The next few weeks see the build up to one of the most anticipated races of the Irish flat season, and the racing year as a whole. The Irish Champions Stakes is a race to behold, a Leapordstown spectacle that every owner, trainer and jockey wants to win. Each year it draws in a stellar field and truly manages to live up to its name, one thing for sure is that every horse that has won is a champion. If you are looking for a race with a rich history look no further than the Irish Champion Stakes, and in this article I will take you through five of the very best renewals.
2006 – Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas faced a high class field when he lined up in the 2006 Irish Champions Stakes, facing a total of four rivals, with his two main rivals being two brilliant fillies in Oujia Board and Alexander Goldrun. Ace, the favourite’s stablemate, made all of the early running until eventually being headed by Dylan Thomas in the straight. Ouija Board moved up outside of the favourite soon after this and took the lead, it looked like a race winning move, but Dylan Thomas and Kieren Fallon said differently. The Irish Derby winner fought back to lead near the finish and won by a neck.
2014 – The Grey Gatsby
In 2014, one three year old colt had taken centre stage by winning the Derby, the Irish Derby and the Juddmonte International Stakes. That horse was Australia, not the hero of this particular story. On the other hand, The Grey Gatsby, despite winning the French Derby came into the 2014 Irish Champion Stakes as the underestimated second favourite. For the majority of the race, the two market leaders were held up at the back of the field; Australia ridden by Joseph O’Brien and The Grey Gatsby ridden by Ryan Moore. O’Brien moved the dual Derby winner to the lead at the top of the straight and looked as if he would win readily, but The Grey Gatsby sprinted from the back of the field and ran down the leader to catch him on the line and win by a neck under a masterful ride from Ryan Moore.
2001 – Fantastic Light
If you read my recent piece about racings greatest rivalries, then you might remember the famous rivalry between Fantastic Light and Galielo, one of these was in the 2001 Irish Champion Stakes. Two pacemakers, Give The Slip and Ice Dancer, made sure that the pace was an honest one and were clear of the field as they came into the straight. Fantastic Light was the first one to challenge them and soon took over the lead but was quickly joined by Galileo who was determined not to go down without a fight. From inside the final furlong, the two horses fought out a head to head battle, each of them giving absolutely everything, but it was Fantastic Light who prevailed this time for Frankie Dettori to beat his younger rival by a head. If you have not yet seen this race, I really recommend that you try and find it on YouTube as it truly is one of the greatest races of the modern era.
2009 – Sea The Stars
Sea The Stars’ 3 year old campaign was one of the most impressive that we will ever see, his perfect year with 6 group 1 wins will live long in the memory. On the way to completing his perfect season in 2009, Sea The Stars registered what was arguably his easiest win when he took the Irish Champion Stakes. He lined up in a field of nine and went off the 4/6 favourite. His two main rivals were the Aidan O’Brien trained duo of Fame And Glory and Mastercraftsman whom he had come across before and beaten. In the race, Sea The Stars settled in midfield before moving to third in the straight and taking the lead over a furlong out. As soon as he hit the front, Sea The Stars went away from Fame And Glory to win comfortably by 2 ½ lengths for Mick Kinane.
2016 – Almanzor
Last year’s Irish Champion Stakes was the highest rated race in Europe last year and included a stellar cast including Minding, Found, Highland Reel and Harzand. In such a high quality field, it is no wonder that the winner was sent off at a price of 7/1. Success Days and Ebediyin made the early pace and with 2 furlongs left to run, Highland Reel took up the lead but was quickly headed by New Bay who was then cut down by Found and Almanzor who were fighting it out head to head on the outside of the field, with Almanzor’s devastating turn of foot propelling him into the lead in the final 100yds to win by three quarters of a length. The winner would then go on to impressively win the Champion Stakes at Ascot, Found (2nd) would win the Arc at Chantilly, and Minding (3rd) would win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day in October.
It was tough to pick just 5 of 40 great races, notable winners of the Irish Champion Stakes have been missed out of this list; Daylami’s demolition of a talented field in 1999 and Snow Fairy’s victory in 2012 are notable absentees. This year’s race looks set to be yet another fantastic renewal and could easily be the highlight of the European flat season yet again. Whatever happens, it has a great chance of making this list next year.
ARTICLE BY Niamh Townsend