09/05/2013 4:49PM

Leopardstown: Softer turf for Irish Champion should suit Al Kazeem

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The near certainty of a rainy Friday night and Saturday on the eastern coast of Ireland means Al Kazeem will cross the Irish Sea from England to contest the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday at Leopardstown.

The Leopardstown course was listed as good-to-firm as of Thursday, but barring a weather surprise, that will have changed considerably by post time for the Irish Champion. Al Kazeem won three Group 1 races on good-to-firm turf earlier this year, but trainer Roger Charlton chalked up his third-place finish Aug. 21 in the Juddmonte International to a too-firm course, and for the first time all season, Al Kazeem figures to get the rain-softened grass he prefers.

Al Kazeem was one of eight final declarations for a good renewal of the Irish Champion, a 1 1/4-mile race with a purse of about $570,000 and linked through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In program to the BC Turf. The race’s other potentially major players are Declaration of War and his stablemate Kingsbarns, Trading Leather, and the filly The Fugue.

The 5-year-old Al Kazeem arguably is the best middle-distance horse in Europe this year. At his best, Al Kazeem has tactical speed and a deadly sustained run, and a reversal of the Juddmonte result will be widely expected on Al Kazeem’s preferred going.

The Juddmonte could have been a breakthrough for Declaration of War, the Aidan O’Brien-trained 4-year-old who proved no match for Al Kazeem when they met two months ago in the Eclipse Stakes.

The day after the Juddmonte, The Fugue convincingly won the Yorkshire Oaks for fillies and mares, but she was far less effective in her previous venture into unrestricted competition, finishing last of seven in the Eclipse.

Trading Leather, a capable Jim Bolger-trained 3-year-old, stayed on for second in the Juddmonte but has yet to prove he can beat elite older horses, particularly over Saturday’s trip.

Kingsbarns is the unknown quantity. He was the winter Epsom Derby favorite on the strength of two good wins as a 2-year-old and would have to be a special horse to win his belated 3-year-old debut in such a tough spot.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Trial Stakes – a Win and You’re In race – and the Group 1 Matron Stakes also are on the card. O’Brien has five of the 10 final entrants for the Trial, though Exogenesis might be the horse to beat there, while the Matron lacks a standout thanks to the midweek defection of Elusive Kate.

◗ Saturday’s Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup in England is headed by Lethal Force, Reckless Abandon, and Gordon Lord Byron.