Yesterday was the first Irish Champion Stakes card I've attended were things felt flat, the patchy weather, big-priced winners and reduced crowd numbers all likely contributing to a rather 'meh' atmosphere. Though hardly reflected in the mood on-course, punters at home and on track had a right to feel aggrieved that news of Winter's post-Goodwood setback only filtered into the public domain late on Friday evening.
It is unsatisfactory for such a high-profile filly and race meeting, the latter one of those that engages heavily in PR in the weeks beforehand, and she did seem undone by fitness, hitting a low of [1.12] before getting beaten in the Matron. That she was perhaps used as a tool to frighten off the opposition in the run-up to the Champion Stakes only makes matters worse. Anyway, enough moaning, let's get on to Day Two of Irish Champions Weekend.
My argument that UK-trained horses were struggling in Irish handicaps looked badly wrong yesterday as Burnt Sugar won the Sovereign Path and Machine Learner was an unlucky loser in the Petingo. It again shows the importance of judging each horse on its own merits and with that in mind Ice Age looks the pick in the Bold Lad. Both his recent wins at Windsor have come in fast times suggesting he is ahead of his mark of 96 while soft ground is fine for him. A high draw is another help with the added bonus that he tends to go forward in a race where there is no great pace.
Enter The Red is the other one to back. Following an excellent return on soft-heavy in June, he's spend all season racing on ground that is faster than ideal but even so he has acquitted himself well. Last time looks an ordinary effort but he was drawn on the wrong side away from what might have been a biased rail and he finally gets his ideal surface. Though 4lbs wrong at the weights, he has the assistance of a good claimer that can negate that to a degree.
Seventh Heaven is much the best filly in the Blandford but her effectiveness over 10 furlongs, not least off a break, has to be questioned while there is also a doubt about how well the strong-travelling Sea Of Grace will stay this distance. Rain Goddess is a solid sort, albeit with a ceiling, and she may not be totally in love with slow ground.
That leaves last year's winner Shamreen who has a good record on ground described as yielding or slower. She probably isn't a true Group 2 filly, rather one that has been well-placed, but that looks the case again here with some of the others having vulnerabilities. As she won the race last year and only returned to the track in July, this could have been her big target so there might be improvement to come from last time which would make her hard to knock out of the frame now.
Aidan O'Brien routinely dominates the Irish Group 1 juvenile races but even so it is hard to fathom the price of Gustav Klimt here and he was even shorter during the week. His Superlative Stakes win was a visual spectacular but the time was ordinary and Nebo has done little for the form since while this ground is not sure to suit.
I'm on record as saying the Railway Stakes form is strong and I much prefer to dutch the one-two from that around [3.0] than back the favourite at odds-on. Beckford looked undone by the speed test of the Phoenix Stakes last time as Sioux Nation quickened by him but this trip should be more suitable and connections believe he wants soft ground.
Verbal Dexterity should be totally at home with today's race as he put up one of the maiden performances of the season under similar conditions back in June. The drop back in trip caught him out in the Railway and while a 71-day break is an obvious concern he remains a colt with serious upside.
Short prices and Order Of St George have not gone well together since this race last year, the horse suffering four odds-on defeats in the interim, and he probably isn't one to place maximum faith in. Dartmouth in an interesting alternative, not least because he is a long way clear of the rest; he is worth backing win and place with a lean towards the latter.
A good horse over 12 furlongs, notably when winning the Hardwicke last year, Dartmouth finds the level of competition over further that bit easier, and his sole defeat beyond the mile and a half came by a nose last time. He handled soft ground well at the York May meeting and is doughty battler, something that can't be said about the favourite. He probably needs Order Of St George to underperform a little to win but he is a much better horse than the likes of Torcedor and Wicklow Brave.
1 Point Back Ice Age @ [11.5] or bigger in the Curragh 14:00
1 Point Place Back Ice Age @ [3.5] or bigger in the Curragh 14:00
0.5 Point Back Enter The Red @ [23.0] or bigger in the Curragh 14:00
1 Point Place Back Enter The Red @ [6.0] or bigger in the Curragh 14:00
0.5 Point Back Shamreen @ [10.5] or bigger in the Curragh 14:35
0.5 Point Place Back Shamreen @ [2.9] or bigger in the Curragh 14:35
1 Point Back Beckford @ [4.7] or bigger in the Curragh 16:15
1 Point Back Verbal Dexterity @ [7.8] or bigger in the Curragh 16:15
0.5 Point Back Dartmouth @ [9.2] or bigger in the Curragh 16:50
1.5 Point Place Back Dartmouth @ [2.0] or bigger in the Curragh 16:50
2017 P+L: -7.3 points