By Tom Peacock
Every edition of Ireland’s premier Flat race has the weight of history on its shoulders. From the imperious Suave Dancer and Sea The Stars to the epic match-ups between the likes of Galileo and Fantastic Light, or Dylan Thomas against Ouija Board, the names trip off the tongue.
Whether Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior will conjure up more vivid memories in the years to come remains to be seen, but they are the best that an essentially fair-to-middling Flat season has to offer.
Each will have their supporters and we must hope that the pair’s sixth meeting can provide another encounter to set the pulses racing.
Trainer: William Haggas. Odds: 16-1.
Group One wins: None
Listen to what William Haggas said after Addeybb's first two victories this year
Has come into his own as an older horse on soft ground with impressive wins in the Lincoln and the Sandown Mile.
Not seen since struggling over quicker conditions in the Lockinge back in mid-May. Although fitness shouldn’t be an issue and he is still unexposed, the largely dry forecast for what is currently fairly quick ground is going to make his trainer fretful.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Odds: 50-1.
Group One wins: Belmont Derby
Has performed a useful supporting role at times and has paid his way from numerous productive visits to North America. However, he has now only won one race in more than two years, in last season’s Huxley at Chester, and his level of performance this term cannot considered better than what he has delivered in times gone by.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Odds: 25-1.
Group One wins: Fillies’ Mile, Prix de l’Opera, Lockinge
How good was Rhododendron's Lockinge triumph?
Magnificent performer for her stable who has delivered at the top-level in each season in training and was even sent off at odds-on in Enable’s Oaks.
Took the Lockinge but seemingly not herself in the subsequent Queen Anne and Nassau. Whilst she should be forgiven losing her footing last time at Deauville, it is difficult to be certain that she was in the process of running a big race. All in all, too many question marks to be confident about her.
Trainer: John Gosden. Odds: 4-5.
Group One wins: Eclipse, International Stakes
Our experts scrutinise the Juddmonte International Stakes
Qatar Racing’s standard-bearer has discarded any quibbles over his temperament with a string of accomplished efforts.
Placed in the Derby and a whisker ahead of Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse, he well and truly came of age at York when crushing the elite of European racing by upwards of three and a quarter lengths.
Campaigned impeccably by his trainer, it is hard to find a fault with his case here.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Odds: 7-2.
Group One wins: Racing Post Trophy, 2000 Guineas
_Saxon Warrior was "awesome" in the 2,000 Guineas, says James Willoughby _
Has been engaged in a running battle with Roaring Lion, taking first blood at Doncaster and then in the Guineas, but has fallen behind his rival the last three times over extended distances.
As a guideline, he had every chance against his grey rival over this trip in the Eclipse when going down by just a neck.
Although his stable was under a well-publicised cloud when five lengths behind in the Juddmonte International, it is also fair to say that Roaring Lion has improved.
Whether Saxon Warrior has himself, and whether he would actually be better suited by a mile, are questions which will be answered on Saturday.
STUDY OF MAN
Trainer: Pascal Bary. Odds: 7-1.
Group One wins: Prix du Jockey Club
Came into the French Derby with a progressive profile and completed his task in promising and determined fashion.
Is forgiven being a little rusty when reappearing at Deauville last month and not given an unduly hard time behind Knight To Behold but still difficult to know where we are with him. His Classic form is not as strong as the two protagonists and the Arc may well be his ultimate aim.
Trainer: Jim Bolger. Odds: 16-1.
Group One wins: National Stakes
A useful two-year-old who has tended to need stoking along, running a fair fourth behind Saxon Warrior when looking capable of better in the Racing Post Trophy.
Missed the Guineas with a setback and will have pleased connections when closing into fourth on his belated reappearance in last month’s Royal Whip Stakes. Worthy of his place, but this looks too much, too soon.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Odds: 50-1.
Group One wins: Belmont Oaks
Slow-learning but durable filly who is already on to her 10th start of 2018. Gained due reward in what was a very winnable Grade One in America but has fallen short of what is required against her own sex in Europe. Trying her hand in open competition is not going to make life any easier.
TOM PEACOCK'S VERDICT:
When a race is billed as a match-up, there is always the temptation to look for something to ruin the script.
On this occasion, however, it does feel as if a healthy imagination is required to make a strong case for any horse other than the top two in the market.
As unoriginal and painful as it is to state, it seems that much the most likely outcome is that ROARING LION will collect a third consecutive Group One prize and assert the same superiority over Saxon Warrior as he managed in the Juddmonte International. He has the best form in the line-up and no obvious weaknesses.
Should she head here rather than for other Irish Champions Weekend options, the re-emerging Magical is the most realistic big-priced suggestion but she surely needs the big two to underperform.