Mick Halford has been in the top flight of Irish Flat racing for many years now. In common with all of his main competitors in the training ranks, he has had one eye on the programme for Irish Champions Weekend for quite some time and he has for it.
Mick was good enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak to Kevin Blake of At The Races about his prospects at the weekend.
2 b f Shamardal - Anamato
An unraced Darley homebred, she is out of a mare that won a Group 1 over a mile-and-a-quarter in Australia.
"The plan is to run in the fillies' maiden at Leopardstown. She's a lovely big filly that goes well and we like her. She's a tall girl and we haven't been too hard on her, so like all of ours she'll improve from her first run, but we think she's one of our best fillies for sure."
7 b g Halling - Chartres
Rated 101, he won a Group 2 contest at Meydan in March 2014 and while he hasn't won since, he has slipped 12lb in the official ratings.
"Certerach will run in the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown. It'll be his first time to run in a handicap in a while and he should appreciate that drop in grade. Trip and ground will suit him well and I expect him to give a good account of himself."
6 b g Rock Of Gibraltar - Castelletto
Rated 96, he gained his first victory since 2013 when winning a conditions race at Leopardstown in July and remains fairly handicapped based on the pick of his form from 2014.
"He is an intended runner in the Northfields Handicap at the Curragh. I thought he did well to win at Leopardstown last time to be honest I'd rather this race was at Leopardstown as that track suits him a bit better than the Curragh. However, his work has been good and we don't get too many chances to run a horse like him in a race this valuable, so he'll take his chance."
4 b g Dark Angel - Alinda
Rated 79, he won a six-furlong handicap at the Curragh in July, but has run below expectations in his two starts since.
"He should sneak into the Bold Lad Handicap at the Curragh and while he might be a couple of pounds out of the handicap, it'll be worth chancing it given the size of the pot. I think he had fair excuses for his last two runs, as it was just too soft for him at the Curragh and five furlongs was just a bit sharp for him at Dundalk last time. He's only 2lb higher than when winning at the Curragh in June and if he gets a good draw and some luck he could well get seriously involved."
7 b g Golden Snake - Eastern Ember
Rated 103, he hasn't won since gaining two victories at the Dubai Carnival in 2014, but he has dropped 7lb from his career-high mark as a result.
"He's been a wonderful servant and the plan is to run in the Sovereign Path Handicap at Leopardstown. He's working well and I'm happy with him. Seven furlongs on quick ground are his optimum conditions and the handicapper has given him a little bit of a chance, so granted a bit of luck on the day I think he's capable of running a big one."
5 b g Giant's Causeway - Hasanka
Rated 104, he is a highly-progressive handicapper that won two valuable contests at the Curragh prior to finishing fifth when upped to a mile-and-a-quarter at Navan last time.
"Hasanour has been having a particularly good year and he will run in the Northfields Handicap at the Curragh. We stepped him up to a mile-and-a-quarter at Navan last time and he missed the kick there which was far from ideal, but he came home well and based on that run we aren't concerned about the trip. We will look to be a bit handier at the weekend and while it is a big ask off top weight, he's a classy horse and could well run a big one."
3 b f Rock Of Gibraltar - Raydiya
Rated 105, she was a leading two-year-old filly last season, but has not quite reached the same heights in three starts this season.
"She's in great form and the Matron at Leopardstown has been her aim for a while, so she'll take her chance. It looks a strong renewal of the race, but if she could come back to her best form from last year, she will have her chance. She has some small setbacks earlier in the year, but she's had a clear run for the last while and she's giving us the right vibes now. I'm hopeful she'll put up a bold show."
7 ch g Chineur - Roundabout Girl
Rated 95, he had previously looked an all-weather specialist, but has won his last two starts on turf and remains well handicapped on the turf relative to his form on the all-weather.
"It was great to see him finally win on turf and for him to win two in a row was brilliant. We freshened him up since the latest of those wins and the Sovereign Path Handicap at Leopardstown is the plan. Conor McGovern gets a good tune out of him and will ride him again. The faster the pace early on the better he'll run."
7 b g Invincible Spirit - Russian Hill
Rated 102, he has proven to be a prolific winner at sprint trips and while he isn't entirely straightforward, he is well handicapped relative to the pick of his form.
"The plan is to win the Bold Lad Handicap at the Curragh and I think those big-field handicaps really suit him, as he loves to be covered up and come through horses. The draw will be very important and if he draws a high stall and gets a bit of luck on the day, nothing would surprise me with him as he retains all his ability in the right circumstances."
5 b g Invincible Spirit - Shamadara
Rated 87, he has continued to progress on the Flat this season and will come into this race off the back of his first win over hurdles at Sligo last time.
"If he gets in, he'll run in the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown. He's been doing really well this year and we've had this race in mind for him. The hope was to get a win into him over hurdles and he had a good confidence booster when winning at Sligo last time. It will be his first time over a trip this far, but I think he'll get it."
6 gr m Verglas - Lahiba
Rated 97, she hasn't won since last October, but has proven time and again that she can compete off this sort of mark.
"She's a well exposed filly, but she's capable of going well off her mark and rarely runs a bad race. We'll run her in the Sovereign Path Handicap at Leopardstown, ride her quiet and hope she comes home well and grabs some prize money."
3 b c Shamardal - Tuzla
Rated 113, he finished second in the National Stakes at the Curragh as a two-year-old and has improved since being returned to shorter trips this season, finishing a close second in his last two starts in Group 3 contests at the Curragh.
"He'll run in the Flying Five at the Curragh and at the moment it looks likely that James Doyle will ride him. This will be the first time in his life that he's run over five furlongs, but he travels well enough in his races to suggest to me that it will be fine. He's in great order, his last two runs have been rock solid and he seems to be improving. We are really looking forward to running him."
4 gr g Galileo - St Roch
Rated 92, he joined Halford a year ago and gained his second success for him when winning a handicap at Navan last time.
"He will run in the Petingo Handicap at Leopardstown. I thought he did well to win at Navan the last day given the way the race went. He's coming forward with each run and I think the tongue tie we've put on him in his last two starts has been a help to him. He's in great form, he'll love the trip and ground and we have to give him his chance for a pot this big."
2 b f Raven's Pass - Vitoria
Made a promising debut at the Curragh in May and built on it when beating the smart Now Or Never in a six-furlong maiden at Fairyhouse in June.
"It looks like she'll take her chance in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh. We eased back on her a little bit after she won her maiden in June and the form has been working out well since then. She's working well and the extra furlong should suit her, so we'll run her and it will tell us a lot more about where we are with her."
RAYDARA - High-class two-year-old last year that is hitting form at the right time.
VITELLO - Highly-promising two-year-old that is open to significant improvement.
TOSCANINI - Developing into a high-class sprinter and could improve again.
HASANOUR - Progressive handicapper that could improve now he has been upped in trip.
EASTERN RULES - Classy sort that could go well in his optimum conditions.
VENEZIA - Starting to come good at the right time and shouldn't be underestimated.
ANAMBA - Highly-regarded two-year-old that is worth keeping a close eye on.