Two more Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge races feature among four G1s at the Curragh on Sunday as the richly endowed Longines Irish Champions Weekend moves into its second day.
The Derrinstown Stud Flying Five, newly promoted to the top level for 2019, and the Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies are the contests in question, offering fees-paid berths in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and the Juvenile Fillies Turf respectively.
Last year’s Flying Five winner Havana Grey was never a factor when down the field in the Turf Sprint, a race in which European visitors as a whole have a dismal record.
However, superstar sprinter Battaash threw down the gauntlet with his electrifying performance in last month’s Nunthorpe Stakes, where he earned a guaranteed place in the starting gate at Santa Anita, and now a competitive field of speed merchants from both sides of the Irish Sea lining up in Sunday’s contest are bidding to join him.
Owner Lady O’Reilly’s Soffia (Eddie Lynam/Declan McDonogh) is enjoying a cracking 4-year-old campaign and the daughter of Kyllachy may well go off favoured as she bids to complete a four-timer on her top-level debut after an impressive course-and-distance in the G2 Sapphire Stakes.
British-trained visitors to Ireland must always be feared at this minimum trip and there is no shortage of promising contenders, among them Soldier’s Call (Archie Watson/Danny Tudhope) and Mabs Cross (Michael Dods/Gerald Mosse), who filed second and fourth places behind Battaash in the Nunthorpe.
Blessed with brilliant early speed, Soldier’s Call is likely to fight Caspian Prince for the lead, which may help neither horse; the 3-year-old was a beaten favourite behind Soffia on his last visit to Ireland.
Five-year-old mare Mabs Cross is a rarity in this race as she has already landed a G1 with her victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye on last year’s Arc card. That race is likely to be her primary target again, and, while connections will be hoping for rain in Ireland this weekend, she should be seen to good effect given the pace in front of her.
Former Australian-trained Houtzen (Martyn Meade/Colin Keane) has the look of a dangerous contender, having stepped up markedly on her Royal Ascot form on faster ground to close to within three-quarters of a length of Battaash in the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
Closer to home, trainer Darren Bunyan reckons fast-ground lover Hit The Bid (ridden by Chris Hayes) is ready to spring a surprise, having come on markedly for his recent return after a layoff. “Fair enough, on the face of it wasn’t a great run, but it was his first since Dubai in March and he was entitled to come on from it,” said the trainer.
“Sprinters can peak at five, and I think that’s the case with him. I’ve seen huge improvement now fitness-wise. He is definitely a better horse than we had last year and what I saw at Tipperary last time had me absolutely delighted.”
Later on the same card, Aidan O’Brien saddles four of the nine runners as he bids for his ninth winner of the Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Love, a daughter of Galileo, looks best of the Ballydoyle team, but she was a beaten favourite last time out in G2 company over course and distance.
While it would be no real surprise to see her produce a better effort on better ground, a couple of her rivals will be better fancied in a race where the Niarchos family’s Albigna (Jessica Harrington/Shane Foley) heads the betting.
Unbeaten in two starts, both over six furlongs at this venue, this Zoffany filly produced an explosive burst to beat Moyglare rival Precious Moments in G2 company at the end of June. She ought to appreciate this step up to seven furlongs.
But she may have her work cut out to hold Royal Ascot winner Daahyeh (Roger Varian/William Buick), who brings high-class form from the UK.
No previous Moyglare winner has gone on to success at the Breeders’ Cup – indeed, Sky Lantern and Happily were both well beaten in the States. Alice Springs was runner-up in both races for Aidan O’Brien in 2015, while September was third in both races two years later.
Also on the card on Day 2 of Irish racing’s showpiece weekend are the Comer Group International Irish St Leger and the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes.
The latter 2-year-old contest is set to feature the latest appearance of Godolphin’s unbeaten colt Pinatubo, odds-on favourite to thwart the Ballydoyle battalions headed by Futurity Stakes winner Armory and Coventry Stakes victor Arizona.
A nine-race card also features a charity race, the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland, in which a glittering array of former jockeys will participate – among them jumps legends Sir Anthony McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Charlie Swan, plus flat champions Johnny Murtagh, Kieren Fallon and Richard Hughes.
Nine-time Irish champion jockey Smullen announced his retirement in May under advice from doctors after an inspirational battle with pancreatic cancer.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 86 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into designated races at Santa Anita on November 1-2. As part of the benefits from the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete.