09/03/2003 11:00PM

Distance works for Falbrav

Email

Alamshar, High Chaparral, Falbrav, and Moon Ballad will meet in the annual battle royale that is the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

This key Breeders' Cup prep, won in recent years by Fantastic Light, Daylami, and Pilsudski, has come up stronger than ever. With a value of $1,085,000, the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 contest should have a major impact on both the Turf and the Classic.

The Irish bookies have installed the Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes winner Alamshar as the 5-4 (1.25-1) favorite. As a course-and-distance winner in the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial in May, the John Oxx-trained Alamshar certainly knows his way around the left-handed Leopardstown oval. Johnny Murtagh will again ride.

But Alamshar is a 12-furlong horse at heart, as is High Chaparral, the defending Breeders' Cup Turf champ who returned off a 9 1/2-month absence last month to take the Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes at 1 1/4 miles at The Curragh.

Falbrav has won two Group 1's going 1 1/2 miles, but his metier is 10 furlongs. He was nine lengths behind Alamshar in fifth in the King George, but his victories in the Eclipse Stakes and the Juddmonte International at the Irish Champion distance make him the one to beat at 5-2.

Trainer Luca Cumani will point Falbrav to the Breeders' Cup Turf for a possible rematch with High Chaparral, but Moon Ballad is using the Irish Champion as a prep for the Classic. Godolphin's five-length winner of the Dubai World Cup, Moon Ballad will be fitted with blinkers after so-so runs in the Prince of Wales's Stakes and the Sussex Stakes, but he appears to be simply marking time until his return to dirt, which he clearly prefers to turf.

Added interest is provided by two-time Yorkshire Oaks winner Islington and this season's Irish Oaks winner, Vintage Tipple, but they would both have to show considerable improvement to land the big prize.