Roaring Lion and Alpha Centauri head ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ cast
Kew Gardens leads O’Brien five-strong team into Doncaster St Leger
Roaring Lion: faces the prospect of four Ballydoyle opponents, including Saxon Warrior, around him during Leopardstown’s €1.25 million feature. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Europe’s top three-year-old stars, Roaring Lion and Alpha Centauri, look set for more glory at the fifth ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ which starts at Leopardstown on Saturday.
The two grey superstars of their generation are odds-on favourites and if Roaring Lion looks hard to beat in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes it’s all but impossible to make a convincing case for anything getting close to Alpha Centauri in the Coolmore Matron Stakes.
Of course from the start of Irish flat racing’s great showcase event there has been evidence of how such presumption can get punished. Australia’s 2014 Champion Stakes defeat at 3-10 odds set a dramatic tone for a still burgeoning event on the international racing calendar.
Since then prizemoney over the two days has grown to €4.8 million while the Curragh on Sunday will host four Group One events with the Derrinstown Flying Five promoted to top-flight status for the first time.
If it’s difficult to quantify momentum about ‘Champions Weekend’s’ impact as a marketing boost outside racing’s usual confines, it’s equally hard to argue that’s to do with what’s being offered out on the tracks.
Roaring Lion and Alpha Centauri are among racing’s elite. If at first glance their Leopardstown appearance looks more coronation than competition then that has a lot to do with an intensely busy top-flight programme at this time of year.
The most obvious evidence of that on Saturday will be a helicopter dash across the Irish Sea by Ryan Moore and three other of Aidan O’Brien’s jockeys who are engaged to ride in Doncaster’s St Leger which is due off at 3.35.
Moore is due to be in Dublin to ride Magical against Alpha Centauri in the Matron which has an 5.25 ‘off’ time.
If that shapes as a tight fit there’s a squeeze on Sunday too as the Curragh action coincides with ‘Trials Day’ at Paris-Longchamp where the build-up continues to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in three weeks’ time.
The fluid nature of plotting an Arc route is shown by Aidan O’Brien’s 2017 Irish Derby hero Capri returning to action in Sunday’s Prix Foy while the French Derby winner Study Of Man takes on Roaring Lion at Leopardstown.
O’Brien has three other Longchamp starters, including Magic Wand in the Group One Prix Vermeille.
With seven Doncaster runners – including five in the Leger – and 21 set to go at Leopardstown before the Irish Leger favourite Flag Of Honour leads 17 Ballydole contenders into action at the Curragh on Sunday, O’Brien is set to field a mammoth 49 weekend runners.
If Kew Gardens & Co have the Leger favourite Lah Ti Dar in their sights then Roaring Lion faces the prospect of four Ballydoyle opponents around him during Leopardstown’s €1.25 million feature.
Saxon Warrior is O’Brien’s No. 1 hope of a first home winner of the race since 2011 although his early career superiority over Roaring Lion has vanished in their last three clashes. With ground conditions likely to be fast, Roaring Lion looks a worthy odds-on favourite.
Forecast overnight rain could make the going much softer at the Curragh. O’Brien and his son, Joseph, may fight out the Irish Leger finish with Flag Of Honour and Latrobe. In the conditions father may beat son this time.