Leopardstown Champions Weekend in lap of weather gods

Heavy overnight rain looks set to wreak havoc on Saturday

Joseph O’Brien with his father Aidan O’Brien at Newmarket racecourse in England. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Joseph O’Brien with his father Aidan O’Brien at Newmarket racecourse in England. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

An anxious “Dawn Patrol” of officials at Leopardstown will this morning check to see if mother nature has put a dampener on Europe’s potential race of the season, which helps kick off the €4 million Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

Forecasts predicting heavy overnight rain are hanging over the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, the centrepiece to the first day of the second Champions Weekend which also includes a triple-Group 1 card at the Curragh tomorrow.

However it is the Champion Stakes which overshadows a crammed European Group 1 programme this weekend, with Golden Horn and Gleneagles among a star-studded field of eight runners declared for Ireland’s highest rated race.

Elite field

The octet, all Group 1 winners, and winners of 20 top-flight races in total, comprises one of the most elite fields ever to line up in a race in Ireland – should they all run.

Concerns the going could turn too soft for both Golden Horn and Gleneagles, in particular, may go down to the wire. The race, scheduled for 6.50pm, has been put back to 5.45pm to allow the Champion horses run first on an outer-track which yesterday began as a perfect “good to firm” surface. Forecast overnight rain could exert a major influence.

Aidan O’Brien scratched Gleneagles from three races during the summer due to going being too soft and has insisted the ground has to be at least good to risk the dual-Guineas winner over 10 furlongs for the first time.

O’Brien also has Found and Highland Reel in the race.

Derby hero Golden Horn is set to be ridden by Frankie Dettori, but trainer John Gosden will also examine the track before committing the colt.

Uncertainty

Such uncertainty is hardly ideal ahead of Ireland’s showpiece event to the flat racing world but Leopardstown’s chief-executive Pat Keogh remains very hopeful for a Champion Stakes described by Dermot Weld, trainer of the second favourite Free Eagle, as potentially the best race run in the world in 2015.

“There is rain coming from the west but quite often we miss out completely here, so it is very hard to predict how much we might get.

“Whatever we get should be gone by dawn and then we’ll have 12 hours of drying so we’re still very confident here,” he said.

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