As a pre-cursor to this weekend’s All-Ireland hurling final between counties Waterford and Kilkenny, GAA fans would be best advised to travel to Dublin on Saturday.
Why? Well, the answer is that they will in a position to witness possibly the most intriguing horse race staged in Ireland all season.
The venue is Leopardstown on the southside of Dublin and all roads will lead to the famed Foxrock racetrack for the eagerly awaited rematch between Duke Of Marmalade and New Approach in the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes, the 25th renewal of this prestigious 10-furlong race. It’s safe to say that last year’s attendance figure of 10,068 will be comfortably surpassed.
As we all know, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Duke Of Marmalade claimed his fifth consecutive Group 1 victory of the season when digging deep to fend off perennial bridesmaid Phoenix Tower by three quarters of a length in the rescheduled Juddmonte International Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, August 23rd with Jim Bolger’s Epsom Derby winner New Approach a further two and a half lengths adrift in third spot.
Duke Of Marmalade is like a vintage wine in that the four-year-old is getting better as the season progresses. He had a far from spectacular three-year-old campaign last year, although the fact remains that he still finished second to stable companion Dylan Thomas in the 2007 Leopardstown Champion Stakes. It has since emerged that Duke Of Marmalade was carrying an injury last season and his progress this term has been nothing short of sensational.
The Danehill entire’s initial two victories this year over 10 furlongs in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh were nothing sensational. The turbo however roared to life when Duke Of Marmalade dismissed Phoenix Tower by four lengths in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and he then made the step up to a mile and a half when bravely seeing off Papal Bull in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 27th.
That performance undoubtedly saw Duke Of Marmalade going past the pain barrier. He has the ability to stay 12 furlongs, but he seems in truth a specialist 10 furlongs horse, a point that he again illustrated in the International Stakes at Newmarket.
His tenacity knows no bounds and provided that his season’s efforts have not taken their toll, he will be the one that they will all have to beat at Leopardstown. He seems a relatively straightforward mount and in Johnny Murtagh, he has a dual Irish Champions Stakes winning partner that’s riding at the top of his form this year. In short, Duke Of Marmalade can provide the canny O’Brien with his fourth consecutive victory in the Leopardstown showpiece event following on from Oratorio in 2005 and Dylan Thomas who won the event the following two seasons. Indeed, Dylan Thomas is the only horse to have captured back to back runnings of the race, first run at the now defunct Phoenix Park in 1984 and won by none other than a certain Sadler’s Wells.
New Approach though in all probability will finish much closer to the Ballydoyle horse that he did at Newmarket. A €430,000 yearling purchase, New Approach of course bounced back from his two frontrunning defeats behind Henrythenavigator in the British and Irish 2000 Guineas to win the Epsom Derby. Having tried to force the pace in both one-mile Classics, he was held up at Epsom. Whilst the Galileo-sired colt took a little time to settle for regular partner Kevin Manning, this he eventually did and he dug deep to fend off Tartan Bearer by a half-length.
Unfortunately, New Approach then sustained a muscle setback which forced him to become a last minute absentee from the Irish Derby. It can be confidently expected that he will come on from the Newmarket run and hopefully he will be able to be switched off by Manning. Whilst three-year-olds’ have a quite good record in the Irish Champion Stakes winning four out of the past 10 runnings, the likelihood is that New Approach will still have to play second fiddle to Duke Of Marmalade on Saturday.
Unfortunately, New Approach was unable to cope with a specialist miler in Henrythenavigator in both Guineas and the worry is that he won’t have the necessary pace to match Duke Of Marmalade here.
However, he’s a supremely versatile all-round performer in that he was an outstanding Group 1 performer at two whilst in a normal year, he would have won not one but two Guineas. He’s also a competent 10 furlong horse with the necessary attributes of speed and stamina to win arguably the greatest race of them all, the Epsom Derby.
New Approach is already a seriously valuable stallion prospect for Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation and if he managed to add a Group 1 victory over 10 furlongs to his CV, his potential worth for stud purposes would soar even further. It should also be disclosed that Bolger sent out New Approach’s dam Park Express (by Ahonoora) to triumph in the 1986 renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes with John Reid at the Phoenix Park and a little piece of trivia is that she’s still the only filly to have won the race.
Yes, of course there are other contenders. This however will undoubtedly develop into a head-to-head between Duke Of Marmalade and New Approach. The specialist 10 furlong horse Duke Of Marmalade versus this year’s all-rounded Epsom Derby winner New Approach. In what should hopefully be an epic counter that may even go down as one of the very best Irish races of the modern era, may the best horse win.
If Jim Bolger has to settle for second spot in the Champion Stakes, the 66-year-old trainer will surely collect the afternoon’s main supporting race the Group 1 Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes with his outstanding filly Lush Lashes.
Winner of the coveted Goffs Parknasilla Hotel Fillies Million on her sole juvenile outing at The Curragh last season, Lush Lashes has developed into a teak-tough three-year-old performer. She stepped up to the board by landing the Group 1 Coronation Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot in June, later losing out by a head to Halfway To Heaven in an epic renewal of the Group 1 Blue Square Nassau Stakes over 10 furlongs at Goodwood in early August.
The general consensus was that Lush Lashes was quite unlucky on that occasion and she should attain revenge on Halfway To Heaven by beating Aidan O’Brien’s smart three-year-old here.
Famous Name is the clear class act in the Group 3 At The Races Kilternan Stakes over 10 furlongs. The Dermot Weld-trained colt, a Group 3 winner over a mile at this same venue in April, posted a definite career best performance by finishing second to Eric Libaud’s Vision D’Etat in the French Derby over an extended 10 furlongs at Chantilly in early June. Famous Name has been sidelined since then, but he’s confidently recommended to make a victorious return to action here by disposing of King Of Westphalia.
Another event that’s likely to attract a formidable field is the Leopardstown Pavilion September Handicap and it should pay to keep an eye on Impossible Dream in this seven-furlong contest.
The Andrew Kinsella-trained Impossible Dream will be coming into this race on the back of a thoroughly game success over this same course and distance last month. Impossible Dream ultimately beat Nanotech by a length on that occasion and the four-year-old is taken to continue on his merry way here by disposing of David Marnane’s recent three-time winner Maundy Money.
Jakarta Jazz was relatively unfancied when short-headed in a seven-furlong race at this same course last month and Kevin Prendergast’s charge should go one better by dispensing with Dreamtheimpossible in the opening Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Fillies Maiden.
Joanna Morgan’s Whispering Wind, a winner here in late July, is marginally preferred to the consistent Kitty Hawk Miss in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Autumn Fillies Handicap and perhaps Jim Bolger’s colt O’Graolaigh could make a winning career debut at the expense of the long-absent Mr Topaz in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund (C & G) Maiden.
Worldly Wise, a creditable fifth on the all-weather at Dundalk, can keep supporters of the Pat Flynn stable happy by returning to the coveted number one slot from Lonesome Maverick in the closing Stepaside Handicap over nine furlongs.