Leopardstown officials are confidently anticipating an attendance hike of at least 10 per cent for Saturday week's first leg of 'Longines Champions Weekend' and are keeping their fingers crossed the weather plays ball to allow a potential 'race of the year' in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes.
A mouth-watering clash of the two outstanding classic colts Golden Horn and Gleneagles could prove only part of the Champion Stakes picture as last year’s dramatic winner The Great Gatsby and the top Irish older horse Free Eagle are also in contention for the €1.1 million highlight.
The participation of all four, however, could revolve around the weather as the quartet's connections have all expressed a preference for fast going at Leopardstown. If those conditions do apply, Free Eagle's trainer Dermot Weld has already described the prospect as being potentially the best race seen in Europe in 2015.
Such a line up could also have longer term implications for the status of Ireland's sole race in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Top 100 Group One races.
The Great Gatsby’s memorable defeat of Australia on the inaugural ‘Champions Weekend’ resulted in the Irish Champion Stakes being ranked No 11 on the 2014 world list, which is judged by the average rating of the first four finishers in a race over three years.
With Jim Bolger considering pitching his dual-Group One winning filly Pleascach against the males, and the stalwart French veteran Cirrus Des Aigles also in the frame to make a first appearance in Ireland, hopes are high the race can move up the influential list.
The unpredictable Irish climate could yet prove a spoilsport but the Leopardstown team are confident any turn for the worst won’t impact on the attendance, which almost hit 13,200 for last year’s meeting.
“We’re expecting a minimum 10 per cent increase this time, up to 14,500. We’re getting lots of encouragement that we can build on last year’s success and what’s particularly encouraging is that we’re getting lots of overseas interest,” said Leopardstown’s chief executive, Pat Keogh.
“We like to think we are well capable of looking after people, even if a bit of bad weather occurs. We have been spending a lot of money on facilities, including a Champions Quarter marquee which is almost twice the size of the one last year.”
Building work on the current phase of grandstand development at Leopardstown is due to finish by Christmas, while the final stage of a three-year development programme remains due for completion in 2017.
“Excitement is building ahead of the weekend but when we know for definite next week who will be turning up, it will really capture the imagination,” Keogh said.
Leopardstown’s other Group One prize is the €300,000 Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes for which Legatissimo is currently ante-post favourite. The David O’Meara-trained Amazing Maria is set to travel from Britain for the mile highlight and another likely cross-channel challenger is Euro Charline.
Her Newmarket-based trainer Marco Botti is considering the Matron for last year’s Beverly D winner – ground conditions permitting.