The Irish Champion Stakes is shaping up to be the hottest race of the flat season. Trainer Ed Dunlop confirmed that wonder mare Snow Fairy could make her next appearance in the Group One contest at Leopardstown on 8 September.
Dunlop told the Racing Post: “The Irish Champion is a possibility. She seems to have come out of France well so far and we will wait and see what the Irish weather does. We are due better weather next week so we’ll see how she is.”
The five year old daughter of Intikhab made a brave come back from injury to win the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville nine days ago. She had been off since suffering an injury after winning the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in Kyoto last August but showed she still retained her class and courage to beat a top class field.
The 2010 dual Oaks winner pushed So You Think hard in last year’s renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes, just going under by half a length to the Australian sensation. Dunlop’s filly has won six times at the highest level and could go to Longchamp or Ascot if she doesn’t travel to Leopardstown.
The Irish summer may be the biggest obstacle to Snow Fairy’s participation in the race but if the Indian summer arrives as promised then Leopardstown could be set fair for a tantalizing clash between Dunlop’s stunning filly and Nathaniel.
John Gosden’s son of Galileo is one of the best middle distance horses in the world. He beat a high class field in last year’s King George and won the Eclipse at Sandown on his seasonal debut in July. He failed by a nose in his bid to add a second King George to his name, fighting out a thrilling finish with Arc heroine Danedream in the Ascot showpiece last month. He is also the horse to have finished closest to Frankel. He was half a length behind him when he made his debut in a Newmarket maiden in August 2010.
Gosden and owner Lady Rothschild took the decision to skip the Juddmonte International at York last week with Nathaniel and instead have supplemented him for Leopardstown’s ten furlong contest.
Although connections opted to side step a clash with Frankel at York, jockey William Buick hasn’t ruled out Nathaniel locking horns with the best horse in the world, possible in the Qipco British Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.
Speaking on At the Races Buick said: “I think the horse [Frankel] is probably unbeatable, but we’ve got a horse in Nathaniel who probably at some stage will have a go. If Ascot came up testing and stamina came into it, he will definitely give him a run for his money. I think he is still the horse to get nearest to him and I think and I hope he can get even nearer.
“If stamina comes into it, I would be putting emphasis on that and try to find any chinks that Frankel does have – which he probably doesn’t – but you have to give it a go.”
The entries for the Irish Champion Stakes reads like a who’s who of the world’s best racehorses. Last year’s British Champion Stakes winner and Dubai Sheema Classic champion Cirrus Des Aigles heads the French challenge.
The home defence is led by the Aidan O’Brien team. Grand Prix de Paris winner Imperial Monarch and multiple Group One winner St Nicholas Abbey could be joined in the race by last year’s Irish Derby and Arlington Million winner Treasure Beach. Runaway Ribblesdale Stakes victor Princess Highway is an interesting contender from Dermot Weld’s stable.
The race has an illustrious history and has been won by superstars of the Turf including Sadlers’ Wells, Giant’s Causeway, High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas and perhaps the greatest of them all Sea the Stars. If all of the horses entered come under starters orders then the 2012 race could be one of the best Irish Champion Stakes of all time.