09/02/2010 12:40PM

Rip Van Winkle looks toughest in Irish Champion Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Aidan O'Brien eased Rip Van Winkle into his 2010 campaign.

Rip Van Winkle is stable jockey Johnny Murtagh’s choice of three Aidan O’Brien-trained mounts in Saturday’s Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. The winner of the Juddmonte International at York last month, Rip Van Winkle is expected to be the odds-on favorite for the 10-furlong test.

O’Brien took a deliberate approach to Rip Van Winkle’s campaign this year, and delayed his seasonal reappearance till mid-June at Royal Ascot, with the intention of aiming for a productive second half of the season.

This appears to be paying dividends, as following a sixth-place finish at Ascot, he was a close runner-up to Canford Cliffs in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood before his win at York.

Twice Over, sent to Ireland from Newmarket by trainer Henry Cecil, is the pick of Rip Van Winkle’s opposition in the six-runner Champion Stakes. Winner of the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park under jockey Tom Queally, he was defeated by Rip Van Winkle when runner-up in the International.

Twice Over should run another good race, but is likely to find his York conqueror just a little too strong again here.

The Irish Derby winner, Cape Blanco, is also entered by O’Brien and will be ridden by Seamus Heffernan. It looks as though his elders will give him too much to handle, though.

Beethoven is the final O’Brien runner, and will be ridden by the trainer’s son Joseph. He also has a Group 1 win on his r é sum é , winning last year’s Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket at 33-1, but he is in all likelihood running for the minor placings.

The same should apply to the other English-trained runner, Sea Lord. He has progressed through handicaps this season to win a Group 3 race last time out, but faces a big step up in class here.

Rounding out the sextet is the Dermot Weld-trained Famous Name. A consistent group race-winning performer, he comes here off victories in a listed race and pair of Group 3 events.