09/02/2009 11:00PM

Turf condition crucial for Sea the Stars

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Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Sea the Stars, winning the Epsom Derby, will only run Saturday if the turf is firm enough.

Hopes that Sea the Stars will be able to run in the $1.4 million Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday were gaining strength Thursday as Wednesday's rain was being absorbed by the track under sunny and breezy skies. Doubts still linger, however, about the dual classic winner's participation in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 contest, which brings an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf to the winner.

Track officials at Leopardstown upgraded the going from yielding to soft, soft in places on Wednesday night to good to yielding, good in places on Thursday afternoon. With only occasional light showers expected to puncture the sunshine on both Thursday and Friday, trainer John Oxx must be hopeful that Sea the Stars, a four-time Group 1 winner, will be able to line up on Saturday. He has said that Sea the Stars would run as long as the word "good" appears in the course condition.

Sea the Stars has won his last two outings, the Eclipse Stakes and the Juddmonte International, both at 1 1/4 miles. He has also beaten his main Irish Champion rival Fame and Glory by 1 3/4 lengths in the Epsom Derby. Fame and Glory has since won the Irish Derby by five lengths but has not run since that June 28 race. Earlier this year, Fame and Glory won the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes over the Irish Champion course and distance.

On the other hand, Sea the Stars won his maiden going seven furlongs at Leopardstown last summer on a soft to heavy course that would rule him out of Saturday's race.

Fame and Glory is one of five Aidan O'Brien-trained horses entered in a race the trainer has won five times in the last 10 years. Mastercraftsman, who was a length second to Sea the Stars in the Juddmonte International, is named but is he also entered in Sunday's Prix du Moulin de Longchamp at a mile, the distance of his wins in the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace Stakes, and is more likely to run in Sunday's race.

Grand Ducal runs for the first time since May 24 when he won the 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh, while Set Sail and Rockhampton are in the race to insure a sensible pace.

Casual Conquest is capable of springing an upset. One of two older horses in the race along with the 8-year-old Lord Admiral, the Dermot Weld-trained Casual Conquest is coming off a win in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes. In May, he won the 1 5/16-mile, Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup. Both of those victories came on soft ground.

In order to insure the best possible ground for the Irish Champion, the race will be run on the outer turf course as will the Group 1 Matron Stakes, while the other three races on the round course will be run on the inner.

In the $307,000 Matron, a one-mile race for fillies and mares, the David Wachman-trained Again would revel if the ground came up soft as she won the Irish 1000 Guineas under similar conditions. She will be tried by Rainbow View, the European juvenile filly champion who is still seeking her first win at 3, although Rainbow View appeared to improve last time when second to Midday in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 Nassau Stakes. Heaven Sent was just a half-length second to Goldikova two back in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild, while Mad About You will be looking for good ground after her seventh on yielding in the Beverly D. at Arlington Park.