1pt each-way Zhukova @12/1, 18:45 Leopardstown, Saturday

Last year’s winner Almanzor has been retired so there’ll be no defence of his Irish Champions Stakes today at Leopardstown, and Aidan O’Brien’s dual-Guineas winner Churchill is the clear favourite to inherit his crown.

Beaten potentially by extremely fast ground at Royal Ascot and some serious class in the shape of Ulysses in the Juddmonte International, Churchill’s bubble has both burst and began to inflate again since those impressive Guineas wins, and connections are sticking to the mile-and-a-quarter trip.

The forecast ground at Leopardstown is no issue and he’s now proven over that trip so negatives are hard to come by, but he’s already shown he’s very beatable and has to be taken on at such skinny odds (6/5).

I’ll cut to the chase – I think Dermot Weld’s filly¬†ZHUKOVA is a massive price at 12/1 if you consider her fourth in the Pretty Polly Stakes came at a time when the whole of Weld’s yard was affected by a virus.

The yard’s form has picked right up since then and Weld himself has said that he’d target this weekend with his best horses, so we have every reason to expect a significantly better showing.

Zhukova won an albeit weaker race in America earlier in the season (watch below), but she absolutely bolted up against male opponents that time and also won on this Leopardstown card last season.

Her form does need to reach a new level to win this but she’s always looked to have the potential and she arrives here far fresher than her opponents, with every drop of rain a positive for her chances.

The other two threats appear to be Derby-second Cliffs Of Moher, who is difficult to assess after looking quite clearly outclassed by Churchill in the Juddmonte, and Derby-fourth and dual-Group Two winner Eminent, whose last run in France was perhaps his best.

You get the impression Churchill is clearly the first choice from O’Brien’s yard so the former is hard to like, even at a nice price of 10/1, but Eminent has always looked capable of landing a Group One – he was very unlucky in the Derby – and a positive ride should see him involved in the finish.

He’s very much respected and you’d expect the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month will be his target should he win here.

Zhukova, though, is the potential filly in the ointment and has major each-way claims.

1pt each-way Zhukova @12/1, 18:45 Leopardstown, Saturday (1,2,3, 1/5 odds)

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