The mighty Ghaiyyath heads a field of six runners for the Irish Champion Stakes on the opening day of Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown on Saturday afternoon.
Godolphin’s star five-year-old became the highest-rated horse in the world when adding the Juddmonte International at York last month to earlier top-level wins in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket and Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse.
Charlie Appleby told godolphin.com: “It was a routine piece of work (on Wednesday) to check his well-being, and he has come through it without a worry.
“It was not strong work, more a breeze, which is normal procedure three days before a race. He’s telling us that he’s ready now for another big race.
“We are really looking forward to the weekend. He travels to Ireland at the peak of his career, unbeaten in four starts this year, three of them Grade 1s, two of which were officially rated the best performances globally in 2020.”
The main opposition to Appleby’s charge will come from two Aidan O’Brien-trained runners, Magical, winner of the Irish Champion Stakes last year and the mount of Seamie Heffernan, and the Ryan Moore-ridden Japan. Magical is bidding to become the first horse to win the race twice after the O’Brien-trained Dylan Thomas in 2006 and 2007.
Jean-Claude Rouget is back for further Irish Champion Stakes success. He won with Almanzor in 2016 and runs Sottsass, the mount of Colin Keane, and the field is completed by the Jessica Harrington-trained Leo De Fury and one more from Ballydoyle, Armory.
Classic winners Fancy Blue, trained by Donnacha O’Brien and his father Aidan’s Peaceful, lead the way in the Group 1 Coolmore America ‘Justify’ Matron Stakes. Eleven runners will line up for the first of the weekend’s six Group 1 races with Albigna and Valeria Messalina representing Jessica Harrington, Joseph O’Brien’s Argentinian-import Wilds Dreams takes her chance while Johnny Murtagh runs both Champers Elysees and Know It All as he searches for a first top-level training success.
Speaking this morning, Donnacha O’Brien, who has his first Longines Irish Champions Weekend runners this weekend, said: “It’s a great weekend, the biggest in Irish racing and I’m excited about having horses to run.
“Fancy Blue starts out on her autumn campaign in the Matron Stakes and while the trip might not be ideal, she does have good form over a mile and she ran well in the Irish Guineas over this distance.”
There are ten runners for the Group 2 KMPG Champions Juvenile Stakes with the Harrington-trained Cadillac leading the way along with course and distance winner Fernando Vichi, and Ides Of August, trained by Donnacha O’Brien and Ger Lyons respectively.
Another Group 2 on the stellar card is the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Mile and here ten runners will go to post with British raiders Century Dream, Escobar and Safe Voyage taking on the likes of Royal Dornoch, Lancaster House and Ancient Spirit.
The Group 3 Paddy Power ‘Is It 2021 Yet?’ Stakes has a field of 13 with Joseph O’Brien’s pair Buckhurst and Patrick Sarsfield taking on Irish Derby runner-up Tiger Moth, trained by Aidan O’Brien, Johnny Murtagh’s Red Kelly and the Paddy Twomey-trained Bolivar.
Racing begins with the Listed Ballylinch Stud Irish EBF Ingabelle Stakes where 13 runners line out, among them Joseph O’Brien’s course and distance winner Earth Strike and the recent Punchestown scorer New Emerald Bay, another for Johnny Murtagh.
A maximum field of 18 runners, including last year’s runner-up Buildmeupbuttercup, are set for the Irish Stallion Farms ‘Petingo’ Handicap while there’s also 18 declared for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Sovereign Path’ Handicap with Damien English’s Geological and Lord Rapscallion for Nikita Kane and Murtagh likely leading contenders.
Tim Husbands, Leopardstown CEO said: “Declarations for Day 1 of Longines Irish Champions Weekend confirm that the quality of runner associated with this prestigious weekend will be of the same exceptional standard as previous years. We are delighted to welcome our International entries but also our native runners where the depth of talent is unrivalled. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to all owners, trainers, jockeys and sponsors for their valued participation and contribution to Longines Irish Champions Weekend.”