O’Brien, Moore favourites to be leading trainer and jockey at Ascot

Final race of Leopardstown’s ‘February Jumps Festival’ to be revealed in coming weeks

Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore go into this week's Royal Ascot action as overwhelming favourites to once again be the leading trainer and jockey at the world's most famous flat racing festival. But they will hope Sunday's French Oaks drama at Chantilly is not an unlucky omen.

Moore had to pull up and dismount the Ballydoyle hope Rhododendron after halfway in an incident-packed €1 million Prix De Diane eventually won by the local filly Senga.

The 14-1 winner beat Sistercharlie and Terrakova, with the English favourite Shutter Speed only fourth.

Yet immediate post-race attention was on Rhododendron and also jockey Christophe Soumillon, who was unseated from Onthemoonagain in a subsequent incident halfway up the home straight.


Some reports suggested Rhododendron had burst a blood vessel, while Soumillon received treatment before walking away. The Belgian jockey did, however, miss his ride in the next race.

Bookmakers are betting it will be a much more predictable week ahead for the O’Brien-Moore team, with the Irishman rated a 1-4 shot by Ladbrokes to be crowned leading trainer. The English jockey is 1-3 to be top rider. It is 5-1 about a record 11 or more Irish-trained winners overall.

Top-flight races

In other news, Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh has said the identity of the final Grade One race to make up Leopardstown's new €1.5 million "February Jumps Festival" will be revealed in the coming weeks.

The new festival includes seven top-flight races over a weekend’s action made up of the top prizes from Leopardstown’s traditional three stand-alone fixtures in January and February.

The four Grade One’s from the Irish Gold Cup fixture as well as the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Irish Arkle are already in place. There are ongoing discussions with the National Hunt pattern committee as to what the final top-class event will be.

“It’s not certain it will be a current Grade One or a Grade Two that might be promoted. There are three or four options to look at, but there’s nothing decided. The race programme will be announced in the next couple of weeks,” Kavanagh said.

“The aspiration is to get as many Grade One’s as possible on the programme, a bit like Champions Weekend on the flat.”

Summer programme

Kavanagh also said Horse Racing Ireland was keen to address concerns recently expressed by top trainers, including Ger Lyons and Dermot Weld, about a lack of flat racing in recent weeks in comparison to National Hunt action. Both men urged an examination of the current summer programme.

“We are always reviewing and can factor in concern. I would say in the last couple of months there hasn’t a great need for balloting on the flat. But timing-wise there were four National Hunt meetings in a row recently, and I can see why that might be an issue,” said Kavanagh.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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