Following the failure of the then superstar Sea The Stars to attract huge crowds to Champions Stakes Day in 2009 the Irish racing authorities devised Champions Weekend featuring five Group Ones in the space of two days in an attempt to encourage the racing public to support flat racing with the enthusiasm and attendances normally reserved for the big national hunt meetings.
The promotion of the event, which began six months ago, cost €200,000. Just €25,000 of that budget was set aside for print advertising while the event’s website cost €50,000.
Last Saturday, the sun shone brightly on a beautiful September evening as the crowds poured in ahead of the highly anticipated weekend of top class racing.
They had come in their droves to see Aidan O’Brien’s Australia confirm his superstar status in the featured Champion Stakes but watched in stunned silence as a brilliant Ryan Moore, surely the finest flat jockey of his generation, delivered a masterclass in timing and power as he galvanised the Grey Gatsby to victory over the 3/10 favourite in the shadow of the winning post.
Trading at 84/1 rounding the final bend, Moore appeared to have too much to as Australia looked set for victory but the Grey Gatsby responded admirably to the urgings of a ferocious Moore drive in the closing stages to edge a famous victory for owner Frank Gillespie and trainer Kevin Ryan.
Team Ballydoyle’s disappointment at their Champions Stakes reversal will surely have been alleviated somewhat by the spectacular performance of John F Kennedy in the John Deere Juvenile Turf Stakes.
The 4/7 favourite oozed class in the Group 3 event, won last year by Australia, as he eased his way to a comprehensive three and a quarter lengths win over the 105 rated Tombelaine. John F Kennedy was cut by the bookmakers for next year’s Classics and is now generally a 6/1 favourite for the Epsom Derby while he is a general 12/1 shot for the 2,000 Guineas.
Dungarvan trainer John Kiely doesn’t send many horses to Leopardstown but he made the trip to the Dublin venue well worth his while as Toe The Line in the hands of Fran Berry prevailed by a neck from Cassells Rock in the 1m 6f handicap to land the €90,000 prize money on offer.
The pleasant Autumn weather held up for Day Two at the Curragh where the 100th running of the St Leger took centre stage on another excellent eight race card.
Brown Panther, part owned by former footballer Michael Owen, was allowed to sit in behind Ballydoyle pacemaker Eye Of The Storm but well clear of the field and when the pacemaker began to fade Brown Panther continued to power home to finish six and a half lengths clear of Aidan O’Brien’s odds on favourite Leading Light in what was another disappointing result for Ballydoyle.
On a brilliant weekend of racing when many of the top prizes went for export there was at least one Group 1 success for O’Brien when Gleneagles won the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes.