Leading Light impresses on his return to action at the Curragh

Ascot Gold Cup winner looks in imposing for for forthcoming Irish St Leger at HQ

Ansgar ridden by James Doyle comes home to win The Doom Bar Supreme Stakes at Goodwood Racecourse, Chichester. Photo:  John Walton/PA Wire

Ansgar ridden by James Doyle comes home to win The Doom Bar Supreme Stakes at Goodwood Racecourse, Chichester. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 01:00

With less than three weeks to Irish racing’s new €3.7 million “Champions Weekend” extravaganza there was a distinct warm-up tone to yesterday’s Curragh action where Leading Light returned to action with a comfortable Group Three success in the Palmerstown House Irish St Leger Trial.

The Curragh’s trial atmosphere is likely to continue into this Sunday’s Cambridgeshire fixture, just a fortnight before HQ hosts the second leg of a weekend upon which so many hopes of an international profile boost for a domestic industry still stuck in an economic slump are invested.

Any suspicion that attendance figures for the Group One weekend could swing as much on the weather as Australia or any number of stars on the track will have only deepened by yesterday’s action which saw just 2,812 pay through the gates on a day that escaped the forecast rain.

Officials at Leopardstown and the Curragh are keeping their fingers crossed for an overall “Champions Weekend” crowd approaching 20,000 but the Curragh manager Paul Hensey stressed yesterday that the entire concept will ultimately have to be judged in totality.

“We’re looking at 20,000 in total, with Leopardstown aiming for 12,000, and us hoping to increase from just under 6,000 for last year’s Leger up to about 8,000. All the vibes are positive and we’ve sold out our corporate stuff already,” Hensey said.

Good meeting

“We have put a lot of our eggs in one basket. In the past we would have had three or four good meetings out of these races. The Moyglare in particular was always a very good meeting, before the Leger and National Stakes fixtures. But we can decide if ‘Champions Weekend’ is a success only by looking at it in its totality,” he added.

The impressive totality of Leading Light’s career to date meant he started a 2-5 shot for his first start since an epic Ascot Gold Cup success in June and although far from fully fit he was a comfortable winner ahead of Royal Diamond and Shu Lewis.

Last year’s Doncaster Leger hero was part of a 54-1 four-timer for Aidan O’Brien yesterday which also included Gleneagles’ continued progression through the juvenile ranks with a smooth Futurity victory as well as the supposed pacemaker Hall Of Mirrors upsetting his stable companion Kingsbarns in the Royal Whip.

Seams Heffernan’s capacity for upsetting the Ballydoyle pecking-order has been well-established over the years and on Saturday O’Brien’s No.2 jockey also rode Found to beat a better fancied stable-mate.

After Hall Of Mirrors made all, Aidan O’Brien said: “That was always liable to happen. He (Kingsbarns) got to him and then just got tired. Things don’t always go to script. And the winner is a solid, hardy horse who doesn’t lie down . . ..”

If Leading Light is getting better then even leading stayers as estimable as Estimate and Enke are likely to end up playing minor roles in an Irish Leger which will be the centrepiece of the Curragh’s ‘Champions Weekend’ show.

A canter

“He only had a canter here two weeks ago so should come on a good bit for that,” said O’Brien who confirmed Leading Light will defend his Gold Cup crown next year. “He had a good break after Ascot and that should put him right for the Leger which is a lovely race for him in the second half of the season.”

The National Stakes on Leger day is on the radar for Gleneagles who ultimately won the Futurity by just three parts of a length from Vert De Grece after quickening impressively inside the two furlong pole.

“What you’d love with him is the change of gears. He was idling in front and you’d imagine a mile won’t be a problem for him,” added O’Brien. “He could come back for the National but we have others to consider for that race too.”

The Moyglare is usually a logical progression for Debutante Stakes winners but Michael Halford will be keenly watching the weather in three weeks time after Raydara’s impressive burst of foot carried her to a Group Two victory yesterday.

“She likes quick ground and has had four runs already so we will let her dictate what we do,” Halford said after the biggest winner he’s trained for the Aga Khan.

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