Ooh! Matron now the target for O'Brien's superfilly Winter
Not one, not two but three Group 1-winning Ballydoyle fillies are set to clash on the first day of Longines Irish Champions Weekend after Aidan O'Brien pointed the brilliant Winter to a Matron Stakes showdown with Roly Poly and Rhododendron.
While Winter taking on stable companion Churchill would have added further spice to the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, her presence in the Matron makes it a contest to savour.
Plans for the dual Guineas winner appeared to be fluid on Monday afternoon, with O'Brien indicating that it was "very possible she could run in the Irish Champion Stakes but not decided as of yet".
However, it now appears Winter will be competing solely against members of her own sex.
O'Brien said on Wednesday evening, the day before declarations: "At the moment it looks like our Matron team will be made up of Winter, Rhododendron, Roly Poly and Hydrangea."
With seven Group 1 wins amongst the O'Brien battalion set to descend on the Coolmore-sponsored event, Churchill's task in the €1.25 million Leopardstown showpiece has undoubtedly been made easier, with firms having priced last season's champion two-year-old a general 11-10 shot, while Winter ranged between 3-1 and 6-1.
O'Brien said of his Irish Champion Stakes squad: "I'd imagine at this point that Churchill will be joined by Cliffs Of Moher and maybe something else.
"Lancaster Bomber more than likely won't run this weekend and instead might be seen in Canada later this month."
There was also a positive bulletin on two-time Group 1-winning filly Seventh Heaven, who has not been seen since a devastating display at Newmarket in May.
O'Brien said: "She has entries in France this weekend but you'll probably see her in the Curragh [entered in the Group 2 Blandford Stakes].
Ladbrokes reported on Wednesday Eminent had been well backed for the Irish Champion, shortening to 4-1 (from 7).
Spokesperson Hayley O'Connor said: "Interest in Churchill has been minimal this week with Eminent stealing most of the focus in the Champion Stakes market since Tuesday."
Not content with having conquered Churchill with Ulysses in the Juddmonte International at York, Sir Michael Stoute is once again taking aim at the four-time Group 1 winner with Poet's Word.
The Group 3 Glorious Goodwood winner has plenty to find on ratings with the Ballydoyle representative, but owner Saeed Suhail's racing manager Bruce Raymond explained there could be improvement to come from the four-year-old.
"He's improving and going to be a pretty good horse," said Raymond.
"He worked this morning and the plan is to go there with James Doyle riding.
"It's a big step up for him. He's in a Group 3 at Kempton, which I would have thought he'd certainly be in the first two in, but it's a huge pot in Ireland and Michael thinks let's have a go."
Raymond added: "Michael usually gets it right, so let's have a go now when we can. Michael wanted to run him in the Eclipse but I think the owner put him off."
He said of the challenge facing the Stoute team upon crossing the Irish Sea: "Against the top mile-and-a-quarter horses it could be difficult but he could run very well in it. He's not a bad horse at any distance."
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