Prospects for Kingsbarns up in the air
Donn McClean tries to unravel the Irish Champion Stakes, though the forecast rain doesn't help matters.
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Fifteen miles from the track, 24 hours from post time, and still no sign of rain.
Every weather app that you can access says rain. One of them says a little, one of them says a lot, one of them says about 10mm between now and 6pm on Saturday, one of them says 20mm. And still the sun shines.
Put that into context. They had 4mm on Thursday night, yet the ground on Friday morning was still good to firm, and that was after a programme of watering was sharply curtailed when the weather forecast sharply changed to signal the end of the Irish Indian summer. Leopardstown is a quick-draining track, 10mm on good to firm ground over the course of 24 hours, and it won't be heavy anyway, that's for sure. It could be that we get flat racing ground that is just good, or just on the easy side of good, and that would be just about perfect. Fair for all.
Of course, it would be fairer for some than for others. Trading Leather and The Fugue both love rattling fast ground, so their respective chances will be diminished by every drop of rain that falls. The more that falls, the weaker their chances. It is a direct negative correlation.
By contrast, Roger Charlton wants easy ground for Al Kazeem. Strange that a horse who has won a Tattersalls Gold Cup, a Prince of Wales's Stakes and an Eclipse on fast ground is thought to be at his best in easier conditions, but he is.
He looked very good in winning the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket in May 2012 on his only run as a four-year-old (incidentally, that is that last occasion on which he raced on easy ground), and he wasn't even getting on the plane this weekend until the weather forecast changed. Now that he is here, it would be a little bit sneaky if the rains didn't arrive in significant quantities.
Of course, Al Kazeem is a top-class performer. However, Declaration Of War beat him on merit at York. Roger Charlton's horse had a good run through the race, just on the heels of Trading Leather, yet Declaration Of War was able to catch him and pass him and come clear.
It may have been a ground thing, it may have been just one run too many for the son of Dubawi on fast ground. Or it may have been a timing thing. Al Kazeem had won his three Group 1 races, he had run four times in two and a half months, and had had a six-week break between the Eclipse and the Juddmonte. You can't keep them continually on the boil, so perhaps Roger Charlton had let him down a little during his downtime, and is now building him up to an end-of-season crescendo.
The other slight concern about Al Kazeem is that he was a doubtful runner at the start of the week. Not that the Irish Champion Stakes was not on his radar. On the contrary, it was mentioned as a possible next step immediately after the Juddmonte. However, that is exactly what it is for him at best, a next step, it is not the season's ultimate goal. If the sunshine had been set to last for 24 more hours, he would have been happy to have sat this one out.
"A son of Galileo, both his victories last year were recorded on soft ground. Significant rain would be a positive and, if it does arrive in waves, support for this fellow could follow in similar quantities."
Donn McClean on Kingsbarns
By contrast, you can be sure that the Irish Champion Stakes has been on Declaration Of War's radar for a while, and he has an awful lot in his favour in the context of Saturday's race. The performance that he put up in winning the Juddmonte was probably the best performance of his life and, still relatively lightly-raced, there is a chance that he will improve again on the back of that run.
Joseph O'Brien said before the Juddmonte that he was happy to have another go at Al Kazeem, that he just allowed him get away from him a little in the Eclipse and that he just couldn't reel him back. He did sit closer at York, and he exacted his revenge quite emphatically.
A son of War Front, Declaration Of War is probably at his best on fast ground, but he also has good form on easy ground. He won at The Curragh last year on heavy ground, and he won a listed race at Leopardstown on soft ground on his debut this term. That run also proved that he is at home on the track.
He is probably not as ground-dependent as Al Kazeem is, he comes into this race on an upward curve whereas Roger Charlton's horse comes into it on the back of a defeat, and he doesn't have to travel overseas. In their private duel, Declaration Of War carries an away win into the home leg, and that is significant. He shouldn't be a bigger price than the visitor.
Of course, this is not a private duel. Trading Leather beat Al Kazeem and got close to Declaration Of War at York, but Jim Bolger's horse is probably at his best on fast ground over a mile and a half. He may not be seen at his absolute best over 10 furlongs if the rains arrive.
Ten furlongs is probably The Fugue's optimum trip, her sauntering victory in the Yorkshire Oaks over a mile and a half notwithstanding. However, she has raced twice now on ground that was on the easy side of good, and she has been beaten on both occasions, achieving, respectively, the lowest and fourth-lowest ratings of her racing career. Rain would be a worry.
Kingsbarns is fascinating, of course. Undefeated in two runs as a juvenile and seriously impressive in landing the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy, for which he had been supplemented, it is significant that Aidan O'Brien is allowing him make his seasonal debut in the Irish Champion Stakes. He is obviously impressing at home.
A son of Galileo, both his victories last year were recorded on soft ground. Significant rain would be a positive and, if it does arrive in waves, support for this fellow could follow in similar quantities.
• For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.