Qemah looms large in Matron on Irish Champion undercard

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September 8th, 2016

While the Irish Champion (G1) is an exceptional centerpiece, the rest of Irish Champions Weekend isn’t lacking in star power either. French invader Qemah adds luster to the Matron (G1) on the Irish Champion undercard at Leopardstown Saturday, and world-class stayer Order of St George defends his title when the action shifts to the Curragh on Sunday.

The Matron, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), could have been dealt a blow by the defection of Minding to the Irish Champion. Hence Qemah’s presence is especially welcome in the one-mile affair. Since her third to unbeaten Arc contender La Cressonniere in the French 1000 Guineas (G1), Qemah has landed the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Prix Rothschild (G1) over her elders at Deauville July 31. The Jean-Claude Rouget trainee looms the one to beat.

Aidan O’Brien relies on Alice Springs, who was a troubled third to Qemah in the Coronation and a subpar eighth behind her in the Rothschild. In between, however, the Galileo filly rolled to a new course record in the Falmouth (G1) at Newmarket.

Persuasive brings a perfect five-for-five mark into her Group 1 debut. Learning the craft in handicaps for John Gosden, the Cheveley Park colorbearer has climbed the ladder in the Sandringham at Royal Ascot and the Atalanta (G3) at Sandown.

Jet Setting, who famously edged a burst-sinus Minding in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), seeks a return to her early-season form. The Adrian Paul Keatley filly had beaten Now or Never and Alice Springs in the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial (G3) in April, and she won’t mind the rain. Unraced since finishing sixth in the Coronation, Jet Setting is yet another who must try to turn the tables on the rock-solid Qemah.

Now or Never claims a course-and-distance score in the Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial (G3), and she’s shown her grit with a third in the Irish 1000 Guineas and a fourth in the Coronation. Hawksmoor, who found classic success abroad in the German 1000 Guineas (G2), was most recently third to the older Bocca Baciata in the Kilboy Estate (G2). Godolphin’s Ridgewood Pearl (G2) victress Devonshire was fifth in the Kilboy, and like class climber Creggs Pipes, has a task conceding five pounds to the sophomores.

Earlier at Leopardstown, O’Brien’s exciting prospect Douglas Macarthur can further his burgeoning reputation in the Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile (G3). But I’d very much doubt he’d take up the “Win and You’re In” offer for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). O’Brien has won all four renewals of this race since its conversion into a BC prep, and none of his winners advanced to the Juvenile Turf.

O’Brien has actually dominated this race for six consecutive years, going back to its former incarnation as the Golden Fleece, so Douglas Macarthur’s bidding to make it seven. A full brother to 2012 Epsom Oaks (G1) heroine Was, and a three-quarter brother to 2008 Epsom Derby (G1) star New Approach, the blueblood was sold for nearly $2 million as a Tattersalls October yearling.

Douglas Macarthur was a green last of six on debut, but bolted up by five lengths at this course and one-mile trip July 21. He rates as one of the early favorites for the 2017 Derby, and it would be no surprise if he heads into winter quarters after Saturday – much like O’Brien’s 2013 winner, Australia.

Only four are set to line up against him. Radio Silence comes off a second to O’Brien’s other vaunted 2017 classic prospect, Churchill, in the August 21 Futurity (G2) and thereby furnishes a collateral form check on the World War II giants. Firey Speech captured a nursery under top weight at Galway, where Dermot Weld loves to showcase his juveniles, and recent maiden winners Percy and Landfall must step up.

O’Brien sends out three of the five runners in the 1 1/2-mile Enterprise (G3), led by Epsom Derby runner-up US Army Ranger and last year’s St Leger (G1) near-misser Bondi Beach (who’s cross-entered Sunday), and rounded out by presumptive pacemaker Tree of Knowledge. But that doesn’t constitute a stranglehold, for Jim Bolger sends out the progressive Stellar Mass, who recently beat Bondi Beach here in the Ballyroan (G3), and Dermot Weld’s high-class mare Zhukova, last seen romping in the Blue Wind (G3) back in May.

The one-mile Boomerang (G2) pits Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner Awtaad against 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf scorer Hit It a Bomb. Tribal Beat defeated a ring-rusty Hit it a Bomb in the Desmond (G3), while defending champion Custom Cut and multiple Group 1 veteran Gordon Lord Byron aren’t quite what they were at their peak.

Here’s the stakes schedule for Saturday’s intro to Irish Champions Weekend (all times EDT):

11 a.m. (EDT) – The Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile

12:05 p.m. – The Enterprise

12:35 p.m. – The Matron

1:10 p.m. – The Boomerang

1:45 p.m. – The Irish Champion

Sunday’s second half of Irish Champions Weekend is examined here…

Qemah photo courtesy of Ascot Racecourse via Facebook