Irish Champion Stakes: St Mark’s Basilica may fly flag alone for Aidan O'Brien and Ballydoyle at Leopardstown

St Mark's Basilica all set to feature in Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on September 11; Aidan O'Brien has several entries but could leave Coral-Eclipse winner as sole runner; O'Brien: "He won't need any other horses"

St Mark's Basilica ridden by Ryan Moore (left) wins The Coral-Eclipse on Coral-Eclipse Day of The Coral Summer Festival 2021 at Sandown Park racecourse, Esher.
Image: St Mark's Basilica (left) wins the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown

Aidan O'Brien is prepared to rely solely on St Mark's Basilica to provide him with a 10th victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

It is more than two decades since the great Giant's Causeway secured the Ballydoyle trainer's first success in a Group One contest which is now the feature event on the opening afternoon of a star-studded Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

O'Brien has since added to his Irish Champion Stakes tally with such as High Chaparral (2003), Dylan Thomas (2006 and 2007) and Magical, champion for the past two years - and while he has several entries for next Saturday's renewal, St Mark's Basilica could be his only runner.

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"It's possible (other horses could run), but not vital," he said.

"St Mark's Basilica is very happy to stand alone - he's always been like that in his races.

"He won't need any other horses, I think - whatever way the race falls, he should be happy.

"If he goes, there is every chance that he could be (our only runner), without that being written in stone."

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Jockey Ryan Moore and Aidan O'Brien pictured after the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby
Image: Aidan O'Brien could leave St Mark's Basilica as his only runner in the race at Leopardstown

The son of Siyouni has been faultless so far this season, winning both the French 2000 Guineas and the French Derby before beating his elders with a sensational performance in the Coral-Eclipse in early July.

A late setback meant he missed an intended appearance in last month's Juddmonte International at York, but O'Brien reports his star three-year-old colt to be firmly on course for Leopardstown.

He said: "We got him back going as soon as we could and got him back into full work - and so far, everything looks good.

"It (the injury) happened before the Juddmonte, so he had his few days (off), and it was kind of like he had a run and he just started building back up for Leopardstown after that."

Tarnawa is unbeaten in her last five starts for Dermot Weld
Image: Tarnawa is unbeaten in her last five starts for Dermot Weld

O'Brien is confident St Mark's Basilica possesses all the qualities to contest one of the season's biggest middle-distance contests, even if he can expect to find Dermot Weld's top-class mare Tarnawa lying in wait.

"He's very off-handed and very straightforward," he said.

"He has a great mind, he relaxes, he has a great stride and is very genuine - he has all the things that you would love in a horse.

"Tarnawa is a great filly - Dermot does a great job with her and Colin (Keane) has given her some brilliant rides.

"She was very impressive the last day. We always say it's great when these horses turn up in these races, and even greater for us when those races are in Ireland."

Mother Earth and Empress take on Matron Stakes

Mother Earth ridden by jockey Frankie Dettori wins the Qipco 1000 Guineas
Image: Mother Earth, ridden by jockey Frankie Dettori, wins the Qipco 1000 Guineas

O'Brien is planning a twin assault on the other Group One at Leopardstown, with 1000 Guineas and Prix Rothschild heroine Mother Earth set to be joined by stablemate Empress Josephine in the Coolmore America "Justify" Matron Stakes.

"We were delighted with Mother Earth the last day in Deauville, and everything has gone well with her since then," he said.

One of his interesting runners on the undercard, meanwhile, is the lightly-raced Innisfree - who is pencilled in for the Group Three Paddy Power Stakes.

Having been off the track since filling the runner-up spot behind subsequent Classic hero Kameko in the 2019 Vertem Futurity Trophy almost two years ago, the Galileo colt was a big eyecatcher when fifth in last month's Royal Whip at the Curragh.

Innisfree returned after two-year absence to be fifth in the Royal Whip Stakes
Image: Innisfree returned after two-year absence to be fifth in the Royal Whip Stakes

Reflecting on that performance, O'Brien said: "We were very happy. It was obviously a long time since he ran, and the plan was that we would take our time on him, and Seamus (Heffernan) was delighted with him.

"He was only starting to get into top gear with half a furlong to go, but he came out of the race very well.

"We're looking forward to seeing him run - and we think this is hopefully going to be a nice race for him.

"He's a four-year-old, who is big and powerful now, and this is hopefully going to tell us where we're going to go afterwards."

With Leopardstown's fixture followed by another top-class card at the Curragh the following afternoon, O'Brien is preparing several of his biggest guns to run over the two days.

He is relishing the action ahead, particularly following the news a sizeable crowd is expected at both tracks after the Irish Government confirmed on Tuesday it is preparing to lift the vast majority of remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

O'Brien said: "It's an unbelievably prestigious weekend for everybody. It has the perfect slot in the calendar and is run at two absolutely world-class tracks.

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"I think it's been a serious initiative and has really made a massive difference to the whole Irish Flat programme and breeding industry."

He added: "It's vital (we get crowds back). It creates a great atmosphere and great interest.

"That is what racing is all about really. It has to be a spectacle and it has to be somewhere that everybody wants to go - and when they do go they enjoy it.

"For the future of racing it's very important, and hopefully it will be brilliant."

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