Winter heads four Aidan O'Brien-trainees in the Matron Stakes

Winter heads four Aidan O'Brien-trainees in the Matron Stakes

Mathea Kelley

O'Brien Holds Strong Hand for Irish Champion Weekend

Will saddle dual Guineas winners Churchill and Winter.

Dual Guineas winner Churchill and Investec Derby (G1) runner-up Cliffs of Moher are featured in the Sept. 9 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (G1)—one of three Breeders' Cup qualifying races on the Leopardstown card.

Fellow dual Guineas winner Winter takes on stablemates Roly Poly, Hydrangea, and Rhododendron in a very tough field of fillies and mares in the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (G1).

The Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile (G3), the other qualifier, features 10 juveniles going one mile.

Churchill, by Galileo out of the Storm Cat mare Meow, has not won since taking the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1) at the Curragh May 27. That win was preceded by his victory in the May 6 QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket. He was a disappointing fourth behind Barney Roy in the St James's Palace Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, then a game second to Ulysses in the Aug. 23 Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) at York.

Cliffs of Moher, a Galileo colt out of the Dansili mare Wave, has produced fourth-place performances in the Coral-Eclipse (G1) and Juddmonte International stakes (G1) since finishing second to the now-retired Wings of Eagles in the Investec Derby (G1) in June.

Aidan O'Brien trains both Churchill and Cliffs of Moher. Ryan Moore has the mount on Churchill with Seamie Heffernan to ride Cliffs of Moher. 

Despite the presence of the Classic performers, the Irish Champion is not a two-horse race by any means.

Eminent, fresh off a group 2 score in France, is well-backed in antepost betting. The 3-year-old Frankel colt was fourth in the Investec Derby. Poet's Word, a 4-year-old colt by Poet's Voice, has three wins and two seconds from his last five starts, albeit against softer fields.

The 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion Stakes offers a fees-paid berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) at Del Mar Nov. 4.

A similar invitation to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) awaits the winner of the Matron, and, again, O'Brien and the Coolmore connections seem to have an upper hand.

The brilliant Winter, a Galileo filly from the Choisir mare Laddies Poker Two, has won four straight group 1 races—the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas Stakes, the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes at Ascot and the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. With Ryan Moore set to ride, she is close to odds-on with most bookmakers.

Roly Poly was second to her stablemate in both the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes but has scored two group 1 wins since getting away from Winter. The daughter of War Front  captured the July 14 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes (G1) at Newmarket and then wheeled back to annex the July 30 Prix Rothschild (G1) at Deauville.

O'Brien also has his floral arrangement of Rhododendron and Hydrangea in the Matron with the former having defeated the latter in the Dubai Fillies' Mile (G1) at Newmarket last October. Rhododendron was second to Winter in the One Thousand Guineas and was most recently pulled up during the June 18 Prix de Diane Longines (G1) at Chantilly.

The opposition includes Al Shaqab Racing's Qemah, a 4-year-old Danehill Dancer filly who won last year's Prix Rothschild, and Persuasive, a Dark Angel filly who was second in this race last year behind Alice Springs and makes the second start of her 4-year-old campaign.

The Champions Juvenile is a Challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T). Ten 2-year-olds are set for that one-mile test.