O’Brien 8-1 for Grade One clean sweep over Champions Weekend

Trainer has favourite for five top-flight contests following Expert Eye’s defection

Aidan O’Brien boasts a 40 per cent Group One strike-rate over the three years of ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ to date but with opposition falling away he is just 8-1 to secure a 100 per cent sweep of all five top-flight races this Saturday and Sunday.

Expert Eye’s defection from the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes means O’Brien-trained horses now top the betting for all five Group One races which highlight this weekend’s €4.6 million showcase event.

They include Churchill who shortened even further in betting for Saturday’s QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes after confirmation that Decorated Knight and Jack Hobbs join Ulysses in missing the race.

O’Brien also has a stranglehold at the top of the Coolmore Matron Stakes with the prolific Winter backed up by other Ballydoyle Group One contenders Roly Poly and Rhododendron, although the trainer hasn’t ruled out the Champion Stakes for Winter either and could be left in both races at Tuesday’s forfeit stage.

Order Of St George is odds-on to reverse Ascot Gold Cup form with Big Orange in the Comer Group Irish St Leger and with Expert Eye unlikely to be seen again until next month's Dewhurst, Gustav Klimt is an even shorter odds-on favourite for the National Stakes.

The Ballydoyle trio of Clemmie, Happily and Magical top Moyglare Stud Stakes betting and after offering 25-1 about an O’Brien Group One clean-sweep last week, the RaceBets firm now go just 8-1.

“The 25-1 attracted plenty of small bets and the liabilities soon add up. We believe 8-1 is now an accurate assessment of Aidan O’Brien’s chances,” said a spokesman.

Similar predictions of O’Brien dominance in Irish flat racing’s international shop window festival haven’t quite been borne out over the first three years of ‘Champions Weekend’.

Perhaps Order Of St George’s shock defeat to Wicklow Brave at odds of 1-7 in last year’s Leger was the most notable example and O’Brien has also had to settle for the runner-up spot in the Champion Stakes for the last three years as well.

Nevertheless wins in the Moyglare, Matron and Order Of St George’s spectacular 2015 Leger success, along with the last three National Stakes, have given him half a dozen victories.

Very lucrative

A comparative scarcity of top overseas challengers this time however appears to indicate that Ireland’s dominant trainer could be in a for a very lucrative weekend indeed.

The shape of the fields will become more clear after Tuesday’s forfeit stage although Churchill continues to dominate Champion Stakes betting and Winter in contention for a fifth Group One of the season.

“She has progressed for every run and we don’t know when she will stop improving. The sky’s the limit with her,” O’Brien reported.

There was some significant support for Roly Poly in Matron betting on Monday while Rhododendron is in line for a first start since being pulled up in June’s French Oaks.

O’Brien also reported Cliffs Of Moher could join Churchill in the Champion but indicated both Highland Reel and Deauville could wait for other engagements.

Ground conditions at Leopardstown are currently "good" and the track's chief Pat Keogh expects similar conditions to prevail on Saturday.

“There’s some rain about but also lots of drying and I would say it will be in or around good ground,” he said. “There isn’t quite the same strength in depth among the horses this year but we’re still going to have two dual-Guineas winners here on the one day and I don’t know when we’ve ever seen that.

“Qemah is coming from France for the Matron. So is Persuasive from England, so it’s going to be a very good card,” Keogh added.

The ground at the Curragh is currently “good to yielding” on the round course and “yielding” on the straight.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column