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Johnny Murtagh: Free Eagle to swoop in the Irish Champion Stakes but I’m hoping Lightning will strike later on

by Johnny Murtagh | September 11, 2015

I rode in the charity race against AP McCoy last Wednesday at Doncaster and the ground was perfect. There’s due to be a lot of rain in Ireland overnight and into Saturday ahead of the Irish Champion Stakes and the English St Leger could get some showers too.

I was all over Aidan O’Brien’s Order of St George in Saturday’s feature at Doncaster but he’s been switched to the Irish St Leger on Sunday. William Haggas’ Storm the Stars looks the one to beat now.

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Storm the Stars beat Bondi Beach in the Great Voltiguer at York which has been a decent trial for the St Leger.

They came pretty close in the last furlong but I’m not sure Bondi Beach had the stomach for a fight when push came to shove.

If anything, the two extra furlongs should benefit Storm the Stars. I know he’s had a long season and has been placed in both the Irish & English Derbys – but his York win was a career best.

Ballydoyle’s other contender Fields of Athenry ran well in the Ebor Handicap carrying a huge weight for a three-year-old. He’s likely to set the pace but this is a big step up in class.

The supplemented Simple Verse looks a live outsider as she tries to become the first filly since User Friendly in 1992 to win the final Classic of the season.

Talent finished second in the 2013 St Leger for Ralph Beckett’s yard so they know what’s needed if she’s going to win.  

Johnny’s pick: Storm the Stars    Alternative: Simple Verse

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Irish Champion Stakes, Leopardstown, Saturday, 5.45pm

The Irish Champion Stakes has the potential to be an unbelievable race –a top, top contest – and the going will be key.

The amount of rain that gets into the ground will change the whole complexion of the race come Saturday evening particularly as to whether Golden Horn and Gleaneagles take part.

Leopardstown was riding good to firm on Friday morning so some rain wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen – whether they need a forecast 20 mm or more is another thing.


If it stays on the quick side that will suit this year’s Derby winners Golden Horn (above) and dual Guineas winner Gleneagles. But regardless of how the ground rides for the others I think Free Eagle is a huge player.

Dermot Weld’s colt looks to have been laid out for this after beating last year’s winner The Grey Gatsby in the Prince of Wales Stakes over 10f at Royal Ascot. He’s missed all the big summer engagements and comes here fresh.

Found had a lovely run the last day – but it’s two notches below what’s required here. Jim Bolger’s filly Pleascach has already won the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Yorkshire Oaks and could still be improving.

And if the ground turned very soft French challenger Cirrus Des Aigles will put it up to a few of them as he’s a class horse on his day when conditions suit.

Johnny’s pick: Free Eagle    Alternative: Gloden Horn if runs / Cirrus Des Aigles

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Matron Stakes, Leopardstown, Saturday, 6.20pm 

David Wachman’s Newmarket 1,000 Guineas winner Legatissimo was impressive at Goodwood over 10f. She drops back in trip here to a mile. She’s generally a good-ground filly but any ease in the ground could help her over this shorter trip as she won’t get taken off her feet by some of the others.

She’s a beautiful draw in stall four and she can come out on top. David O’Meara’s fast-improving Amazing Maria has won her last three starts (including two Grades 1’s) since getting beaten into third by Brooch at the Curragh over this trip. The winner handles an easier surface but needs to prove shes up to this level.

Euro Charline mighn’t be good enough but even though French raider Cladocera was third to Euro Charline at Royal Ascot connections must think she’s worth the effort. Christope Soumillon rides.

Johnny’s pick: Legatissimo   Alternative: Cladocera 

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Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes, Leopardstown, Saturday, 6.50

Lightning Spear could take a bit of beating in this Group 2 contest over a mile.  He looks progressive and Qatar Racing would love to have a winner here on Irish Champions Day. Custom Cut won early in the season at Sandown and was third to Kodi Bear in a Group 3 at Salisbury before that one hosed in again at Goodwood in a Group 2.

Ballydoyle’s Sir Isaac Newton was considered a Derby horse at one stage but got beaten at Chester at 1/6f. He obviously has ability but hasn’t gotten it all together yet.

Cougar Mountain was a good winner in a Group 3 from Raydara at this track a few weeks back before being let come home on his own in the Juddmonte International when his chance was gone.

Johnny’s pick: Lightning Spear    Alternative: Custom Cut

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