid horse who always runs his race and Athena is in good shape. She's wearing a hood to help her relax and we're very happy with her."
Verbal Dexterity, winner of the Group 1 National Stakes a year ago, represents Jim Bolger. He finished fourth in the Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh last month on his only start this season.
Pros The Ballydoyle team has recovered well from a bug and every chance this dual Group 1 winner can get the better of Roaring Lion this time
Cons Will need to have come on well from York and remains to be seen whether 1m2f is his optimum trip
Will the Lion roar again?
The year started with the Lion making barely a timid yelp, let alone a roar. Those days have been consigned firmly to the past, with Roaring Lion heading into his latest Group 1 assignment as clear favourite and off the back of a magnificent triumph.
A near ten-length Craven Stakes defeat behind Masar hardly signalled that Roaring Lion would emerge as one of the stars of the season. However, a true star he has become – and so has his jockey.
For his principal employer, Qatar Racing, Oisin Murphy has won the Coral-Eclipse and Juddmonte International aboard Roaring Lion, plus the Sussex Stakes on Lightning Spear, while he added to his top-flight haul last Saturday when landing the 32Red Sprint Cup with The Tin Man.
He tackles the Irish Champion Stakes – sponsored by Qatar Racing's sister company Qipco – in sensational form and thrilled to be associated with the John Gosden-trained colt who thrashed King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Poet's Word by three and a quarter lengths at York, where Roaring Lion's old rival Saxon Warrior was soundly beaten in fourth.
"I'm excited and can't wait to get on him," said Murphy.
"He really took off when I pressed the button at York and he concentrated on the job. He was also much further in front of Saxon Warrior than he had been at Sandown. I thought he beat a world-class field and won a race that looked very strong on paper."
Murphy added: "All Group 1 races are tactical, as they tend not to get big fields. Ballydoyle have four runners in the race, Study Of Man is no slouch and Addeybb ran to a Racing Post Rating of 121 earlier in the year, so if he gets his conditions he could have a big say.
"I'll have a good think about it and speak to John in the morning but this is definitely a race that is going to take some winning."
Pros The best horse in the race, now seemingly free of quirks and in sizzling form
Cons Having his seventh run of the season in what could be a tactical race featuring four Aidan O'Brien-trained horses
Bary hoping for super Man
Some horses race well fresh while others need a run in their legs before really hitting top gear, and scrutiny of his career record suggests Study Of Man belongs in the second category.
Having appeared rusty on his comeback over an inadequate trip at Longchamp in April, the Niarchos family’s homebred son of Deep Impact looked one of the most exciting colts in Europe when bounding clear of his rivals in the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud in May.
After much deliberation between potential Classic targets, Study Of Man justified the choice of Chantilly over Epsom with a hard-fought success in the Qipco Prix du Jockey Club.
Following a customary French summer break he once again looked somewhat underdone when finishing third to Knight To Behold in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d’Ornano last month, a performance that did nothing to dent the confidence of trainer Pascal Bary or jockey Stephane Pasquier in his ability, while reports of his homework since Deauville have been extremely encouraging.
“He's very well and is back to the form he showed in the first half of the season,” said Bary. “I have a lot of confidence in my horse. It's a very good field but I think he's up to this level.”
Study Of Man is yet to face older rivals and thus has not had the chance to post the kind of elevated ratings achieved by Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior, which leaves the hope that Alpha Centauri might not be the only star to carry the famous Niarchos silks with distinction at Leopardstown.
Pros After just four runs he has enjoyed a lighter campaign than Roaring Lion (six) and Saxon Warrior (five) and looks open to further improvement
Cons Yet to be tested outside his own age group, although this does not look the strongest collection of older horses
Britain's Irish Champion Stakes challenge will be doubled if Addeybb runs – but that is a big if.
Should the Lincoln and Sandown Mile winner take his chance he will be ridden by James Doyle following the rider's trip from Doncaster. However, trainer William Haggas will let the four-year-old leave home only if Leopardstown boss Pat Keogh is able to report underfoot conditions are suitable.
Haggas said: "He's due to fly on Saturday morning but we won't be sending him if they haven't had more rain. I've been speaking three times a day to Pat, who has been marvellous and very straight with me.
"I'm desperate to run the horse but if he got jarred up when there are so many options for him over the rest of the year I would be very angry with myself.
"He's doing well at home and would be interesting if he runs. I want to try him over a mile and a quarter as I don't think he is quick enough for the top races over a mile, unless the ground is soft."