Big Weekend: Longines Irish Champions Weekend Races to Watch

Friday, September 13, 2019
Big Weekend LICW

Race of the Weekend 1

Normally when a programme is laden with the type of quality that has become a watchword for Longines Irish Champions Weekend, selecting one race to watch is impossible. And though we will select three this term, the choice of the most mouth-watering and important contest is easy.

That is the Pat Smullen Champions Race for CancerTrials Ireland. It is easily the best legends’ race that has ever been brought together, with each of the nine riders champion jockeys in their day and many of them among the greatest that ever threw a leg over a horse.

Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Kieren Fallon, Joseph O’Brien, Johnny Murtagh, Paul Carberry, Charlie Swan, Richard Hughes and Ted Durcan have garnered 66 titles between them. They all rode against Smullen at some stage, given that the future nine-time champion on the Flat did have a brief career over obstacles.

The Offaly man, who has organised this event along with his wife Frances Crowley, was slated to take part himself initially but a setback in his recovery from pancreatic cancer has forced him to sit it out.

He intends to be at the Curragh on Sunday however to throw his weight behind what is a race in its own right, with prizemoney and a unique opportunity for connections of the competing horses to brush with greatness.

The key to the entire exercise of course is to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and raise as much money as possible for cancer research. Every penny counts and you can donate directly to


Race of the Weekend 2

The Qipco Irish Champion Stakes would be top dog (pardon the animalistic confusion) on a normal weekend, given it is often among the top-rated contests in the world and boasts a roll of honour that would rival any.

The cast for tomorrow’s Leopardstown feature doesn’t let the side down, headed by the Aidan O’Brien-trained Magical. The four-year-old daughter of Galileo and has been boxing in the heavyweight division through the summer, and there is no shame in having to give best to the now sadly-retired Crystal Ocean and dual Arc heroine Enable. This is a chance to secure a deserved Group 1 for the campaign and a first for her trainer since So You Think and Seamie Heffernan claimed the spoils in 2011.

That was the last time a home-trained contestant was victorious, with six from England (three conditioned by John Gosden) and one from France. Elarqam (Mark Johnston) and Headman (Roger Charlton) represent the cross-channel challenge on this occasion, while history will be made when the Mitsuru Hashida-trained Deirdre becomes the first Japanese-trained horse to participate.

The romance will surround Madhmoon, like Elarqam, owned by Hamdan Al Maktourm, but trained on the Curragh by 87-year-old Kevin Prendergast and ridden by Chris Hayes. After a brilliant effort in the Epsom Derby and disappointment subsequently in the Irish version, hopes are high that the drop to 10 furlongs will bring the Dawn Approach three-year-old a memorable success.

Race of the Weekend 3

The Comer Group International Irish St Leger is going to be a real test with multiple Group 1 competitors vying for the final Classic of the domestic campaign. Capri is a former English Leger victor from 2017, who counts Crystal Ocean and Cracksman among his conquests. Kew Gardens and Southern France are others representing Ballydoyle.

Dermot Weld, Moyglare Stud and Chris Hayes combine with York victor Search For A Song, while Joseph O’Brien is represented by 2018 Irish Derby hero Latrobe and recent recruit Twilight Payment, both of which have intended engagements in Australia, primarily in the Melbourne Cup.

Mention of Flemington’s race that stops a nation brings us to the Charlie Appleby-trained Cross Counter, who claimed the honours last November. He comes into this with two excellent Gold Cup runs behind Stradivarius at Royal Ascot and Goodwood and is a serious contender to add Ireland to a global winning CV that also includes Meydan and also, obviously England.

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