Things We Learned » Irish Champions Weekend

Irish Champions Weekend

We have not learned too much about Irish Champions Weekend yet, except, perhaps, that when you have a group of like-minded people pulling in the same direction, pulling together in a common cause, there is no telling what you can achieve.

It is only 18 months since Joe Foley floated the idea past the committee of the Irish European Breeders’ Fund. The temptation was surely to say no, it can’t be done, you can’t move races, you’d never get agreement from the European Pattern Committee. But it turns out, you can and they did.

The fact that we have arrived here already, on the morning of the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend 2014, the second weekend in September, is a serious positive, and everyone involved has to be commended: the EBF, Horse Racing Ireland, Leopardstown, The Curragh, Goffs, all the race sponsors, the Irish Champions Weekend committee.

Also, the industry professionals, the trainers who have opened their gates for tomorrow morning’s Thoroughbred Trail at The Curragh, and those who have voiced their support for the initiative and entered their horses. There is a genuine strong desire out there for this to succeed and, because of that, it may well do so.

It has every chance. We will not know for sure to what extent is has succeeded or otherwise until Monday morning, but all the elements are in place to facilitate a successful weekend. It is a top class weekend’s racing, there is a strength and a depth to the racing that will be showcased, 10 Group races, five Group 1s and strong supporting races.

Also, importantly, the weather is set to be good. Who would have thought the committee’s influence would extend so high?

Races collide

In one sense, it is a shame that Irish Champions Weekend clashes with today’s Ladbrokes St Leger. In another, where else would you put it?

There have always been clashes this weekend. Ladbrokes St Leger day at Doncaster today, Arc trials day at Longchamp tomorrow. We are three weeks before Arc de Triomphe day, it is the ideal time for any race that will feed into the Arc or any of the races on Arc day day, there is bound to be congestion. The Doncaster St Leger usually clashed with Irish St Leger weekend anyway in recent years and, when it didn’t, it clashed with Irish Champion Stakes day.

Things have changed just a little since Touching Wood won the Doncaster St Leger in 1982, then came to The Curragh four weeks later and won the Irish St Leger. The Harry Thompson Jones-trained horse was the first horse to do the Leger double in over 50 years. Coincidentally, that was the last year that the Irish Leger was confined to three-year-olds.

The Irish Leger is now essentially a race for older horses, not three-year-olds. Only 11 members of the Classic generation have run in the race in the last decade, and no three-year-old has won it since Vinnie Roe and Pat Smullen won it in 2001. And Dermot Weld’s horse was so good, he went and won the next three as well.

There will be no three-year-old representative in tomorrow’s race. There was not even a three-year-old left in at the five-day entry stage. Sixteen entries, no three-year-old. It’s a Classic all right, but it’s not a Classic for the Classic generation.

There is talk now of moving the Ladbrokes St Leger a week forward, but then it would clash with Betfred Sprint day at Haydock, or a week back, but then it would clash with Ayr Gold Cup day. Both of those days are big days for northern racing, and it would not be ideal to have a Doncaster St Leger parachuted in on top of them. Perhaps a Friday or a Thursday St Leger would be the way forward. Didn’t a Wednesday Derby work for years?

Moore active

The fixture clash hasn’t fazed Ryan Moore. As things stand, he is set to ride War Envoy in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster today, York Glory in the Portland, That Is The Spirit in the Park Stakes and Kings Fete in the Leger.

He is not booked to ride Bold Sniper in the race that follows the Leger, the 12-furlong handicap, despite the fact that the horse is trained by Michael Stoute and owned by The Queen, and that he has been ridden by Moore in his last five races, The rider is Leopardstown bound. He is set to ride Rizeena in the Matron Stakes for Clive Britain and The Grey Gatsby in the Irish Champion Stakes for Kevin Ryan.

The St Leger at Doncaster is due off at 3.50, the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown is due off a 5.45. You have to hope that nothing spreads a plate before the Leger. It’s tight, but it’s not impossible. With Ryan Moore, not much is.

Frankie foiled

You have to feel for Frankie Dettori. It is easy to argue that he has done nothing wrong on Treve, yet he loses the ride on the Motivator filly three weeks before her bid to become the first horse to win back-to-back Arc de Triomphes since Alleged in 1977 and 1978.

Strange the way things can turn in this game. This time last year, you were feeling sorry for Thierry Jarnet, who was set to be replaced on Sheikh Joaan’s filly for the Prix Vermeille and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by the owner’s new retained rider Dettori. Dettori was on board when Treve won the Prix Vermeille all right, but then injury intervened, Frankie was out, and Jarnet was back on board for her record-breaking Arc triumph.

It is difficult to see the logic in this week’s switch. True, Jarnet has never been beaten on the filly, he is four for four on her, but you have to think that even Jarnet would admit that he didn’t shine on her in last year’s Arc. The fact that she was able to win the race as impressively as she did was down to her sheer ability, not to an overly efficient ride.

By contrast, even though Dettori has been beaten on the filly twice, it is difficult to argue that the rides have been at fault. She was beaten a short neck by Cirrus Des Aigles, one of the best middle-distance horses in the world, on her debut this season in the Prix Ganay, and she just didn’t fire in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. Perhaps it was the fast ground, perhaps it was the travelling, her first run out of France, perhaps it was just an off-day. She did return with pulled muscles in her back, and she hasn’t run since. Whatever it was, it wasn’t the ride.

Dettori is still a top class rider, he is still one of the best, especially on the big days. Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek obviously has her reasons for wanting Jarnet to ride the filly, and you have to respect her opinion, she is obviously a world class trainer who knows her filly intimately. And Jarnet is a good rider who obviously knows the filly well as well.

However, surely when an owner employs a jockey, he does so for a reason. The intention is that the rider rides all the horses when he is available to do so, good days and bad days, big days and small. And it is difficult to believe that the filly would be disadvantaged by having Dettori on board instead of Jarnet.

Toronado was excluded early from Dettori’s retainer, Richard Hughes keeping the ride on the Richard Hannon-trained dual Group 1 winner. Now Treve. What next? What if John Quinn insisted that Philip Makin or Ian Brennan should ride The Wow Signal?

Bye Bye Beau

After the evergreen Beau Michael had finished 11th of 14 in the two-mile handicap at Dundalk on Sunday in his 100th and final race, his trainer Ado McGuinness paid tribute to him, stating that there were not many racecourses in Ireland at which the Medicean gelding had not run.

The trainer’s statement was almost uttered as a challenge for the masses to figure out what those racecourses were. Actually, there are five: Downpatrick, Kilbeggan, Killarney, Laytown and Listowel.

Beau Michael had a fine career. He won seven hurdle races, three chases and four races on the flat, and he raced five times for Walter Swinburn before he joined McGuinness, for whom he raced a staggering 95 times. His longevity was testament to the manner in which his career was managed. Hopefully he will enjoy a long and happy retirement.

© The Irish Field, 13th September 2014