09/07/2005 11:00PM

Azamour defends Champion title

Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Azamour, shown winning the King George, seeks his second consecutive Irish Champion Stakes victory on Saturday.

Azamour will seek a second successive victory in the $1.23 million Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday, and Scorpion will start as the odds-on favorite in the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster.

Leopardstown's annual 1 1/4-mile showcase of Group 1 excellence, the Irish Champion Stakes, has a roll call of recent winners second to none. Pilsudski, Swain, Daylami, Giant's Causeway, Fantastic Light, and High Chaparral preceded Azamour's half-length victory over Norse Dancer in last year's edition.

Five Group 1 winners grace Saturday's renewal, in which the Aga Khan's John Oxx-trained Azamour is dropping back to his favorite distance after having won the 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on July 23. Christophe Soumillon replaces the suspended Johnny Murtagh in the saddle.

Norse Dancer will try Azamour again in what will be his 20th attempt for what has been an elusive Group 1 score, but there are greater dangers to the favorite emerging from the 3-year-old ranks - namely Oratorio and Motivator, who were first and second in the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 2. Oratorio upset Motivator that day and appears better suited to 1 1/4 miles than does Motivator, who may not run if the ground remains firmish.

An Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Danehill, Oratorio can add his name to the list of Irish Champion winners, but besides Azamour, he and rider Kieren Fallon will have to beat the dangerous Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, Grey Swallow, as well as Alexander Goldrun, the Jim Bolger-trained filly who has won Group 1 races in four different countries.

Alexander Goldrun is coming off a sharp tally against her own gender in the Nassau Stakes, but she defeated older colts in the Hong Kong Cup last December. Expect her to be right there with Oratorio and Azamour.

Also on the card, Chic and Attraction will duke it out in the one-mile $307,000 Group 1 Matron Stakes for fillies and mares. Chic returned to her best form to win the Group 2 Celebration Mile on Aug. 28, but Attraction is winless in two starts this year.

Meanwhile, with Fallon busy on Oratorio, Frankie Dettori picks up a rare ride for Aidan O'Brien aboard the fast-improving Scorpion in the 1 3/4-mile, 132-yard $760,000 St. Leger. Scorpion set a Longchamp record for 1 1/2 miles when winning the Grand Prix de Paris on July 14, and may yet prove to be the best horse in O'Brien's yard. He appears to have both Great Voltigeur winner Hard Top and Gordon Stakes winner The Geezer over a barrel.

* Electrocutionist, the Earle Mack-owned winner of the Juddmonte International at York on Aug. 16, has been declared out of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe by trainer Valfredo Valiani and will be aimed instead at Woodbine's Canadian International on Oct. 23. His connections cite a fear of soft ground at Longchamp for his Arc defection.