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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

What the trainers say as Churchill leads O'Brien trio into battle

Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore will be hoping Churchill returns to the winner's enclosure
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6.45 Leopardstown
Qipco Irish Champion Stakes | Group 1| 3yo+| 1m2f | RTE2/ATR

Churchill has lost his power and only an impressive victory will see him regain his status as the top three-year-old colt around.

Tremendous at two, when he signed off his juvenile campaign with Group 1 wins in the National Stakes and Dewhurst, Churchill looked even better at three when taking both the 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas with the minimum of fuss in May. Since then, however, his reputation has twice been tarnished.

First came a lethargic display in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, where Churchill couldn't pick up behind Barney Roy, while the older and wiser Ulysses thwarted him on his first try at 1m2f in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York last month. 

Trainer Aidan O'Brien said: "You have to remember that Churchill missed three days when he went over to Goodwood for the Sussex Stakes [when he was a late non-runner]. We were happy with him heading to York but would have been much happier if the ground had been good and fast. We let him take his chance and we were very happy with the way he ran but I think there should be improvement to come. He looks very well."

Just like in the Juddmonte International, Cliffs Of Moher follows Churchill into battle but this time O'Brien stressed that the Investec Derby runner-up will not be cutting out the running.

O'Brien said: "Cliffs Of Moher has not done a whole lot since York. The race didn't really pan out the way we would have liked there and I would say we will take our time with him on this occasion. He seems well."

O'Brien is aiming to win the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes for an eighth time and for the first time since So You Think in 2011. His three-pronged attack on this year's race is completed by the rank outsider Taj Mahal.

"Taj Mahal ran much better at Arlington last time and was not beaten far. He's in good form," O'Brien said.

Pros Churchill could still be suited by 1m2f despite his Juddmonte International reversal and he is 4lb clear of everything on ratings

Cons Churchill has had his reputation dented on two occasions since winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas in superb style, while the ground could be slower than ideal


Can Eminent give Frankel a landmark win? 

Eminent would appear to have both a dream draw and a dream jockey in his bid to give his sire Frankel a breakthrough first Group 1 winner in Europe.

Trainer Martyn Meade says he "wouldn't change" his runner's position closest to the rail in stall one, which may help Eminent replicate the front-running tactics that served him so well in a Group 2 in France last time.

He was ridden by Ryan Moore that day but Meade moved quickly to recruit Frankie Dettori when he knew Moore would have other commitments.

Although with his fourth different partner in as many starts, Eminent will be in good hands as the Italian rider is just one shy of Mick Kinane's record of seven wins in this race, most recently striking with Golden Horn two years ago.

Originally aimed at the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, Eminent came out of his easy three-length win over Salouen (with French Derby winner Brametot back in fifth) in such good heart that connections have decided to strike early.

Meade said: "Stall one could either be the best or the worst draw if he doesn't jump out but I wouldn't change it. He could make the running but I'll leave that to the jockey, although we don't want to set it up for someone else."

Since his French romp, Eminent has shone in two pieces of work on the Limekilns training grounds in Newmarket, and Meade is delighted with him. He added: "I'm very hopeful he'll run a big race and, although it looks a tough one, I'm glad Winter isn't in it as I thought she was a big danger. Eminent goes there at the top of his game and won't mind if they get more rain. It's all very exciting and I can't wait for the race."

Frankel's only Group 1 winner is the filly Soul Stirring who won the Japanese Oaks in May.

Pros Comes into the race in great form and is a strong stayer at the trip

Cons May be pestered early by the likes of O'Brien pacemaker Taj Mahal and regular front-runner Success Days

Poet's Word ready for step up in class

It is 20 years since Sir Michael Stoute last won this with established Group 1 winner Pilsudski, but the Newmarket trainer is not afraid to throw the unexposed Poet's Word into the mix despite having just a win at Group 3 level to his name.

The four-year-old should be fresher than most having had only three outings this season, the most recent of which was when beating Second Step in the Glorious Stakes at Goodwood last month.

Although that effort was over a mile and a half, the form received a handy boost when the runner-up won a Listed race at Windsor in convincing fashion.

Saeed Suhail's colt has since worked very nicely on the Limekilns in Newmarket which has swayed Stoute to have a crack at the big pot rather than plumping for the easier option of the Group 3 September Stakes at Kempton.

Poet's Word: a cosy winner at Goodwood last time

As Ryan Moore, who is the only jockey to have ever won on the son of Poet's Voice, is unavailable, Stoute has booked James Doyle whose only previous ride in the contest was on Al Kazeem, runner-up to The Fugue in 2013.

Bruce Raymond, racing manager to the owner, said: "We're not yet sure if Poet's Word is a Group 1 horse but he's a Group 1 contender. We did have him in a Group 3 at Kempton but Sir Michael feels now is the time to take a look at something better with him. He goes there a much fresher horse than most of his contemporaries having had just the three starts this year and his work has been very good since Goodwood. Obviously it's a tough race but the prize-money is fantastic and hopefully we can get some of it."

Whatever happens in Ireland, Poet's Word has a big end-of-season target. Raymond added: "The Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot is his main autumn objective and this will put us in that direction."

Pros Fresher than most and we've been here before with these unexposed Stoute types. Could pick up the pieces if they go too hard up front

Cons Not well drawn and drop back in trip a concern

What the trainers say

Roger Charlton, trainer of Decorated Knight
We are hoping the ground doesn't get slow. Ideally he wants decent ground and he didn't get it at York. In reality the first two in the betting will be very hard to conquer. It is a big ask. He was on the go early in the year but he is a tough and consistent horse.

Ken Condon, trainer of Success Days
He's in super form and has come out of his York win very well. It's the usual with him though – any rain will be very much welcomed. As we all know, Leopardstown is a brilliant track in terms of drainage, but we'll be hoping that a little more rain arrives on Friday night and before the off. He's very solid and consistent and, although he has plenty to find on ratings, should hopefully run a big race.

Dermot Weld, trainer of The Grey Gatsby and Zhukova
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 [Sadler's Joy] 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 who 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.

Read exclusive previews from Ascot, Haydock and Leopardstown from 6pm daily on


Eminent goes there at the top of his game and won't mind if they get more rain. It's all very exciting and I can't wait for the race.

Key data

Eminent Poet's Word
E.W. Terms
Sky bet