The big race on the first day of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown this Saturday is the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes over 1m 2f (16:15).
Three-time course winner Madhmoon has stronger claims than his odds suggest.
After scoring on both his starts here last season, including on this very day in the Champions Juvenile event 12 months ago, the Kevin Prendergast trained three-year-old was a Classic contender for this campaign.
Madhmoon was unlucky in three tilts at such Group 1 prizes. He shaped well enough on reappearance when beaten half-a-length under a penalty at Listed level over 7f here.
He was then a running on fourth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. The luck of the draw was against Madhmoon as he raced out of stall one and the fastest ground was among those with higher numbers.
As he was only beaten 4 1/2 lengths into fourth by the re-opposing Magna Grecia, it’s a performance which can be upgraded.
This Hamdam Al Maktoum owned Dawn Approach colt missed out on third by a head and finished just in front of subsequent July Cup hero Ten Sovereigns.
Connections then stepped Madhmoon up in trip for the Epsom Derby and he was a gallant runner-up in the premier Classic.
New trip looks like it will suit
Although beaten half-a-length by the re-opposing Anthony Van Dyck, he clipped heels and stumbled with half-a-mile to go.
Madhmoon also showed real guts to fend off a wave of horses charging home behind him to be second.
While the winner confirmed this form in the Irish Derby, the drop back in trip here won’t necessarily suit Anthony Van Dyck.
That one also ran well below par when trailing in a distant 10th to Enable in the King George at Royal Ascot.
Madhmoon wasn’t totally disgraced on his penultimate start in the Irish Derby when just missing out on third in a race blown apart by the enterprisingly ridden winner, Sovereign.
He has since cashed in on an ease in grade when landing the Group 3 Desmond Stakes over 1m here in ready fashion.
Madhmoon ran on well to lead inside the final furlong for a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths victory. As he now tries 10 furlongs for the first time, his pedigree suggests that is no problem.
While his owner has supplemented Elarqam for the Irish Champion Stakes, Madhmoon comes out 3lb well-in on that rival here because of the 6lb weight-for-age he receives.
Although third best on adjusted ratings, he doesn’t have all that much to find with either Anthony Van Dyck or Magical. That makes Madhmoon solid each-way value at 7/1 with Coral here at worst.
Magical the pick of O’Brien Irish Champion Stakes quartet
Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien has won a record seven renewals of this race, but none since 2011. He saddles four in a bid to end that hoodoo and the pick of his quartet is Magical.
This four-year-old Galileo filly landed the Group 1 race for her sex on British Champions Day at Ascot by a length from Coronet last October.
Although Magical has run into Enable on three subsequent occasions, she also hit a hat-trick on Irish soil at the start of this season.
She readily accounted for last year’s Irish St Leger winner Flag Of Honour in the Group 3 Alleged Stakes at Naas, then the Group 2 Mooresbridge and Group 1 Curragh Cup.
Magical has since finished runner-up on her last three starts all at the highest level.
Going down by 1 1/4 lengths to Crystal Ocean in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and finishing three-quarters of a length behind Enable in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown both over this trip is no disgrace.
It did seem strange that connections supplemented Magical for the Yorkshire Oaks during the Ebor Festival, however.
Enable clearly had the beating of her and proved it again on the Knavesmire when winning more emphatically en route to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
This is no easier, but her form on this side of the Irish Sea commands Magical plenty of respect. She also comes out clear on adjusted ratings from her three stable companions.
As the Irish Champion Stakes is her seventh run in a busy campaign, this may be one race too many for Magical.
Although she heads the betting at 15/8 with 888Sport, we advise taking her on with Madhmoon who is unexposed at the trip.
British raiders Elarqam and Headman must step up
Elarqam is one of two British raiders in the Irish Champion Stakes this year. Trained by Mark Johnson, he won the Group 2 York Stakes on his penultimate outing in terrible conditions.
The four-year-old son of Frankel simply handled them best and reversed Royal Ascot form with Addeybb when staying on strongly to score by 3 1/4 lengths.
He had twice gone in at Listed level earlier in the campaign when sent off favourite at both Goodwood and Sandown.
Elarqam was slightly unlucky last time out in the Group 1 Juddmonte International during the Ebor Festival when short of room inside the final furlong.
Despite that trouble in-running, he kept on well to take third and was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths by leading Irish Arc contender Japan.
As Elarqam was a length behind Crystal Ocean, there’s not much between him and Magical on a form line.
While that encouraging display persuaded Al Maktoum to supplement Elarqam for this, he didn’t fare well on his only previous career start in Ireland.
He was sent off favourite for last year’s Irish 2000 Guineas, but was a struggling 7 1/4 lengths sixth to Romanised.
Despite odds of 4/1 with Betfred, Elarqam faces no easy task giving weight to the likes of Magical, Madhmoon and the improving Headman.
Trained by the in-form Roger Charlton, this three-year-old Kingman colt has a progressive profile.
After landing the London Gold Cup on Lockinge day at Newbury on his second start of the season, Headman has since completed a hat-trick with consecutive Group 2 successes in France.
What he beat is open to question, but he may have less to find than his official 112 rating suggests here. Granted further improvement, Headman can’t be ruled out at 4/1 with Unibet.