Donn's Articles » Luxembourg


Aidan O’Brien was in contemplative mood as he sat easily on his sofa on the eve of the Irish Champion Stakes last month.

“The plan always with him (Luxembourg) was that he would run in the Guineas,” the champion trainer said, “and then go to the English Derby and come back to The Curragh for the Irish Derby.  When he missed the two Derbys in between, we knew that he couldn’t go winning the Irish Champion Stakes without a run, so that’s why we he had to go to The Curragh (for the Royal Whip Stakes), and that’s why we were delighted that he got the run, and that he won.  We felt that he would improve a lot for that, and we think he has, his work has stepped up big time and, at the moment, he’s taking it very well.  We’re looking forward to seeing him now on Saturday, so it will be exciting we think.”

It was exciting.  Luxembourg travelled well through his race in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown behind a good pace that his stable companion Stone Age set.  Fifth of the seven runners as they wheeled around the home turn, Ryan Moore angled his horse towards the outside and asked him for his effort.  Luxembourg picked up well, engaged in a protracted duel with French raider Onesto as the pair of them moved on past Stone Age, and stuck his neck out willingly to forge ahead and get home by a half a length.

It was a record 11th Irish Champion Stakes for Aidan O’Brien, but it meant lots.  As much relief as excitement, that Luxembourg was back.  That the potential that his trainer had seen in the Camelot colt as a juvenile, that the hopes that he had for him this season as a three-year-old after he won the Vertem Futurity Trophy last October, had crystalised in an Irish Champion Stakes victory.

We marvel at the achievements of Aidan O’Brien, and one Irish Champion Stakes victory can’t compete with 81 Royal Ascot winners or eight Epsom Derbys or a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe 1-2-3, but, as a single training performance, this one was right up there.  Luxembourg’s injury ruled him out of the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby, and ran the ridge of ruling him out for the season.  You could have drawn stumps on this year and readied for next term, but you give him the chance to get back this term.  So it’s a balancing act, a race against time.  It’s a tightrope, tailor his preparation, get him back, fit enough to win a Group 3 race in mid-August, but don’t push him over the edge.

“The team made it happen,” said the trainer after the Irish Champion Stakes, deflecting the laurels.  “It was unbelievable work from a lot of people, and Ryan gave him a beautiful ride.” 

Even so, even then, in Leopardstown’s winner’s enclosure three weeks ago, there was no doubt about the next step, the next target for Luxembourg.

“The plan we’d mapped out was three races when we got him back.  If we could get him to The Curragh, he could come here, and if he could come here, we could go to the Arc.  That was the dream.” 

That dream has its date with reality this afternoon, in Paris, at Longchamp, when Luxembourg will line up in a maximum field for the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  Exciting times, 19 rivals and a mile and a half in the Bois de Boulogne between him and another slice of history.

And it represents another step into the unknown for the Camelot colt in his bid to provide his trainer with a third victory in the race.  The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is Europe’s middle-distance championship decider, it is the race into which the entire season funnels.  It represents another step up in grade.  Luxembourg will almost certainly have to step forward again on the performance that he put up in winning the Irish Champion Stakes if he is going to prevail this afternoon.

As well as that, he is stepping up in trip to a mile and a half for the first time.  He has never gone beyond 10 furlongs in his life before, and the rain that they are having this weekend in Paris will render this as much a test of endurance and willingness as it will be a test of pace and class. 

On the plus side, we know that Luxembourg is tough.  He proved that in the Vertem Futurity Trophy last year, and in the Irish Champion Stakes this year, and in the Royal Whip Stakes at The Curragh in August, his first run in 105 days, when he dug deep to repel the challenge of the high-class mare Insinuendo, and got home by a neck. 

And there is every chance that he will stay a mile and a half all right.  He races over a mile and a quarter as if he will get further, and that hypothesis is backed up by his breeding, by dual Derby winner Camelot, and a half-brother to Leo De Fury, a winner over a mile and a half, and out of a half-sister to Forgotten Voice, also a winner over a mile and a half.

Of course, it was a shame at the time that Luxembourg missed the Derbys.  It had to have been frustrating for his connections, watching the Derbys come and go with their main Derby hope standing in his stable.  However, purely in the context of today’s race, that is probably a positive.  It means that he has had a nice break after the Guineas, that he goes into today’s race a relatively fresh horse.

It won’t be easy, it is a deep Arc field, it is a hugely competitive race, as is reflected in the market.  But Luxembourg deserves his place at the top of it.  He is a worthy favourite, an exciting contender, in a fascinating contest.

© The Sunday Times, 2nd October 2022