09/08/2016 12:26PM

O'Brien has favorites in Irish Champion, English St. Leger


Minding and Idaho give Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien strong favorites in two Group 1 races on both sides of the Irish Sea on Saturday: the $1.4 million Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and the $931,980 English St. Leger at Doncaster.

Minding, a 3-year-old filly, can win the seventh Group 1 race of her career in the Irish Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf. Earlier this year, she won Group 1 races in the English 1000 Guineas, the English Oaks, the Pretty Polly Stakes in Ireland, and the Nassau Stakes against older fillies and mares at Goodwood Racecourse in England.

By Galileo, Minding will face males for the first time in the Irish Champion. She was 5-2 in future-book betting on Thursday against arguably the best field of older runners in Europe this year.

The Irish Champion is part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In series, offering a fees-paid berth for the BC Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

Found, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland last October for O’Brien, was an 8-1 shot on Thursday for the Irish Champion. Found is 1 for 6 this year and has been second in four consecutive Group 1 races, including the Yorkshire Oaks on Aug. 18 in her latest start.

Minding’s main rivals are Harzand, the winner of the English and Irish derbies in June, and Almanzor, the winner of the French Derby in June.

Harzand, a 3-1 shot trained by Dermot Weld, will have his first start against older horses in the Irish Champion, which drew a field of 13. Almanzor, an 11-2 chance on Thursday, has started once since the French Derby, winning the Group 2 Prix Guillaume D’Ornaro at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Deauville Racecourse in France on Aug. 15.

Other notable runners are The Grey Gatsby, who won the race in 2014; New Bay, who was third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last October; Fascinating Rock, who beat Found into second in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland in June; and Hawkbill, the winner of the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in England in July.

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Idaho was as low as 4-6 on Thursday to win the English St. Leger against eight rivals in the race at 1 13/16 miles on turf. By Galileo, Idaho was third in the English Derby and second in the Irish Derby before winning the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf for 3-year-olds at York on Aug. 17, a key prep for the St. Leger.

O’Brien trains St. Leger contender Houseofparliament, the runner-up in the Great Voltigeur. The St. Leger will be the Group 1 debut for the well-regarded Muntahaa, a minor stakes winner at Chester Racecourse in England last month for trainer John Gosden. Muntahaa was third in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, his only other appearance in a group-level stakes.

The Leopardstown program includes the $394,520 Matron Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile, a race led by the star 3-year-old French filly Qemah. The Group 1 Matron is part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program, offering a fees-paid berth to the BC Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

Qemah has had an outstanding year, winning consecutive Group 1 races in the Coronation Stakes against 3-year-olds at Royal Ascot in June and the Prix Rothschild against older fillies and mares at Deauville in July.

Gosden runs the unbeaten Persuasive, a five-time winner who will have her Group 1 debut in the Matron. Persuasive won the Group 3 Atalanta Fillies’ Stakes at Sandown Park on Aug. 20 in her group stakes debut.