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By Anil Mukhi | 13 Sep 2019 |

Every year, the middle of September sees a power-packed weekend in Europe, featuring (a) the last of the Classics in England, namely the William Hill St. Leger (Gr.1; 1 mile, 6 fur. & 115 yds.) at Doncaster in the North of the country; (b) a bevy of Arc trials at ParisLongchamp in France, that will set the stage for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe carnival on the same track in October; and (c) the Irish Champions weekend in and around Dublin in Ireland, featuring the running of the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Gr.1; 10 fur.) at Leopardstown on the Saturday and the Comer Group International Irish St. Leger (Gr.1; 1 mile 6 fur.) at the Curragh the following afternoon.

In past years, with important runners lining up in the plums in both Ireland and England on Saturday afternoon, top jockeys have been able to fly between the two countries to guide their mounts, but in 2019 a clash with a football event means that the timings have had to be altered and there is not enough time between the features to “air-dash” between the venues.

The oldest of Great Britain’s five Classics has drawn just 8 three-year-olds – all colts – and is scheduled to go off at 3:35 p.m. local (8:05 p.m. in India). Generally an auspicious race for favourites, it has a runner occupying that slot who seems to have it all, namely Logician. For a start, the grey is a Juddmonte home-bred by Frankel from the all-conquering Clarehaven Stables of John Gosden at Newmarket. That means he will enjoy the services of the “in-form” Frankie Dettori plus he is unbeaten from four career starts, all this year. The race sponsors – one of the biggest bookmaking firms in the world – have him at a shade of odds-on, though “Evens” can be had in a few other places.

Logician, who won the usually informative Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, is also the highest-rated runner in the field, but only by a couple of points. Following him is the principal Coolmore challenger, Sir Dragonet (by Camelot), whom readers may remember as having started in the Investec Derby as the 11 to 4 public choice. On that occasion, with Ryan Moore up, he was beaten less than a length into fifth, behind three stablemates and Madhmoon. With Moore engaged at Leopardstown, trainer Aidan O’Brien’s son, Donnacha, takes the ride in an attempt to complete a hat-trick for his father in the race, following Capri (2017) and Kew Gardens (2018).

Aidan O’Brien also sends out the 6 to 1 Il Paradiso (by Galileo), with Padraig Beggy up, and the friendless 50 to 1 Western Australia (by Australia), the mount of Michael Hussey. The training “King of the North”, Mark Johnston is double-handed with Nayef Road (by Galileo) and Sir Ron Priestley (by Australia). Both have decent form, particularly the last-named, who has scored in five of his six appearances this term, and must be respected at 10 to 1 with Franny Norton up. Incidentally, all eight of the acceptors trace to Sadler’s Wells, seven in tail-male and one – Team Valor’s Technician (by Mastercraftsman) – on his dam’s side, as the inmate of Martyn Meade’s academy is out of a daughter of the legend. At 14 to 1, the Geoffrey Freer Stakes hero could well pick up a piece of the action here under Rob Hornby.

Over in Ireland, eight have been declared for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes at 4:15 p.m. (8:45 p.m. in India). Given that Ryan Moore is to be found here astride Aidan O’Brien’s ward Magical (by Galileo), rather than at the St. Leger meeting, suggests the 7 to 4 favourite will enjoy the absence of Enable and Crystal Ocean – the only horses to have beaten her this year – and score. The Shadwell team has supplemented the much-improved Elarqam (by Frankel), from the flying Middleham team, while Juddmonte’s progressive Headman (by Kingman) comes in off a hat-trick of wins for Roger Charlton and Jason Watson. Both these runners are at 7 to 2 to record their maiden Group 1 success.

Veteran Kevin Prendergast has carefully programmed the career of Madhmoon (by Dawn Approach), dropping his charge back in distance, after a couple of futile attempts at further. There will be no more popular winner here than the mount of Chris Hayes, should he oblige at 6 to 1, in the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum, providing the Shadwell operation with a second string to its bow. But he will have to overcome the half-length deficit with Anthony Van Dyck (by Galileo), based on their running in the Investec Derby, which is entirely possible given that the Derby hero has been very disappointing in his two post-Epsom starts. Wayne Lordan steps in on the 12 to 1 chance.

Although it will be just past midnight in Japan, you can bet that millions will be tuned in to watch the progress of Deirdre (by Harbinger), surely an overlay here at 11 to 1. The tough Japanese miss will benefit from the intuitive handling of likely champion jockey Oisin Murphy and comes in off a Group 1 triumph in the competitive Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Mitsuru Hashida has kept her smoothly ticking over in the 44 days that have elapsed since her last appearance.

The globe-trotting Magic Wand (by Galileo) has made three trips to the USA and another one to Dubai in 2019 alone, picking up shoals of silver even if victory has been elusive.  That is why the 4-y-o with so much on her “CV” is a 25 to 1 chance. But then has not Seamie Heffernan scored for Ballydoyle at long odds in the past??!!

Sunday’s declarations are not yet to hand but there is the prospect of viewing one of the most exciting two-year-olds in Europe this year, namely Godolphin’s unbeaten Pinatubo (by Shamardal), who is four-from-four. What’s more, his form has been underlined decisively as runners he has trounced go on winning Group races from which he is absent. Small wonder, then, that he is at 4 to 9 to land the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes (Gr.1; 7 fur.).

The corresponding event for fillies, the Gr.1 Moyglare Stud Stakes (7 fur.) could be headed in the direction of Mrs. Jessica Harrington’s yard as she is double-handed (at the time of writing) with the Niarchos pair of Albigna (by Zoffany) and Alpine Star (by Sea The Moon), the latter being a half-sister to Alpha Centauri and to Mebajeona Stud’s resident stallion, Tenth Star.

Being open to older horses as well, the Irish St. Leger should see a great battle between the various Coolmore representatives headed by Kew Gardens (by Galileo) on the one hand and Godolphin’s Cross Counter (by Teofilo) on the other. Several of the runners will be headed “Down Under” after the race for a crack at the Melbourne Cup in November.

Finally, one of the leading lights of the Irish jockey ranks, Pat Smullen, had been rendered hors de combat last year by an attack of pancreatic cancer. Smullen has fought the dreaded disease with fortitude and is poised to win this battle, albeit at great personal cost for he won’t be able to resume his career. To gather funds for cancer research, the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials Ireland will be run immediately after the Irish St. Leger and a number of former jockeys will emerge from retirement to endorse the cause by riding in it. These include household names like jumps heroes A.P. McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry and Charlie Swan, as well as “flat” stars like Johnny Murtagh, Joseph O’Brien, Richard Hughes, Kieren Fallon and Ted Durcan.

A number of other fund-raising events will be held, such as an auction of racing-related items like “Signed Frankel silks”, “Visit to Joseph O’Brien Yard”, “VIP Hong Kong Jockey Club Racing Trip For Two”, to augment the kitty. The full list is available at Chris Hayes has volunteered all his earnings from the afternoon, with his lead being followed by Donnacha O’Brien, Gary Halpin, Conor Hoban, Billy Lee, etc., and TV presenter Sally Ann Grassick.