O’Brien odds on to bridge six year gap in Irish Champion Stakes

Pat Smullen v Colin Keane jockey championship tussle moves to Bellewstown

Uncertainty about the composition of any overseas challenge means Aidan O’Brien is odds-on to bridge a six year gap since the last of his record seven successes in Saturday week’s QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes.

The dual-Guineas hero Churchill currently tops the betting for Leopardstown’s €1.25 million feature with Highland Reel and possibly the star filly Winter also in the mix for the most valuable contest of Irish Champions Weekend.

With plans unclear for Churchill's York conqueror Ulysses, and the Arc outlined as a target for another cross-channel star, Eminent, Paddy Power rate O'Brien a 2-5 shot overall to win the race for the first time since So You Think in 2011.

Leopardstown's chief executive Pat Keogh said on Tuesday it is "highly unlikely" there will be a French runner for the Champion Stakes this time but anticipates there will be a significant challenge from Britain.


Arc heroine

“After York last week people are assessing where they stand and where the best path for their horses is. So it’s not clear who will be travelling. But a number of connections are looking at the race and I will be very surprised if we don’t have overseas runners.

“What you have to remember is that Aidan hasn’t won the race for a number of years, for all the fantastic horses he has run in it,” Keogh said.

O’Brien has finished runner up in three years the Champion Stakes has been run under the Champions Weekend banner including 2016 when Almanzor beat the subsequent Arc heroine Found.

The Ballydoyle trainer dominates the top of the Coolmore Matron Stakes betting too with Winter odds-on and her stable companions Roly Poly and Alice Springs next in the market.

One horse that won’t line up in the Matron is the Andy Slattery trained Group Two winner Creggs Pipes who has been retired to stud.

“She was a good servant. Her joint flared up again. She would probably be alright in six months if we gave her time but we came to the conclusion what was the point,” said Slattery who indicated Creggs Pipes will be covered by Fastnet Rock in the New Year.

The intriguing race to be crowned champion jockey this year moves to Bellewstown on Wednesday with momentum having swung dramatically in Pat Smullen’s favour.


A 1,055-1 Roscommon four-timer on Monday brought the reigning champion to within just three (62-59) of his rival, Colin Keane, and Smullen has five rides to look forward to at the Co Meath course.

With the upswing in fortunes for Dermot Weld’s team, Smullen has had ten winners in less than a week and is now a 4-9 favourite to be crowned champion for a tenth time. Keane has slid to 2-1 in the title betting with Donnacha O’Brien at 12-1.

However Keane has one more ride than Smullen on Wednesday and could emerge with an extended lead through a pair of Ger Lyons juveniles.

Daliyah drops back to the minimum trip which judged by the early dash she showed at both Galway and Leopardstown should suit. Her third to Chiara Luna last time could wind up looking very smart form.

Poetic Light runs over a mile and was also third at Leopardstown on his last start when noticeably well backed. Willie McCreery’s Angelique looks the danger.

On The Go Again won on very testing ground at Roscommon on Monday and carries a 6lb penalty in €25,000 handicap. The horse won here in July on good ground and if his recent exertions haven’t taken too much out of him he can go close again.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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