The four €150,000 European Breeders Fund-sponsored handicaps on Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown and The Curragh on Saturday, 15th September and Sunday, 16 September, have attracted strong entries from both at home and abroad.
The first of the premier handicaps over the two days is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF ‘Petingo’ Handicap at Leopardstown on Saturday, for which Willie Mullins has 17 entries, including last year’s winner Laws Of Spin, 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 entered Machine Learner which just lost out in the runner-up spot last year.
There are 13 British-trained entries 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 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 Co. Cork-born David O’Meara, and fellow Irishman 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 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.
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.
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 the 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 Killarney last month and could carry the hopes of Jessica Harrington who has also entered Charcor and Rickrack.