Donnacha O’Brien admits Saxon Warrior will have to step up again if he is to see off old rival Roaring Lion in Saturday’s Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
The pair will be meeting for the sixth time and while Saxon Warrior came out on top in their first two meetings when winning last year’s Racing Post Trophy and the 2000 Guineas when ridden by O’Brien back in May, Roaring Lion has finished ahead on the last three occasions.
Just a neck separated the pair in the Eclipse, but Roaring Lion more than had Saxon Warrior’s measure in last month’s Juddmonte International at York, with the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt beaten five lengths in fourth under Ryan Moore.
The O’Brien team has a handful of contenders at present so jockey plans are far from certain, but Donnacha O’Brien knows more will be required to see off Roaring Lion.
He said: “Roaring Lion was very impressive and he’s a lot to do to bridge that gap, so it will be a good race. He’s in good form, we’re very happy with him.
“For the last few years it’s been one of the races of the season anywhere in the world. It’s at a great place in the calendar and thankfully that brings some good horses every year, so that’s exciting.”
O’Brien could also run Deauville, Rhododendron, Seahenge, Athena and Magical who all feature among 10 possibles.
The John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion is the odds-on favourite for the 10-furlong feature as he bids for a third Group One win in succession.
Jim Bolger has Verbal Dexterity in contention and will be looking to him to improve on a pleasing comeback at the Curragh having won the National Stakes on this weekend 12 months ago.
Adding an international flavour is the French Derby winner, Study Of Man, who finished third behind Knight To Behold in France last time out.
The only other possible is William Haggas’ Addeybb, who began the season with wins in the Lincoln at Doncaster and a Group Two at Sandown before finding the ground too fast in the Lockinge.