Tuesday 15 October 2019

Weekend of wonder

For months, the important round tables at Horse Racing Ireland in Newbridge, just up the road at the Curragh and tucked away in a quiet corner of Foxrock at Leopardstown Racecourse have been the centre point for discussions, debates, disagreements and wonderful ideas as Irish Champions Weekend developed into the showcase event that we are now on the eve of.

New sponsorship deals and unrivalled levels of prize money were demanded and then produced, 10 Group races were packed into just two days with the first of the days staging two Group Ones and day two playing the host to three races at the top level.

We are about to embrace the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend, a weekend that it is hoped will one day stand alongside the Breeders' Cup weekend, British Champions Day and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting in terms of importance, which is a task that can often be easier dreamt than executed.

But those who did the dreaming and then followed it up a bit of executing can tonight go to their cot with an understandable amount of excitement, but already a sense of achievement.

The Irish Champions Stakes and the Irish St Leger have both got significant airtime and publicity in places that in their old guise, as stand alone meetings, they would have never been entertained.

The oldest Flat racing Classic of them all takes place this weekend as they go to post at Doncaster tomorrow for the English St Leger but that has been well and truly eclipsed by Irish Champions Weekend and when comparing the horses on show, you'd have to say rightly so.

Last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomhpe winner Treve is also due to run this weekend at Longchamp and only that her trainer Criquette Head gave Frankie Dettori the ride, Treve's participation would have almost gone unnoticed as the build-up to the next two days has dominated column inches.

There will be people who will walk proudly through the turnstiles of both Leopardstown and the Curragh over the weekend who simply wouldn't if it wasn't Irish Champions Weekend and that is a nice starting point.

Getting them to return is the next target, but with the likes of Australia set to light up the racetrack, albeit in a less than ideally competitive renewal of the Champions Stakes, and many different forms of entertainment going on throughout the enclosures, there is a good chance that target will be reached.

However, the chances are fairly high that you are not reading this page unless you have more than just a passing interest in horse racing so the chances are also fairly high that you, like many others and at times yours truly, will often reflect back on 2009 when one of the greatest of all time, Sea The Stars, only persuaded 9,000 to go to Leopardstown on a glorious afternoon.


That is a fact that will never change but just because it's painfully disappointing doesn't mean we have to set our standards by it.

A serious effort has been made to eclipse the numbers that regularly go to the Irish Champions Stakes, the Irish St Leger and Irish Flat racing in general and it's an effort that racegoers should get behind.

Owners and trainers have got behind it and as a result we have possibly the best three-year-old of this season, one of the world's leading sprinters in Gordon Lord Byron stepping up to a mile, a number of high class fillies contesting the Matron Stakes, an Ascot Gold Cup winner taking on some very good stayers in the Irish St Leger and a host of 'could be anything' juveniles across both days.

Happy Irish Champions Weekend folks.

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