09/06/2012 3:16PM

Nathaniel takes on Snow Fairy and St Nicholas Abbey in Irish Champion


The best race in Ireland so far this year takes place Saturday at Leopardstown with Nathaniel, Snow Fairy, and St Nicholas Abbey the main attractions among six horses entered in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes.

The Irish Champion is a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, earning its victor an automatic berth in the race plus travel expenses, and the Irish Champion might well have Breeders’ Cup implications. St Nicholas Abbey won the 2011 BC Turf and might well return to defend his title, while Snow Fairy’s name has cropped up as a BC possible. Nathaniel, however, has the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a major autumn goal.

Perhaps with that in mind, trainer John Gosden said this week that Nathaniel probably would not be at his best for the Irish Champion, but punters were not buying Gosden’s line. As of Thursday, Nathaniel was the solid favorite over Snow Fairy in antepost betting on the Irish Champion, a 1 1/4-mile race expected to be contested over good ground. Four-year-old Nathaniel has finished first or second in eight of his nine starts and is a two-time Group 1 winner whose very best race might still be in front of him. Somewhat late to the races in 2012, Nathaniel beat talented Farhh in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse, his comeback race, before finishing second by a nose to 2011 Arc winner Danedream in the King George Stakes on July 21. Saturday’s race will be his first start outside England.

Snow Fairy was injured last winter in Hong Kong, but having been patiently brought along to race readiness by trainer Ed Dunlop, she scored a smart comeback win in the Group 1 Prix Romanet on Aug. 19 at Deauville. Snow Fairy, an eight-time winner with multiple Group 1’s on her resume, raced in the 2011 Irish Champion, coming within a half-length of an in-form So You Think in a strong performance.

St Nicholas Abbey’s lone win this year came in the Group 1 Coronation Cup, but he has been in fine form all season long. A better horse at 12 furlongs than 10, his connections might be happy with a solid run that would propel St Nicholas Abbey into major mile-and-a-half races in the fall.

Born To Sea, Light Heavy, and Daddy Long Legs complete the field.

The Matron, a filly-and-mare race on the Irish Champion undercard, attracted a somewhat subpar field of 11 for a Group 1 contest. Emulous, Duntle, and Maybe head the ante-post wagering.

Ortensia favored at Haydock

Jockeys William Buick and Frankie Dettori, who respectively ride Nathaniel and Snow Fairy, are in for a hectic Saturday. Both riders have mounts in the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup and will fly via helicopter from England to Ireland late Saturday afternoon following the Haydock race.

Buick has the mount on race favorite Ortensia, the Australian mare who has spent the last several months in England, and who was mentioned this week by her trainer, Paul Messara, as a possible runner in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Ortensia is coming off consecutive Group 1 victories in the Goodwood Cup and the Nunthorpe after ninth- and fourth-place finishes in her first two English attempts. Bated Breath and Strong Suit are considered her chief rivals in a six-furlong race that attracted 15 entrants.