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Leopardstown: Don’t Think it’s a cakewalk

By Chris McGrath

Among the maddening misapprehensions that ignited all this heedless vandalism to the autumn calendar, there were also genuine missed opportunities.

You only have to look at Ireland's premier all-aged championship, staged at Leopardstown today, to suspect that the reforms — in one respect, at any rate — might not have been radical enough.

Only five horses take on So You Think in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes — two housed in the same stable, and another entirely by accident.

Snow Fairy's connections had no intention of bringing her here, until some French pedant dusted off the obscure red tape that prohibited her from running at Deauville a couple of weeks ago. He has maintained his anonymity since, probably wisely, albeit the Leopardstown management might well be glad to send him a fat cheque.

In recent years, the top European performers over 10 furlongs have had their schedule stretched by lucrative opportunities elsewhere: in Dubai in the spring, and later on in America, Japan and Hong Kong.

As a result, the traditional programme has increasingly lacked depth. The Coral-Eclipse Stakes and Juddmonte International are consistently beset by small fields, and today's race appears to compound the trend.

Originally, many hoped to bring the new Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot forward to September, but felt constrained by proximity to today's race. Instead eye-watering sums have been thrown at a prize that might conceivably raise only one fresh question: namely, can horses that have been racing against each other all season reproduce the form in deteriorating ground?

Funnily enough, even as it stands, today's race may not prove quite the cakewalk the odds imply. So You Think, imported after a sensational career in Australia, is yet to have his full capacity measured in the Northern Hemisphere. After being run down by one stayer at Royal Ascot, he managed to see off another in the Eclipse. Perhaps we need to see him take on horses like that at their own game, in the Arc, and then maybe the Americans in their own back yard, before we can assent to the billing that preceded him to Ballydoyle.

And it is not impossible that Snow Fairy will make life uncomfortable for anyone prepared to risk terribly short odds today. At her best, this filly has a lethal turn of foot, whereas So You Think tends to depend on the voracious reach of his stride. In a small field, especially, he would do well to stem the sort of acceleration Snow Fairy showed in Japan and Hong Kong late last year.

It remains to be seen whether she is quite back to that peak, but she certainly thrived as 2010 wore on. While So You Think is obviously the most likely winner, 6-1 is by no means a bad price about the filly.

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