Fran Berry column ahead of Irish Champions Weekend

Fran Berry fancies Buckhurst in Ireland
Fran Berry fancies Buckhurst in Ireland

Joseph O'Brien's Buckhurst features amongst Fran Berry's strongest fancies as he guides us through Irish Champions Weekend, plus the St Leger at Doncaster.

It's a fantastic weekend for Irish racing enthusiasts and Longines Irish Champions Weekend has clearly captured the imagination of everyone given its perfect spot in the calendar and quality prize money from start to finish.

The first race at Leopardstown on Saturday is going to be interesting as it's been upgraded to Listed level. I'll have a keen eye on Lady Jane Wilde who the family bred and put up a huge performance to win first time out last month.

She's always been very promising but we didn't think she'd be up to winning a Curragh maiden on debut but there seemed no fluke about it and the form has worked out well. John Oxx trains the filly now and hopefully she could be quite exciting. The different ground here would be the only real potential concern but she's nice.

Barbados tops the weights for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF "Petingo" Handicap and he's one of several interesting three-year-olds who get the 8lb weight allowance.

That looks significant over this trip at the time of year and I prefer his Aidan O'Brien stablemate Eminence, who I backed for the Sky Bet Melrose at York and thought ran well, only beaten four lengths.

This is run on the inside track and I think a low-ish draw is going to be beneficial so stall six under Ryan Moore could be ideal for Eminence. He's got some good experience in the bag now and looks a good bet around 5/1.

The KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes looks Mogul's race to lose in truth as he was very impressive on his second start. He looks a proper prospect for Ballydoyle but I've got to give a mention Rebel Tale for Andrew Slattery. He ran Armory quite close last time and clearly brings a good level of form to the table.

It's worth keeping an eye on horses like him running on the Saturday with Armory obviously in action on Sunday so the form could work.

The Paddy Power Betting Shop Stakes includes one of my best bets of the weekend as while the returning Mount Everest has to be respected having been just denied by Japan in last year's Beresford when last seen, he's surely going to improve for the run.

Buckhurst is the one I'm seriously interested in as I rate him a Group One horse in the future and he looks on a steep upward curve after wins here in June and August. The Jopseph O'Brien team rate him highly.

In the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes I'd love to see Magical win after her huge efforts behind Enable and Crystal Ocean. She's due her turn but I feel Elarqam is quite a solid bet in opposition.

I've not been convinced about him once or twice in the past but he's turned things around big-time with the win at York over Addeybb and his third in the Juddmonte International.

He was a shade unlucky not to go close last time and I think he's well worth his revised rating of 120.

Anthony Van Dyck and Madhmoon have a little bit to prove in this sort of company but have to be respected while Deirdre might have been flattered in the Nassau but it's great to see her turning up here.

Headman is the big quandary as he's clearly a proper prospect for Roger Charlton but his French form isn't hard to knock. I'm not convinced that form is quite up to this level and he'll need to improve again.

Magic Wand is a huge price and I've got to mention her too as she keeps picking up the pieces in big races and might be ridden to do so again here. I'd have Elarqam to beat stablemates Magical and Magic Wand if pushed for a top three.

The Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes is an open little Group Three over a mile with Lancaster House looking to back up his win on much softer ground from earlier in the week.

You'd have massive respect for him as he looks to be going places but it's a quick turnaround and Space Traveller might be a safer bet as I was quite encouraged by his York run. As a Jersey winner he's got a touch of class and seems to get this trip just as well.

Laurens is favourite as she goes for back-to-back victories in the Coolmore "Fastnet Rock" Matron Stakes, I just hope that run back over seven furlongs at the Ebor Festival hasn't taken it out of her.

She takes her racing so well but it would be at the back of my mind if playing at a short price.

Hermosa would hold obvious claims if back to herself but you just don't know after 44 days off since that poor Goodwood run, while personally I don't thin Iridessa will be ideally suited by dropping back.

It might be one for I Can Fly to get back to winning ways as it's bound to be her turn at some stage soon as she's running well enough to land on a big race before long.

Onto the Curragh on Sunday and we kick off with a huge field in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF "Bold Lad" Sprint Handicap. Venturous is the one I like here despite stall one.

That draw could be tricky but there have been plenty of races run on this sprint track this season where the draw has been turned on its head and you'd just hope there's plenty of pace on the far side.

You can't really rule any of them out in the Moyglare "Jewels" Blanford Stakes so I won't be getting carried away. Dermot Weld's Tarnawa won a Group Three in Cork after a break and has won two at that level now so it looks like this race has been the plan for a little while. The drop in trip shouldn't be an issue.

Goddess has really come to hand on her last two starts while Waitingfortheday caused a slight surprise when beating Skitter Scatter at Tipperary. It looks a warm race.

That's also the case in the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes with Houtzen and Soldier's Call both coming into it on the back of seconds to Battaash. Soldier's Call didn't seem quite as good at the Curragh earlier in the season though which just puts me off him.

Soffia's form has completely taken off and it keeps working out well so hopefully she'll be a rare thing and be one to keep a Group One five furlong sprint at home in Ireland.

Albigna would be another five-star selection in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

She's won twice over six furlongs despite not really knowing how to race and the form looks very solid. She's got to be an improver for the move up to seven furlongs and that's not something you'd definitely say about Roger Varian's Daahyeh who is a good British yardstick but she’s a Bated Breath filly out of an Oasis Dream mare so might be more of a sprinter going forward.

Pinatubo is the best two-year-old we’ve seen to date, beating Lope Fernandez at Goodwood and Ascot before that. It's great to see Charlie Appleby bringing him over for the National Stakes and for many he'll be the banker of the weekend.

It's hard to argue but there's not much value in siding with him at odds-on and I think Armory and Arizona will both offer some resistance. The latter won the Coventry Stakes from Threat and has since run in France where the ground was really heavy. I still have a bit of faith in him.

It's nice to see a proper race for the Comer Group International Irish St. Leger this year with any number in with a chance.

Search For A Song could well be a staying star of the future following her resounding success in the Galtres Stakes but on experience and form you'd have to focus on Cross Counter and Kew Gardens.

Back up in trip and back on good ground will play to Kew Gardens' strengths who might just have too many gears for the Godolphin runner.

Twilight Payment has changed yards but it's nice to see Kevin Manning keep the ride as he gets on so well with the horse who has been in the form of his life as a six-year-old this time around. I wouldn't rule him out at a bigger price.

Arguably the most important race of the weekend is the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials Ireland and it should be a brilliant spectacle.

The wealth of jockeys that have come together to support this great cause is a mark of the man himself.

As for the race I think Quizical might be the one to be on, but that's clearly beside the point on this occasion.

The William Hill St Leger is the standout race in Britain and Logician gets my vote.

He's going to improve for the step up in trip as he looks to have a very relaxed demeanour. He's very professional and was most impressive at York.

I'd happily put a line through Sir Dragonet's comeback run, that was more like a pipe opener on the back of that great run in the Derby and the switch to a flat track and up to a mile and six will both suit. He's never been a 10-furlong horse and I feel this distance will be right up his street.

Both the market principals have only had the four runs and both should like the trip so it's a real poser, but I'd be with John Gosden's horse on the prevailing ground.

As for a spot of place value, Nayef Road might be the one under Andrea Atzeni. If you forgive him one bad run then he's got a squeak on his Gordon Stakes form.


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