Order of St George headlines second half of Irish Champions Weekend

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September 9th, 2016

After a dazzling Saturday at Leopardstown, anchored by the Irish Champion (G1), Irish Champions Weekend concludes Sunday at the Curragh with a trio of Group 1 prizes. Aidan O’Brien has a strong chance of a triple, thanks to defending champion Order of St George in the Irish St Leger (G1), Churchill in the Vincent O’Brien National (G1), and four chances in the Moyglare Stud (G1).

Order of St George brings a six-race winning spree into the 1 3/4-mile test, all accomplished in a manner that stamps him as a stayer of an unusually high class. The son of Galileo has raced only three times this campaign, twice in preps on either side of his tour de force in the Ascot Gold Cup (G1). Although he’s nominated to the Melbourne Cup (G1), Order of St George also holds an entry in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and it wouldn’t be a shock if he turns up at Chantilly.

Only five rivals have made bold to challenge, and two hardly count as lesser stablemates Unicorn and Kellstorm (Order of St George’s full brother). Those sophomores were respectively third and ninth in the Melrose at York, and culled from Ballydoyle’s posse in Doncaster’s St Leger (G1) on Saturday.

More meaningful opposition comes from last year’s Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip to Paris, rounding into form in his third start back from an injury-induced layoff, and Willie Mullins’ Wicklow Brave, a remote third to Order of St George here last year. Wicklow Brave and Trip to Paris were most recently third and fourth, respectively, in the Lonsdale Cup (G2) at York. Silwana was last seen trailing behind Order of St George in the Saval Beg back in June. The winner of the two-mile Loughbrown over this course a year ago, Silwana adds blinkers in hopes of sharpening up.

The preceding Group 1s on the card showcase the two-year-olds, and the Moyglare Stud serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Promise to Be True appears the best fancied of the O’Brien quartet, since she’s lured Ryan Moore to her side. A full sister to 2011 Moyglare heroine Maybe, Promise to Be True has justified favoritism in both of her starts. After opening her account at Tipperary, the Galileo filly readily followed up in the July 21 Silver Flash (G3) at Leopardstown at this seven-furlong trip.

O’Brien calls up fellow Galileo fillies Rhododendron (out of Halfway to Heaven) and Hydrangea (full sister to Australian Group 1 scorer The United States), separated by a head when finishing one-two in the August 21 Debutante (G2) over course and distance. War Front’s daughter, Brave Anna, was only sixth to her stablemates in the Debutante. Two starts back, she’d upset the Albany (G3) at Royal Ascot at 16-1.

Also coming out of the Debutante are third-placer Intricately, trained by Joseph O’Brien, and fourth Rehana from the Michael Halford yard. The wild card is Jim Bolger’s homebred Dawn of a New Era, a full sister to champion Dawn Approach, who makes an audacious career debut in the Moyglare Stud.

The colts get their turn in the Vincent O’Brien National, likewise at seven furlongs, and Churchill takes on the prolific Mehmas. Although Mehmas has been a savvier juvenile and brings more experience to the table, Churchill is the better long-term prospect of the pair. Sunday’s outcome hinges on whether Churchill has already surpassed him, or if Mehmas can still rely on his summer edge.

Churchill, a son of Galileo and grandson of the speedy Airwave, was a babyish third on debut. Since then, he’s won three straight as the odds-on favorite, all at seven furlongs. Churchill broke his maiden in the Chesham at Royal Ascot, scrambled to prevail by a neck in the Tyros (G3), and proved far more decisive last time over course and distance in the Futurity (G2). That suggests he’s becoming more street-wise, and unlike Mehmas, he’s proven at the trip.

Al Shaqab’s Mehmas had won twice before Churchill ever saw a raceday, a factoid neatly expressing his precocity. Trainer Richard Hannon Jr. has made no secret of his view that Mehmas is a pure two-year-old without much scope for the future, and he’s played his cards well to maximize value. Second to O’Brien’s highly regarded Caravaggio (now sidelined) in the Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot, the Acclamation colt has subsequently capitalized on his advantages over a couple of raw opponents in Newmarket’s July (G2) and the July 28 Richmond (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. He’s yet to race past six furlongs, though.

If anyone can crash the match race, it’s the William Haggas-trained Lockheed. The China Horse Club runner was second to highly-regarded Seven Heavens in his Ascot unveiling, then flattered him by overcoming trouble to score at Glorious Goodwood. Lockheed finished third in the Acomb (G3) at York, beaten all of a length, and the Exceed and Excel colt can keep progressing.

Psychedelic Funk was one of the leading Irish colts earlier in the season, taking his first two outings at Naas prior to a respectable third in the Coventry. The Ger Lyons pupil was slightly disappointing when upended in the July 16 Anglesey (G3), and the flashy son of Choisir will need to do better to fulfill his early promise.

Rounding out the field are Tommy Stack’s Son of Rest, a creditable runner-up after flubbing the start on debut, and two more representing O’Brien, once-raced maiden Finn McCool (a full brother to Kingfisher) and Lancaster Bomber (a War Front half to Excelebration who was last of four in the Futurity).

Elsewhere on the card, the Flying Five (G2) is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), should any five-furlong Euros be interested in trying 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. Cotai Glory, Take Cover, Washington DC, Toscanini, Monsieur Joe, Spirit Quartz, Only Mine, and the venerable Sole Power and Maarek (the top two from last year) are all in the hunt.

The Blandford (G2) could spark a turnaround for the Aga Khan’s homebred Shamreen, who stands to benefit from cutting back to her optimal trip of 1 1/4 miles. Dermot Weld also puts the visor back on the daughter of Dubawi. The converse may be true for O’Brien’s Best in the World. The full sister to Found has prospered over 1 1/2 miles, hitting a new height when beating Somehow (and leaving Shamreen back in fourth) in the Give Thanks (G3) last out at Cork.

Here’s the Curragh’s stakes schedule for Sunday (all times EDT):

9:35 a.m. (EDT) – The Blandford

10:10 a.m. – The Flying Five

10:40 a.m. – The Moyglare Stud

11:15 a.m. – The Vincent O’Brien National

11:50 a.m. – The Irish St Leger


Also on Sunday, Chantilly hosts the trials for Arc Day.

Japanese Derby (G1) hero Makahiki (pictured) tunes up in the Prix Niel (G2) against only four other sophomores, including Juddmonte’s Midterm. Four is the grand total in the Prix Foy (G2) for older Arc hopes, and Germany’s Ito will play his typical catch-me-if-you-can game with One Foot in Heaven, Silverwave, and Elliptique. Candarliya, best of the rest behind Treve in last year’s Prix Vermeille (G1), is the one to beat this time against a field including smart sophomores Left Hand, Golden Valentine, Highlands Queen, and The Juliet Rose as well as Godolphin’s Endless Time.

The Prix du Moulin (G1) for milers may be the most interesting race on the card, with Jean-Claude Rouget’s once-beaten Zelzal, Zarkava’s classic-placed son Zarak, Fabre’s talented but mercurial Vadamos, and British shipper Dutch Connection squaring off.

The about five-furlong Prix du Petit Couvert (G3), headed by Goldream and Marsha, is a typically competitive prep for the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1). The about 1 7/8-mile Prix Gladiateur (G3), a stepping stone to the Prix du Cadran (G1), looks like a good spot for the Aga Khan’s Vazirabad to rebound on the step back up in trip. Usual suspects Walzertakt, Kicky Blue, and Mille et Mille are engaged, along with upwardly mobile Settler’s Son and Nahual.

Order of St George photo courtesy Irish Champions Weekend via Facebook

Makahiki photo by Tomoya Moriuchi/