Sunday 9 December 2018

Weekend proves truly champion

When the biggest gripe about the very first edition of the Irish Champions Weekend concerns traffic management, you don't need me to tell you that it was a huge achievement.

The aim for those that were waist high in organising Irish racing's biggest weekend in some time was to witness crowds of 20,000 going to Leopardstown and the Curragh over both days and, to be totally honest, it would have been no surprise if the weekend had fallen short of that target, such is often the lack of appeal for Flat racing amongst the Irish public.

But the 20,000 mark was eclipsed long before the first race at the Curragh on Sunday and over 24,000 people in total were a part of the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend, and delighted to be so.

When the Curragh crowd swelled to five figures, those who spent a little longer in front of the mirror and got to the track a little later even had to do without a racecard, which was a shame, but again a good sign that the track surpassed its expected attendance.


It was said last week that the first running of this two-day meeting would act as a springboard for the future with the aim to have Irish Champions Weekend holding a place as prominent on the calendar as the Breeders' Cup or Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting and that prospect remains a realistic hope.

There is no doubt that the weather proved a massive factor to the crowds and the Gods were certainly smiling on the weekend with our Indian Summer perfectly timed. And the doubters of this special event were well and truly silenced as it couldn't be deemed as anything else but a qualified success.

Many predicted Irish Champions Weekend to be a Coolmore/Ballydoyle benefit meeting but that certainly was not the case at all with only one of the five Group One winners over the two days going in that direction as Gleneagles won the Vincent O'Brien National Stakes.

Indeed, the weekend could hardly have gone much worse for jockey Joseph O'Brien who had a character-building couple of days with the Champions Stakes developing into a disastrous couple of minutes and the Irish St Leger going to Brown Panther as O'Brien had to settle for second on odds-on favourite Leading Light. After that, you got the impression the jockey could not wait for the weekend to be over.


At just 21, Joseph O'Brien has achieved an awful lot in his career and ridden big winners around the world. There is nobody who regrets some of his decisions over the weekend more than O'Brien himself, but again some of the criticism he received proved way out of context.

There have been days that the youngster has been majestic and won on horses that lesser riders wouldn't have won on, but eaten bread is soon forgotten and the punters who have won so much from him over the years will quickly forget that.

But you can trust me on one thing, Joseph O'Brien is no different to Ryan Moore, Johnny Murtagh, Lester Piggott or any of the great jockeys we have seen over the years, some days they will get it totally wrong, and last Monday morning was probably the roughest Joseph O'Brien has had for a long time and possibly ever in his career.


The big test for O'Brien or any jockey who has had a similarly tough weekend is how they respond and bounce back but anyone that questions O'Brien's ability to do that will be silenced just as quick as the Irish Champions Weekend doubters were.

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