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Weekend worth it but it's going to need support





IRISH Champions Weekend was launched in lavish surroundings at Restaurant Patrick Guilbard in Dublin on Monday night and it was a luxurious setting for an event that is hoped to become one of the highlights on the Irish sporting calendar.

When you have a challenge to face into, there's no other way to tackle it but to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in and Monday's launch was a statement of intent from all concerned that they are driven to make sure Irish Champions Weekend will become a permanent fixture that hosts the very best.

Make no mistake, the driving forces behind the weekend face a challenge. It won't be easy to convert posh launches, press releases and column inches into racegoers through turnstiles, but the determination to make this work and stand alongside the Breeders' Cup in America, the Arc in Paris and the Champions Day at Ascot is half the battle.

Johnny Murtagh spoke at Monday's launch and hit the nail on the head when he said that the creation of the weekend, which will feature 10 Group races, five Group Ones and €3.7m in prize-money, is not before its time but is only the start of the process and making the most powerful owners in the world embrace and enjoy the experience is the next step.

Headlining the weekend at Leopardstown is the Champion Stakes and at the Curragh it's the Irish St Leger, both of which have a fairly elite roll of honour.

However, as much as Sea The Stars was adored by the Irish racing public and even those outside of regular racegoers, only 9,000 or thereabouts turned up at Leopardstown to see him win the 2009 Champion Stakes, which was Group One win number five in as many months that year and his only one on home soil.

Sea The Stars brought 9,000 to Leopardstown, while it's awhile since any renewal of the St Leger brought that to the Curragh so The Sea The Stars case study is a prime example of the challenge that faces Leopardstown, the Curragh and HRI of getting people through the gates.

Australia is undoubtedly the star attraction this year but plans on his future are far from fluid. Nobody can fault Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien for doing everything possible to support their own and that was evident again this year by sending Australia to the Curragh for the Irish Derby.

Leopardstown "has no equal" around the world according to Murtagh on Monday night as a racecourse and O'Brien has won the race with some champions in the past so once it fits right into Australia's schedule, Australia will be there and his mid-season break could prove a big plus to the Champions Weekend.

But unless the dream clash of Australia v Kingman transpires, an attendance that we can be proud of on Champions Stakes day is probably still improbable and that clash looks highly unlikely. Kingman would need supplementing for a start.

The St Leger will be as intriguing as ever at the Curragh with recent Galway winner Forgotten Rules yet to tell us that he is anything other than very special and in the National Stakes and the Moyglare Stud Stakes you always have the potential to unearth a future star.

There is no doubt that this weekend is worthy of its standing. There is plenty to look forward to and make the two-days extremely enjoyable. Unfortunately however, the strength and depth may not just appear to be there for the flagship races this year. That is not to say it won't be a success - and it won't be for the lack of effort from those backing it.

This is the first year in a five-year plan and it's a plan that should be given time to blossom. Few can argue with the world standing of Irish horses, trainers or jockeys, so we undoubtedly deserve a weekend to showcase that. Now we have it, we need to support it.