Karl Burke confident as Laurens gets ready to defend her crown

PJ McDonald and Laurens (near side) narrowly lost out to Shine So Bright at York's Ebor festival.
PJ McDonald and Laurens (near side) narrowly lost out to Shine So Bright at York's Ebor festival.
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Karl Burke is confident six-time Group One winner Laurens is in peak condition for the defence of her crown in the Coolmore “Fastnet Rock” Matron Stakes.

The four-year-old was a surprise winner of the Leopardstown Group One last season when she inflicted a shock defeat on Jessica Harrington’s brilliant filly Alpha Centauri.

County Wexford-born PJ McDonald hopes to win the Matron Stakes aboard Laurens on home soil.

County Wexford-born PJ McDonald hopes to win the Matron Stakes aboard Laurens on home soil.

Twelve months on, Laurens journeys to Ireland as a hot favourite, having claimed her sixth top-level success in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville on her penultimate start before being touched off by high-class colt Shine So Bright at York’s Ebor Festival.

Leyburn-based Burke said: “She looks in fantastic form. She had a little breeze on Thursday morning before she left to catch the ferry to Ireland, and I couldn’t have been happier with her.

“Last year she went there having run over a mile and a half in the Yorkshire Oaks. We thought she was quick enough for the mile, and she proved it on the day. This year we know we’re quick enough.

“It will be interesting to see how Aidan O’Brien’s four horses are ridden, but we’ll just do our own thing and concentrate on ourselves, rather than worry about what anyone else is doing. She’s in great form, and if she produces her A-game she’s the one they all have to beat.”

Mark Johnson's Elarqam, the mount of Jim Crowley, lines up in today's Irish Champion Stakes.

Mark Johnson's Elarqam, the mount of Jim Crowley, lines up in today's Irish Champion Stakes.

Victory would be extra sweet for jockey PJ McDonald who was on the injury sidelines when Danny Tudhope prevailed on Laurens last year.

He hails from County Wexford and would dearly love win an elite-level race on home soil.

“She goes there with a fighting chance, but it’s going to be tough,” he said. “

“For me she’s one in a million. It took a long time for a horse like her to come along in my career and the chances of me coming across one like her before I pack it in is highly unlikely.”

It is disappointing that day one of Irish Champions Weekend clashes with Doncaster’s St Leger, the world’s oldest Classic, when racing at both meetings deserves equal billing.

As well as Laurens, there is further North Yorkshire representation in the Group One races at Leopardstown when Middleham trainer Mark Johnston’s Elarqam lines up in the Irish Champion Stakes.

An impressive third to Aidan O’Brien’s Japan, and Sir Michael Stoute’s now retired Crystal Ocean, in York’s Juddmonte International, Jim Crowley’s mount could have been even closer to the front two with a clearer run.

However Angus Gold, racing manager to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, is hopeful Elarqam will be a match for Aidan O’Brien’s champion filly Magical.

“I was very impressed with Elarqam at York, and if we’d ridden him a bit handier I don’t think he would have been far away,” he said. “He was a bit further back than ideal and didn’t get a clear run. I’m not saying he would have won but for that, but he could have gone pretty close if things had been different.”

Success for Elarqam would be poignant following the recent death of breeder Guy Innes-Ker, the 20th Duke of Roxburghe.