Stars all set for Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown and the Curragh

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Auguste Rodin, King Of Steel, Nashwa, Onesta and the supplemented Alflaila head the 13 remaining hopefuls for the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes on the opening day of Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday, a World Pool event for all eight races which will be carried by 30 broadcasters worldwide.  

Aidan O'Brien’s dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin is again on the comeback trail after a below par effort in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot. O'Brien is also set to run last year’s Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes winner Luxembourg and he will clash again with the runner-up from 12 months ago, Onesto, trained in France by Fabrice Chappet who has booked Frankie Dettori for the ride this time. It is 25 years since Dettori won the first of his six Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes on Swain in 1998. 

The race will also see Auguste Rodin renew rivalry with the Roger Varian-trained King Of Steel for the third time, only half a length separated the pair at Epsom, and with John Murphy’s White Birch and Jessica Harrington’s Sprewell also staying in, the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes will see the first four horses from Epsom clash once again. 

Another very much in the mix is the Joseph O'Brien-trained Al Riffa, winner of the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the 2022 Irish Champions Festival, which got to within three-parts of a length of Ace Impact at Deauville last month. 

Trained by Owen Burrows, Alflaila heads to Leopardstown on Saturday on a four-race winning streak after landing the Group 2 York Stakes at York two weeks ago. His late addition to the race certainly boosts a British challenge that is likely to include three-time Group 1 scorer Nashwa, trained by John & Thady Gosden and the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Bay Bridge. 

Star filly Tahiyra, trained by Dermot Weld, is on the search for a fourth career Group 1 success in 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 the following month, she heads the 21 remaining entries with Ger Lyons’ Zarinsk, and the Aidan O'Brien-trained Meditate also standing their ground. Last year’s winning trainer Paddy Twomey could yet be represented by the Moyglare Stud Farm-owned Just Beautiful. 

Uniquely, there are four Group 1 races on the Sunday card of Irish Champions Festival at the Curragh and highlighting the day is the Comer Group International Irish St Leger for which eight stand their ground. The race has been earmarked by trainer Aidan O'Brien for the return to action of last year’s winner and world champion stayer Kyprios, another in the colours of Moyglare Stud, which is set to have his first start of 2023 in the final Classic of the season. 

While O'Brien holds a strong hand with Emily Dickinson and Broome also in the mix, perhaps the William Haggas-trained Hamish, last year’s runner-up, is the one to beat on the back of his recent success at Goodwood. The Roger Varian-trained Eldar Eldarov, last year’s Doncaster St leger hero, is another British hope while Joseph O'Brien is still doubly represented with Dawn Rising and Valiant King with Jessica Harrington relying on Yashin. 

John Quinn’s star sprinter Highfield Princess is another bidding for a repeat Irish Champions Festival success and she heads the 16 remaining entries for the Al Basti Equiworld, Dubai Flying Five Stakes. She’s on track to clash with her Royal Ascot conqueror Bradsell, trained by Archie Watson, once again with Tim Easterby’s four-time Curragh winner Art Power adding significantly to the British challenge. Bouttemont, trained by Yann Barberot, will be a French-trained raider while Johnny Murtagh’s Ladies Church and Aidan O'Brien’s The Antarctic head the home defence. 

The O'Brien-trained City Of Troy puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes. He added to a maiden win over the Curragh’s seven furlongs with a runaway success in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket and now could well take on the Adrian Murray-trained Bucanero Fuerte, already a three-time Curragh winner which arrives here on the back of a four-length victory in the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes. He steps up to seven furlongs for the first time. Aidan O'Brien has also left in Diego Velazquez and Henry Longfellow while also among the 12 remaining entries are the Jessica Harrington-trained Givemethebeatboys and the Ger Lyons-trained Tamrat. 

Like City Of Troy, her stable companion Ylang Ylang is also twice a winner from as many starts and she heads 18 remaining contenders for the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes. Donnacha O'Brien’s Royal Ascot winner and Keeneland Phoenix Stakes runner-up Porta Fortuna, the mount of Frankie Dettori, and the Group 2 Alpha Centauri Debutante Stakes winner Vespertilio, supplemented this morning by Willie McCreery, should also play their part along with Dermot Weld’s maiden Red Viburnum and Karl Burke’s Fallen Angel.   

Tim Husbands, CEO of Leopardstown Racecourse, said: “Once again, the entries for our two Group 1 races on Saturday are outstanding. We are delighted to have the first four horses home in the Epsom Derby in the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes and of course it’s a thrill to have Frankie Dettori booked to ride the French challenger Onesto in the race. The Coolmore America 'Justify' Matron Stakes is another race to savour and it will be exciting to see how Tahiyra gets on after her big wins at the Curragh and Royal Ascot.”

Brian Kavanagh, CEO of The Curragh Racecourse, said: “We couldn't be happier with the quality of entries for our races and with so many star performers set to line up at The Curragh on Sunday, it will be a fantastic event to showcase the very best horse racing in Ireland to an extensive global audience. In addition to the racing, an exciting mix of entertainment will feature throughout the day including style awards, parade of champions, live music, free Moyglare Kids Zone and the Thoroughbred Trails which takes place on Sunday morning giving racing fans exclusive behind the scenes experiences.”



The clash of Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel in the Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes will be one of the highlights on the opening day of Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday.