Leopardstown bring race times forward to avoid clash with All-Ireland replay

€1.25m Irish Champion Stakes will now start over two hours earlier at 4.15pm

Jockey Oisín Murphy on Roaring Lion after winning the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in 2018. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jockey Oisín Murphy on Roaring Lion after winning the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in 2018. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The time of Saturday week’s Irish Champions Weekend card at Leopardstown has been brought forward to avoid a clash with the All-Ireland football final replay.

The throw-in for the Dublin v Kerry clash is at 6pm and the featured €1.25 million Qipco Irish Champion Stakes – the most valuable contest in this country’s showpiece event for flat racing – was originally due off at 6.35pm.

Now the Champion Stakes will start at 4.15pm while the last contest on an eight-race programme is due off at 6pm. The first race at Leopardstown will be off at 1.55pm. The other Group One contest on the card, the Coolmore Matron Stakes, is scheduled for 5.25pm.

Sunday’s draw at Croke Park forced Horse Racing Ireland into the dramatic re-jig and RTÉ’s coverage requirements have also been taken into account by the sport’s ruling body.

HRI officials acknowledged on Monday that clashing with the All-Ireland replay could affect attendance levels for the first leg of Champions Weekend which continues at the Curragh the following day.

A crowd of 14,226 was at Leopardstown for the first day a year ago. In 2016 an attendance of 14,550 was the biggest since the Champions Weekend concept was introduced five years ago.

Leopardstown boss Pat Keogh pointed out that prior to Sunday’s GAA outcome, plans to adjust race times had already been organised in order to cater for a potential two million-strong TV audience for the Champion Stakes in Japan.

The Japanese star Deirdre is due to line up in the big race and an eight-hour time difference meant a re-schedule in the programme was already being considered to accommodate TV schedules in the Far East.

The Champion Stakes is scheduled to be shown live on the ‘Green’ racing cable channel in Japan.

“For big international races they also make it available on terrestrial television in Japan. Our races will be on terrestrial television there and an audience in the order of two million can be expected,” said Keogh.

“Longines Irish Champion Weekend is about showing off racing in Ireland to an international audience so this is very significant.

Domestic considerations mean the plan is for racing to finish just after the throw-in, allowing race-goers look at the big match in Croke Park on big screens at the track.

“There may be people committed to go to the All-Ireland so it may affect it. But we’re trying to enable people to come to Leopardstown, enjoy the races, and then watch the match on big screens like at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival two years ago when Ireland played England in the rugby.

“It’s a major sporting clash and this stuff happens. You just have to get on with it. The quality of the racing certainly won’t be affected,” Keogh said.

Bringing the race times forward does however mean the Champion Stakes will be run just 40 minutes after the St Leger at Doncaster. That rules out any chance of jockeys being able to ride in both races.

Deirdre – the Japanese horse with the Irish name – won the Group One Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on her last start. She is a 10-1 shot in some ante-post lists for Leopardstown.

Ironically, the 2-1 favourite is Aidan O’Brien’s Japan, the three-year-old colt who could try to become the first home trained winner of the Irish Champion Stakes since So You Think in 2011.

It’s 10 years since Sea The Stars became perhaps the finest winner of the historic race. His trainer John Oxx again has Group One ambitions with last year’s Moyglare heroine Skitter Scatter on course for the Matron on Saturday week.

She returned from an injury picked up in the 1,000 Guineas in the spring with an encouraging run at Tipperary just over a week ago.

“It has been a frustrating campaign but with the nature of the injury she sustained at Newmarket there was no way you could be rushing her back. We have had to be patient,” said Oxx.

“We did plenty of work with her to get her ready for Tipperary and essentially she was just ready to start off. Given the background of her going into the race we were very happy with her run and she’d have had a good blow.

“She’s come out of the race well, eating up very well, and it’s all systems go for the Matron.

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