Big clash off as Orange swerves Irish St Leger due to ground concerns
Gold Cup hero Big Orange will miss Sunday's Irish St Leger and an eagerly anticipated rematch with Royal Ascot runner-up Order Of St George due to the prospect of soft ground at the Curragh.
He will now wait for the Prix du Cadran at Chantilly on Arc weekend with trainer Michael Bell keeping his fingers crossed that the ground will be more suitable.
Big Orange has gained five of his six Group race wins, including that epic defeat of Order Of St George in the Gold Cup, on ground officially described as good to firm, and more rain is forecast at the Curragh where the going is already yielding in the main.
Decision a 'no-brainer'
Explaining the change of plan, Bell said: "The weather gods have gone against us and we are going to keep our powder dry for the Prix du Cadran. There's a wave of rain moving in over the next 48 hours and it's a no-brainer.
"It's best to be patient and hope we get our ground at Chantilly. Good ground is fine and good to soft is fine, but they are describing the ground at the Curragh as soft in places with more rain forecast, so it's likely to be proper slow ground as opposed to good with bits of slower ground. He ran perfectly well at Goodwood [when second in the Goodwood Cup on good ground], but he's a much better horse when he bounces off the surface."
Bell added: "I think he coped better with soft ground as a younger horse, as he won at Chester and Ascot as a three-year-old with a bit of dig, but when you are taking on high-class opposition away from home when conditions aren't in your favour it's a double whammy of bad news."
Maintaining Big Orange's current level of form for another three weeks until the Cadran, which takes place on September 30, does not worry Bell.
The trainer said: "He's in very good form and is raring to go, but it won't be a problem keeping him ticking over for another few weeks. He is training made easy, since he needs so little work for a stayer."
Weld runs two in the Champion Stakes
Churchill and Winter will be the headline names on the first day of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown, after they featured in the final fields for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes and Coolmore Matron Stakes respectively.
Churchill is one of ten contenders for the Irish Champion, along with the main rivals Eminent, Poet's Word, and Cliffs Of Moher.
Dermot Weld will be bidding to win his first Irish Champion and is represented by Zhukova and The Grey Gatsby. Stable jockey Pat Smullen has decided to partner Zhukova over The Grey Gatsby, who won the race in 2014 when trained by Kevin Ryan, but Weld admits that there is little between both horses.
He said: "Both of ours arrive here in good form but it's a very good renewal and we must remember that this is one of the best races in the world.
"Zhukova posted an excellent performance when she won the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont back in May and the form of that race has been franked with the third going on to win the Sword Dancer Stakes last month. I'm very happy with her and Pat [Smullen] has decided to choose her over The Grey Gatsby.
"He wouldn't want any rain between now and the time of the race. I'm quite happy with him as he's working well at the moment and we feel ten furlongs is his trip."
Winter is one of three Group 1 winners for Ballydoyle contesting the Matron Stakes with Roly Poly and Rhododendron also lining up. Persuasive, Qemah and Wuheida also feature in the 12-strong field.
If you are interested in this, you might also like: