08/31/2010 11:26AM

O'Brien has four Group 1 winners eligible for Irish Champion

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Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Fame and Glory, second to Sea the Stars in last year's Irish Champion Stakes, is among five horses trainer Aidan O'Brien has to choose from for Saturday's race.

A strong argument can be made that the Irish Champion Stakes, which will have its 35th running at Leopardstown on Saturday, is the best race in the world. Since 1984, its winners have included the great stallion Sadler’s Wells, the wonder filly Triptych, future Breeders’ Cup Turf winners Pilsudski, Daylami, Fantastic Light, and High Chaparral, and subsequent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners Suave Dancer, Dylan Thomas, and Sea the Stars, plus six-time Group 1 winner Giant’s Causeway.

Is there a race on the planet with a roll of honor as classy as this 1 1/4-mile Group 1?

Saturday’s running should live up to expectations as there are six Group 1 winners among the nominees at Tuesday’s five-day entry stage. As might be expected, Aidan O’Brien has a full house with five under consideration, four of them winners at the highest level.

The big Ballydoyle names are Fame and Glory and Rip Van Winkle, but only one of them will run, probably Fame and Glory. Second in this last year to Sea the Stars, the 4-year-old Fame and Glory is riding the crest of a four-race winning streak, two of those coming in Group 1’s, the 1 5/16-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup and the 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup. Should O’Brien elect to use the 1 1/2-mile Prix Foy on Sept. 12 as Fame and Glory’s Arc prep, Rip Van Winkle would run in the Irish Champion, but the recent Juddmonte International winner is more likely to run in the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Sept. 25.

Cape Blanco, O’Brien’s Irish Derby winner and King George runner-up, is more likely for the Irish Champion than the St. Leger Stakes next Saturday at Doncaster, but Twice Over, a heart-breaking second to Rip Van Winkle in the Juddmonte, will run at Leopardstown for Henry Cecil. A two-time Group 1 winner at the distance, the 5-year-old Twice Over is at the peak of his powers right now.

Adding flavor to the race is Famous Name. Trained by Dermot Weld, the 5-year-old Famous Name has won three in a row but against lesser than Fame and Glory has been facing. There is little doubt that he is absolutely first class despite never having won a Group 1 race. Weld, however, is skittish about running Famous Name on firmish ground, so the Curragh-based trainer will be praying for rain in Dublin this week.

Even the runners-up in the Irish Champion sound like a roll call of champions, their number including Ouija Board, Motivator, and Falbrav. Perhaps the most scintillating of all editions of the Champion Stakes came in 2001 when Fantastic Light and Galileo battled head and head through the stretch with Fantastic Light ultimately prevailing by a head. That ended Galileo’s three-race Group 1-winning streak and led directly to Fantastic Light’s Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph.

Rest assured, Arc and Breeders’ Cup clues will abound at Leopardstown on Saturday.