Roaring Lion, Saxon Warrior Meet Again in Irish Champion Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 13th, 2018

Two months ago at Sandown Racecourse in Great Britain, the talented three-year-olds Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior put on quite a show in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), finishing just a neck apart at the end of the 1 ¼-mile test. That thrilling finish has been among the highlights of a budding rivalry. Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior have squared off on five occasions already, with the latter coming out ahead in their first two meetings before Roaring Lion took command in the next three. Their sixth matchup will come in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) on Saturday at Leopardstown, a prestigious 1 ¼-mile prize that offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

Although #5 Saxon Warrior had the edge in their initial meetings, most notably claiming victory in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket, it’s #4 Roaring Lion who has stolen the show in recent months. Trained by John Gosden, the son of Kitten’s Joy has shown steady improvement this season, and after edging his longtime rival in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, he was pretty sensational while winning the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) at York, a race in which he always looked like the winner and easily defeated the two-time Group 1-winning older male Poet’s Word by 3 ¼ lengths.

In contrast, Saxon Warrior could only finish fourth in the Juddmonte International, though the barn of trainer Aidan O’Brien was working its way through a well-publicized illness at the time, which may have affected Saxon Warrior’s performance. It would come as no surprise to see Saxon Warrior rebound in the Irish Champion Stakes, though the 1 ¼-mile distance might still be stretching a bit beyond his best, whereas it seems perfect for Roaring Lion, who has emerged as a true middle-distance specialist.

Five of the other six entrants in the Irish Champion Stakes are Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, though some of them (such as the O’Brien-trained #8 Deauville and #3 Rhododendron) have been short of their best form this season and will be longshots in the wagering. If you do want to use a longer-priced runner, I would strongly consider #7 Verbal Dexterity. Trained by Jim Bolger, the lightly-raced three-year-old son of Vocalised won the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (Ire-I) last September before finishing a good fourth behind Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion in the Racing Post Trophy Stakes (Eng-I) to end the season.

Following a ten-month layoff, Verbal Dexterity finally returned to the races in the 1 ¼-mile Royal Whip Stakes (Ire-III) on August 26th at the Curragh, where he took on a quality field of older rivals and was beaten just 1 ¼ lengths over a yielding turf course. With that effort under his belt, I think we could see Verbal Dexterity take a big step forward on Saturday, which could be enough to get him on the board at a nice price.

Here’s how I would play the race:

$10 exacta: 4 with 5 $4 exacta: 4 with 7 $4 trifecta: 4 with 5,7 with 5,6,7 ($16)

Good luck!