Stars wherever you look as Brando makes play for Godfather role
David Jennings previews the big Saturday action at Haydock and Leopardstown
It's mob war at Haydock and Aidan O'Brien is mob-handed at Leopardstown as the stars line up on both sides of the Irish Sea on one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the Flat season.
Harry Angel may be regarded as the boss of the sprinting division right now but Brando is about to make a bid to topple him from his perch at Haydock today, when the two speed machines clash in the Sprint Cup.
Clive Cox's speedy son of Dark Angel enjoyed his finest hour in the July Cup when reversing Ascot form from earlier in the season, but Harry Angel faces a new challenge on Saturday.
After a deluge of rain he is set to face far softer ground than he has ever contended with before. Could it sabotage his electric speed?
By contrast, punters appear to be backing Brando to thrive in the soggy conditions. He has won twice on soft and arrives on the back of a powerful performance in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.
Victory here would win him the title of 'The Godfather of sprinting'.
Tasleet and The Tin Man could also play starring roles in this mob war. Tasleet has winning form on soft, having landed the Duke of York Stakes on the surface this year, while The Tin Man is a dual Group 1 winner. However, both were firmly put in their place by Harry Angel in the July Cup.
This year O'Brien has single-handedly rescued the two-day extravaganza by declaring every one of his household names apart from the hardy Highland Reel, who few can begrudge a break.
So many superstars are sprinkled over the cards at Leopardstown and the Curragh, yet you still get the sense that Churchill is the boss. He lost his power at Royal Ascot and again at York, but O'Brien has remained loyal and once again voted for him to lead his army into battle for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes. He could have chosen the battle-hardened Highland Reel, but went for style over substance instead.
No room for excuses
O'Brien made no secret of how excited Ryan Moore was about riding Churchill over a mile and a quarter for the first time in the Juddmonte International but, after they became embroiled in a battle with Barney Roy from early in the home straight, the wise old head of Ulysses picked them off.
There is no Ulysses or Barney Roy this time, so excuses won't wash. If Churchill is as classy as O'Brien believes him to be, then an eighth Irish Champion Stakes will be on the trainer's CV by Saturday evening. It is as simple as that.
The presence of Eminent might not make his task as simple as we thought early on in the week, however. Eyebrows were raised when Martyn Meade gave his Group 2-winning colt the green light for Leopardstown and Moore will know all about him having done the steering at Deauville last month. Let him loose on the lead at your peril.
The Grey Gatsby spoiled the Ballydoyle party in 2014 when discovering Australia was not all that he was cracked up to be, but he has not won since and his losing streak now stands at 14. Three years on and he is the second string from the Dermot Weld stable, with Pat Smullen sticking with Zhukova, the sole filly in the line-up.
Winter is coming
There are a dozen dazzling fillies in the Matron Stakes and Winter will need a career-best to make it five Group 1 wins on the trot. Any track, any trip, any ground – it all appears to come alike to the dark grey daughter of Galileo who has been sublime in slamming her own sex all season.
You would think O'Brien would be scared of pitting his stars against each other, but those rules go out the window on Irish Champions Weekend and Oaks runner-up Rhododendron, dual Group 1 winner Roly Poly and the ultra-consistent Hydrangea are all out to wallop Winter. There are family feuds everywhere you look today.
US Army Ranger, Spanish Steps and Exemplar take on each other in the Enterprise Stakes. Sir John Lavery and Whitecliffsofdover will be at loggerheads in the Boomerang Stakes, while the exciting Delano Roosevelt takes on stablemates Kew Gardens and Nelson in the Champions Juvenile Stakes. There are lots of bragging rights up for grabs.
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