|A trio of British-trained runners, three from the Aidan O'Brien stable and one from France are among the nine horses contesting the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes on the opening day of Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday.
The Roger Varian-trained King Of Steel, Owen Burrows’ supplementary entry Alflaila and Nashwa, trained by John & Thady Gosden make up the British challenge while the champion trainer has declared his dual Derby hero Auguste Rodin, last year’s Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes winner Luxembourg and Point Lonsdale as he chases a fifth straight win in the race and his 12th overall.
Frankie Dettori’s mount Onesto, the Fabrice Chappet-trained runner-up to Luxembourg a year ago, will try to become the fourth French-trained winner of the race and the first since Almanzor triumphed for Jean-Claude Rouget in 2016. The jockey himself is bidding for a seventh win in the race, a figure that would match Michael Kinane’s record, achieved on Sea The Stars in 2009.
With Jessica Harrington’s Sprewell also lining out, the race will see three of the first four horses from the Epsom Derby clash again. The Joseph O'Brien-trained Al Riffa will once again be ridden by Christophe Soumillon.
Star filly Tahiyra, trained by Dermot Weld, heads the field for the first of the festival’s Group 1 races, the Coolmore America 'Justify' Matron Stakes. The winner of last season’s Moyglare Stud Stakes, the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas in May and Royal Ascot’s Coronation Stakes in June returns to action to take on 12 rivals including her own stable companion Homeless Songs, the mount of Oisin Murphy, Ger Lyons’ Zarinsk, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Meditate and Just Beautiful, representing last year’s winning trainer Paddy Twomey.
The first of two Group 2 races on Saturday is the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes and Aidan O'Brien’s Diego Velazquez, the Joseph O'Brien-trained Atlantic Coast, added to the field as a supplementary entry on Tuesday, the Paddy Twomey-trained Deepone and Ger Lyons’ Formal Display are among the eight horses lining up for the eight-furlong event.
A field of 12 will go to post for the Group 2 Dullingham Park Stakes and among them are early favourites Victoria Road and Buckaroo, trained by Aidan O'Brien and Joseph O'Brien respectively, the Jessica Harrington-trained Bold Discovery, Joe Murphy’s Lord Massusus and the Ger Lyons-trained Power Under Me.
The William Haggas-trained Al Aasy heads the seven runners for the Group 3 Paddy Power Stakes with Epsom Derby third White Birch, trained by John Murphy, Noel Meade’s Layfayette and Aidan O'Brien’s Adelaide River among the principals while the Listed Ballylinch Stud Irish EBF Ingabelle Stakes has attracted 10 runners, headed by Natalia Lupini’s impressive Naas winner Kitty Rose and the Jessica Harrington-trained Sea The Boss with both Apricot Ice and Serious Notions bidding to give trainer Ger Lyons his third successive win in the race.
The Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Petingo’ Handicap has a field of 16 runners with Emmet Mullins’ Merlin Giant, Ceallach, trained by Michael Halford & Tracey Collins and the Frankie Dettori-ridden Jackfinbar, trained by Willie Mullins, among the leading contenders while the 18-runner Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Sovereign Path’ Handicap appears to give Natalia Lupini’s flagbearer Dunum, Ger Lyons’ Gypsy Woman and the David O’Meara-trained Bopedro, the joint top-weight, a chance of Irish Champions Festival success.
Tim Husbands, CEO of Leopardstown, said: “We are looking forward to another terrific renewal of our opening day of Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday. There’s a great mix of the very best of three-year-olds and older horses contesting both Group 1 races, the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes and the Coolmore America 'Justify' Matron Stakes and we are delighted with the strength of the supporting races. The support we receive from our sponsors is immeasurable and we thank them all for their backing of such an eagerly awaited day’s racing.”
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE DECLARED RUNNERS FOR LEOPARDSTOWN ON SATURDAY