Irish Champions Weekend: Appropriately named Lion – The Top Three

Irish 2000 Guineas

d he looked Is anyone else eager with excitement for Irish Champions Weekend?

Across both the UK and Ireland, there are 14 Group-level contests across three tracks, seven of which are Group 1s as well as competitive handicaps like the Old Borough Cup at Haydock, Lavassa Stakes at Ascot, and the Pentingo at Leopardstown.

That is an insane quantity of quality that horse racing fans should be licking their lips for.

With that in mind – though definitely without the same worldwide level of anticipation – I have three horses to consider for Saturday with a bonus column for Sunday’s action potentially in the works.

So, let’s not delay anymore and get onto the matter at hand.


3:10 Ascot – Gallant Lion @ 5/1 with William Hill – 2pt Win

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As any follower of me on social media knows, I am a sucker for Tony Carroll-trained horses.

Whether they are walking around the parade ring ahead of a 0-50 Classified Stakes at Brighton or competing in a competitive handicap around Wolverhampton, at least one of my eyes is always on them.

Thankfully, this season has been an enjoyable one for the Mill House Racing faithful and it could get even better on Saturday if Gallant Lion obliges in the Lavazza Stakes at Ascot.

The three-year-old by the late Roaring Lion has been in the tracker ever since my interview with Tony in April where the experienced trainer gave a nice – though not gushing – word for him ahead of his three-year-old campaign.

“We bought him at the Horses In Training sales and he is a nice, sound horse who was gelded by his previous trainer, Mr Bell.”

Maybe the Brighton specialist was keeping his cards close to his chest because the beautiful grey has won four races in a row at four different tracks under four different jockeys on three varying ground conditions, most recently at Windsor in the Racing League.

The handicapper rewarded connections with just three pounds for his neck victory over The Whipmaster, a potentially lenient view as he had to do the hard work from the front and was a gutsy winner.

Although a drop of rain could potentially benefit his chances, the gelding has won on good-to-firm twice and a look at his pedigree (Roaring Lion out of a Lando mare) wouldn’t immediately suggest that soft ground is a necessity.

My whole heart will be wishing Gallant Lion home at Ascot tomorrow and with good reason as the 5-1-shot has a good chance to make it five from five.


3:25 Kempton – Seven Questions @ 8/1 with BetVictor – 1pt EW

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Away from Ascot and over on the all-weather, the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes is a race that, although not always, can produce a decent horse.

Mischief Magic was successful 12 months ago on his Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint success, so there is some decent heritage to this six-furlong event.

Although this year’s renewal doesn’t look vintage on first viewing, the race could set up for Seven Questions under Callum Shepherd.

The Kodiac two-year-old has been a busy gelding this season thanks to six track appearances and three victories for George Scott.

In all three of his wins, the £58,000 purchase was impressive on the eye over both five and six furlongs on alternating ground conditions.

As the age-old stereotype goes, good horses win on any ground and the experienced juvenile is a lovely galloper when there is open air to do so.

However, he was unable to show this trait last time out at Ripon in the Listed Two Yrs Old Trophy Stakes when third behind the well-fancied Task Force.

Although he broke nicely from stall five, he was quickly shoved into a pocked between horses and it wasn’t until the one-furlong pole flew past that Darragh Keenan could begin to get serious, but his attempt at a race-winning move was too late and he settled for a bronze medal.

In isolation, that race can be marked up as the winner is a regally bred Frankel colt who I personally rate highly and the horses around him – notably Shagraan, Bombay Bazar, and Asdana – had all shown good qualities heading into the race.

Last year, the first four home were all drawn in stall eight or higher, so out of trap number nine, Seven Questions is the play in the Sirenia Stakes.


5:40 Leopardstown – Urban Sprawl @ 12/1 with William Hill – 1pt EW

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This couldn’t be an Irish Champions Weekend article without putting up one horse from Leopardstown on Saturday, and although this horse isn’t in one of the feature races, Urban Sprawl at 14/1 is who I’m with.

Similar to my quoting of ‘good horses go in any ground’, I’ve gone to the racing phrasebook again and pulled out the classic line of ‘back (insert name) blind at (insert track)’.

Although this usually applies to Tony Carroll at Brighton, I’ve adapted this version to say: ‘Back the Johnstons blind at Leopardstown.’

This is for good reason as the Johnstons – both when the license was under Mark’s name and then with Mark & Charlie – operate at a 29% strike rate and +£17.08 profit (to a £1 level stake) at Leopardstown from 36 runners.

That course form is an interesting statistic and tomorrow, Urban Sprawl will be the first runner under just Charlie Johnston’s name to hit the track and he looks well-handicapped off 90.

The highly-tried chestnut colt was victorious at Goodwood in May when too good for the likes of Tafreej, Dark Thirty, Classic, and Saturnalia, four horses who have won since.

Urban Sprawl then went to Royal Ascot and finished third in a hot renewal of the Britannia Stakes behind the winner Docklands and runner-up New Endeavour who has franked the form with his second in the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes at Newbury next time out.

Three runs since over seven furlongs, two of which in softer conditions, haven’t seen him at his best, though his last outing at Goodwood when behind the well-handicapped Rhoscolyn was full of promise.

Back to a mile and on better ground, Urban Sprawl should benefit from a six-pound three-year-old allowance and looks to have a good chance on Irish soil.

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