The four €150,000 European Breeders Fund-sponsored handicaps on Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown and the Curragh on September 15 and 16 have again attracted strong entries from both at home and the other side of the Irish Sea.
The first of the premier handicaps over the two days is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Petingo’ Handicap at Leopardstown on Saturday, September 15 and Willie Mullins has made 17 entries, including last year’s last-gasp winner Laws Of Spin, his Royal Ascot hero Lagostovegas, Galway festival winner Nessun Dorma and Limini. The Jim Bolger-trained Stellar Mass is the early top-weight and could be joined by the stable’s summer Group 3 winner Cimeara. British trainer Joseph Tuite has again entered Machine Learner which just lost out in the runner-up spot 12 months ago.
While there are five British-trained entries in the ‘Petingo’, there are 13 early entries from over the water in the seven-furlong Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Sovereign Path’ Handicap, the final race on the opening day of Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown. This race went to the Roger Fell-trained Burnt Sugar last year and the six-year-old, a dual winner since, is entered once again as are the second and third home, the Joe Murphy-trained Silverkode and Richard Fahey’s Withernsea which had finished second in the same race in 2016.
Burnt Sugar and the Karl Burke-trained Mjjack share the early top-weight. Fellow British raiders Escobar and Firmament, trained by David O’Meara, and John Quinn’s Safe Voyage are also towards the head of the handicap. Safe Voyage narrowly beat David Barron’s Danielsflyer to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ´Ahonoora´ Handicap on the final day of the Galway festival and they could renew rivalry at Leopardstown along with the third and fourth horses at Ballybrit, Turbine and Master Speaker, trained by Denis Hogan and Ado McGuinness respectively.
The globe-trotting Gordon Lord Byron is the highest rated of all Longines Irish Champions Weekend handicap entries and is set to top the weights with 10st 3lbs in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Bold Lad’ Sprint Handicap at the Curragh on Sunday, September 16. Tom Hogan’s star 10-year-old showed much of his old sparkle when second to Expert Eye in the Group 3 City Of York Stakes at York late last month and is an intended runner. Hogan said: “He’s come back in great form from his good run in York. He was carrying 10st all of last year, trying to give weight away to proper Group horses and we will try to give it to handicappers here. He’ll run providing the ground remains good or close to it.”
The first three horses in the race last year, Ice Age, Al Qahwa and Blairmayne, trained by Eve Johnson Houghton, David O’Meara and Natalia Lupini, are also engaged as are Adrian Keatley’s The Broghie Man and Group 1 winner Maarek for trainer Evanna McCutcheon. Urban Beat completed a hat-trick of wins for Johnny Murtagh at the Curragh on Saturday and will carry 9st 9lbs after going up 7lbs.
The final handicap, and the final race of Longines Irish Champions Weekend, is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Northfields’ Handicap for which last year’s first and second, the Jim Bolger-trained Panstarr and Ger Lyons’ Mawaany, are entered. Big Country, trained by Mick Appleby, tops the early weights on 10st with Aidan O'Brien’s Kenya, up 8lbs for his success in last Saturday’s Tote Irish Cambridgeshire, next in on 9st 8lbs. The runaway Bellewstown winner Astronomer is also among the Ballydoyle battalion. Still Standing completed a hat-trick of wins when successful at last month’s Killarney festival and could carry the hopes of Jessica Harrington who has also entered Charcor and Rickrack.
Pat Keogh, CEO of Leopardstown Racecourse, said: “The premier handicaps are a very important feature of Longines Irish Champions Weekend. They are extremely competitive and are very popular betting races. We are delighted with quality of the entries and it is great to see so many English horses set to line up. We are very grateful to the Irish Stallion Farms EBF for their generous support.”
Derek McGrath, CEO of The Curragh, said: “Both handicaps at the Curragh promise to be two of the most competitive races of the weekend. There is a good spread of trainers with entries including the likelihood, once again, of a strong challenge from Britain which is very positive. These races will help boost the number of trainers and owners competing for success over Longines Irish Champions Weekend.”
Horse Racing Ireland