Things We Learned » Perfect timing
Difficult to believe that, in its current guise, Irish Champions’ Weekend is celebrating just its third birthday today.
Sure, the races were there before, most of them anyway, some of them in a slightly different format, but it is only three years since the Curragh days were merged, and the Sunday was bolted onto the Saturday at Leopardstown, thereby creating a weekend of it, and it was called the Irish Champions’ one.
Some called it a coup, to get this weekend, and, insofar as a coup is an instance of successfully achieving something difficult, perhaps it was. But, more than anything, it was an example of several like-minded and forward-thinking people coming together and adopting a common sense approach, in order to put something in place that would potentially benefit Irish racing both as a sport and as an industry.
Of course, it is still a journey, there is a continual need for progression, for expansion to a wider audience. But it takes time for these things to nestle into the public’s awareness, to assume a position in the wider social and sporting consciousness. But a solid framework has been built in a very short space of time, and lots of things are right about the weekend, not least the timing.
The timing is crucial, and it really couldn’t be better. It works on three different levels.
Firstly, the season is old enough for the household names to have emerged, for the horses that are going to define this season to have already made themselves known and, thankfully, lots of them are on their way to Leopardstown today or to The Curragh tomorrow.
Secondly, the ground has not turned yet. Sure, we get rain in early September, but we get rain in early June and early July and early August as well. The leaves are still green in early September, your clothes will still dry if you hang them on the line for an afternoon in early September, unlike in mid-October, when you have to put the football gear into the tumble dryer on Wednesday morning just to be sure that you will have it for Thursday evening.
There will be soft-ground weekends in early September, that’s for sure, but you are fairly unlucky when you get one. That’s the difference. And there will be good-ground weekends in mid-October, but you are lucky when you get one.
Thirdly, the position in the European racing calendar is ideal: three weeks after York’s Ebor meeting, three weeks before Arc de Triomphe weekend. It means that you can run in the Juddmonte International and you can run in the Irish Champion Stakes and you can run in the Arc.
Add to that the fact that, all three stagings of Irish Champions’ Weekend have happened on the weekend that falls between the All-Ireland Hurling Final and the All-Ireland Football final, and that could hardly have worked out better. If you were given a blank calendar with no Irish racing on it, and asked to tick the ideal weekend for an Irish Champions’ Weekend, you would tick this one.
Irish Champions’ Weekend in Ireland is not a rival to Arc weekend in France. On the contrary, it is a companion.
The timings of the two weekends mean that connections can target both weekends with the right horse. There are complementary races.
Qipco Irish Champion Stakes (10f): Arc de Triomphe (12f)
Coolmore Matron Stakes (8f) or Moyglare Blandford Stakes (10f): Prix de l’Opera (10f)
Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes (8f): Prix Daniel Wildenstein (8f) or Prix de la Foret (7f)
Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger (14f): Prix du Cadran (20f) or Prix Chaudenay (15f)
Goffs National Stakes (7f): Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (8f)
Moyglare Stud Stakes (7f): Prix Marcel Boussac (8f)
Derrinstown Stud Flying Five (5f): Prix de l’Abbaye (5f)
Last year, Golden Horn did the Irish Champion Stakes/Arc double, and Ballydoyle almost did the Moyglare Stud Stakes/Marcel Boussac double. There should be more double hunters this year.
Change of rider difficult to understand
You have to feel for Shane Foley, replaced today by Christophe Soumillon on Jet Setting in the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes, on the filly’s second run for her new owners, China Horse Club.
Foley has ridden the Fast Company filly in her last five races, and she has won three of them: her maiden, the Group 3 Guineas Trial and the Irish 1000 Guineas. Foley was superb on her in the Guineas, taking up the running from early, using his filly’s proven stamina over a mile on soft ground, and showing his strength in a finish to get her home by a head from the brilliant Minding.
It is difficult to see the rationale for the change of rider. You couldn’t blame the rider for the filly’s defeat in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was a race that was run to suit the hold-up horses, so her prominent style of racing was never going to be seen to best effect. Also, she just ran flat there, four weeks after running her lungs out to get home in the Guineas.
Christophe Soumillon is obviously a world class rider, but Foley is a top class Irish rider who knows the filly intimately and who knows the subtleties of Leopardstown. He has ridden 243 times there in the last five years. Soumillon has ridden there twice.
And Foley is having a good season. He was very good on the Ken Condon-trained Success Days in the Group 3 Royal Whip Stakes three weeks ago, and he has won good races on Yulong Baobei, Toscanini, Portage and Spirit Quartz. Also, he won a Grade 3 race at Nakayama in Japan on the Yasutoshi Ikee-trained Prophet back in January, and he won a good handicap at Newmarket in April on the John Quinn-trained Ikerrin Road. He is well able for the big occasion.
You would love to see Jet Setting win today on several levels. You would love to see it for rising trainer Adrian Keatley and for the filly’s new owners. You would love to see them get a return for their €1.3 million investment. But you would also love to see Shane Foley on her back if she did.
Declarations for Irish Champions’ Weekend
48-hour declarations are difficult enough for trainers, especially at this time of year, with the volatility of the weather and all that. It is great that they declared on Thursday morning for today. 72-hour declarations may not be workable but, as an annual one-off, on a weekend on which targets for most horses have long-since been decided, it would be great if they could declare on Thursday morning for the Sunday as well as for the Saturday of Irish Champions’ Weekend.
Since Qatar Racing changed their first colours from the maroon cap to the gold cap, the Group race wins have flowed.
They have won the Group 3 Solario Stakes with South Seas, the Group 2 Celebration Mile with Lightning Spear, and the Group 3 Supreme Stakes with Opal Tiara. Then on Thursday at Doncaster, they won the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes with Simple Verse and the Group 2 May Hill Stakes with Rich Legacy.
And that is all just in the last three weeks.
Before they changed the colour of Oisín Murphy’s cap, during the previous four months, Group race wins had been limited. Chemical Charge had gone close, Holy Cat had gone close, Velveteen had gone close, but wins? Queen Catrine in the Group 3 Brownstown Stakes, Pallasator in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes. They should have changed the cap ages ago.
The Irish Field, 10th September 2016