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True Champions of the turf at the Curragh this weekend


Joseph O'Brien will be hoping to steer Australia to another victory today. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Joseph O'Brien will be hoping to steer Australia to another victory today. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE


Joseph O'Brien will be hoping to steer Australia to another victory today. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

I don't think I've ever been more excited about two days' racing than I am about Irish Champions Weekend.

It's a bold, brave mood by the Irish racing authorities at a time when they are getting quite a lot of criticism, and I think it will really pay off. Two days of top-class racing at two fantastic venues - and, if you bought your tickets in advance, it only costs you €30. That's incredible value.

The prize-money is excellent, and has drawn a superb cast of horses and jockeys.

Without a doubt, the star attraction is Australia. This is our last chance to see the horse of the season in action in Ireland - if you haven't seen him in the flesh, I urge you to go to Leopardstown today. The winner of the Derbys at both The Curragh and Epsom is a gorgeous horse; he has that "look of eagles" that marks out outstanding performers.

He is long odds-on for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, and it should be a victory stroll for him. The other six runners are good horses - The Grey Gatsby was a three-length winner of the French Derby, after all, and Trading Leather took the Irish Derby in 2013 - but I see no reason why he won't beat them again.


As his trainer Aidan O'Brien would say, he's pure class.

I wonder how many remember seeing him win the Juvenile Turf Stakes on this card last year? He bolted up by six lengths, and it was that performance that made the talking horse over the winter for this season's Classic races. Ballydoyle have another hot pot entered in the same race this year - John F Kennedy. He's a full-brother to Tapestry, which took the wind out of the Oaks winner Taghrooda's sails in the Yorkshire Oaks.

John F Kennedy has passed his two tests so far with flying colours, and runs in this Group Three.

Tapestry runs today also. Clive Brittain's Rizeena is the only other Group One winner in the field for the Matron Stakes. Surprises have been sprung in this before, but Tapestry seems to be improving and she wouldn't have to run up to her York form to be successful here.

Irish trainers really appear to have got behind the concept of Champions Weekend, and I hope the two days get the public support they deserve. O'Brien has a lot of very smart horses entered over the two days - watch the maidens he runs closely; there could be a future megastar among them. Their breeding is impeccable, but everything that comes out of Ballydoyle has bloodlines that other trainers would sell their souls to have just one of.

It's ironic that, 13 years ago, the Irish Champion Stakes was the race that stopped the unbeaten run of the mighty Galileo, sire of Australia, Tapestry and John F Kennedy. He went down by a head to Fantastic Light, a year older and stronger, having beaten him in a terrific duel in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on their previous start.

We knew that he was a superb racehorse, but could any of us known that he would become such an extraordinary success as a sire?

The 2009 Irish Champion Stakes was the only time that Sea The Stars, Galileo's half-brother, ran in Ireland as a three-year-old. He beat Fame And Glory by 21/2 lengths before sweeping to further honours in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris. His excellent start to his stud career has been great to see. That's when Flat racing becomes really exciting, I think - when you see the progeny of horses you have followed come to the racecourse themselves.

There are three Group Ones at The Curragh tomorrow, headed by the Palmerstown Estate Irish St Leger. Some old favourites are lining up- Brown Panther, owned by ex-England striker Michael Owen, Goodwood Cup hero Cavalryman, the 2012 St Leger winner Encke and Johnny Murtagh's Royal Diamond among them. Dermot Weld produced Pale Mimosa to take the Lonsdale Cup at York last month and she could throw down the gauntlet to O'Brien's Ascot Gold Cup hero Leading Light. The latter is a classy horse, a son of Montjeu which won a Group Three over 10 furlongs before stepping up to take last year's St Leger.

Ballydoyle's excess of riches in terms of middle-distance horses has meant that they have been able to send some of those just a fraction below Classic class into the staying division, which has worked out well in terms of quality - look at Yeats. Leading Light is cut from that cloth and he should do his stuff again.

If the St Leger horses are the experienced hands, the runners in the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes are the new kids on the block. O'Brien has two in this, headed by the progressive Gleneagles, which would be an appropriate winner considering the Ryder Cup takes place at that Scottish venue in a fortnight. Only Charles Hills (the smart Dutch Art colt Dutch Connection) and Michael Halford's Shamardal son Toscanini take on the might of these two powerful stables.

As well as all this thrilling equine action tomorrow, it should be a fantastic day for families. There's loads of entertainment for children, and some of my personal heroes from the National Hunt world are on show as well. This is a chance to see the likes of Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly, the six-times Cheltenham winner Quevega, 2014 Champion Hurdle hero Jezki and the grand old man Moscow Flyer, one of the best two-mile chasers over all time, in all their summer shininess.

An added bonus is The Curragh Thoroughbred Trail tomorrow morning, which takes in some top studs and trainers' yards, including John Oxx's Curragbeg Stables, the Irish National Stud and Darley's Kildangan Stud.

And ladies, dress up for the races - the prizes for the most stylish dressed women on both days are absolutely incredible! Today's first prize is €5,000, plus a visit to the Powerscourt Hotel in Co Wicklow to the value of €3,000.

Tomorrow, the winner receives a "shopping experience" at Kildare Village worth €3,000 - and a VIP stay at the Palmerstown House Estate for 20 people. To top it all off, one exceptionally lucky lady will win a new Jaguar XF for a year. These really are amazing prizes, so make sure you are looking your best!

Irish Independent