The late summer/early autumn months provide a rich seam of group-class racing action as the current flat campaign goes out with a bang. The international highlights of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Breeders’ Cup Festival attract much of the limelight, but we also have a succession of high quality events a little closer to home.
Doncaster’s St. Leger provides one last shot at Classic glory for the top three-year-old stayers, whilst Champions Day at Ascot brings the curtain down in style. However, one of the classiest events of all comes over in Ireland, as Leopardstown hosts the annual edition of the Curadh-Dhuais na hÉireann – that’s the Irish Champion Stakes to you and me.
Making its debut in 1976, this 1m2f Group 1 affair has amassed a mightily impressive roll of honour over the years, with the likes of Sadler’s Wells, Swain, Giant’s Causeway, Sea The Stars, and Golden Horn all scorching the Dublin turf on their way to victory. With a massive €600,000 in total prize money up for grabs, this is a cracking contest in its own right and regularly produces runners who go on to further success in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Champion Stakes at Ascot, and Breeders’ Cup Turf. Here, we look back at the 23 editions of the race to have been held in the current century in an effort to zero in on what it may take to prevail.
Giant’s Causeway kicked off the current century with a victory for the Classic generation, and the three-year-olds have continued to hold the edge, with 13 wins from the past 23 editions, including superstars Golden Horn, Dylan Thomas, and Sea The Stars, who all went on to land the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Wins for the older runners have been split evenly between the four and five-year-olds. The only horse aged six or older to come home in front was Swain back in 1998.
Only four trainers have saddled the winner of this on more than one occasion in the current century. It is no surprise to see Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien out on his own in front, but the level of dominance is impressive even by his lofty standards. That tally of 11 wins makes the Irish champion trainer the most successful in the history of the race. O’Brien is also responsible for the only dual winners of this contest, in the shape of both Dylan Thomas (2006,2007) and Magical (2019,2020).
Aidan’s Ballydoyle predecessor, Vincent O’Brien sits second in the all-time list with five wins, swiftly followed by John Gosden and Saeed bin Suroor on four apiece. John Gosden’s winners were split evenly between the three-year-olds and older horses, but interestingly, all four of Saeed bin Suroor’s victors were aged four or above.
Big guns Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori sit in a three-way tie with the now-retired Michael Kinane in terms of victories in this one since 2000. With seven wins in total, Kinane leads the all-time list but will be joined by six-time winner Frankie Dettori, should he make it a magnificent seven of his own in his farewell race in 2023. Seamie Heffernan, meanwhile, has illustrated that being the Ballydoyle second-string rider is rarely a bad thing, with an impressive three wins since 2010.
Odds of the Winner
This has been a solid race for favourite backers – at least in terms of strike rate – with 10 of the past 23 editions falling to the market leader. However, as a result of seven of those winning jollies returning an odds-on SP – the shortest of all being So You Think, who was sent off at just 1/4 in 2011 – backing every favourite over this period would have returned a loss of £4.67 to £1 level stakes.
Overall, the market is rarely too far wrong in predicting the winner, with 22 of the past 23 winners returning a single-figure SP, 15 of which were 5/1 or below. The only real shock result came in 2017 when the unfancied Decorated Knight defied odds of 25/1 to land the biggest success of his career.
Finishing Position on Previous Start
A solid performance last time out has been a key factor in predicting who may come out on top, with 83% of the past 23 winners having won or finished placed in their most recent outing. That number improves to 87% if we include 2012 heroine Snow Fairy, who “won” at Deauville on her previous outing only to then be disqualified. Even the horses who had finished unplaced were never too far away, having all finished inside the first five on their most recent racecourse appearance.
Key Form Races
When looking at the route into the race of the recent winners, the Juddmonte International at the York Ebor Meeting has been by far the most influential contest. As a fellow 1m2f Group 1 affair held in the late summer months, this trend possibly isn’t too surprising but worth bearing in mind.
Giant’s Causeway (2000), Sea The Stars (2009), and Roaring Lion (2018) all backed up a win at York when claiming this prize, whilst six of the other eight had finished in the first three on the Knavesmire. Interestingly, the three winners to arrive on the back of a run in the Coral Eclipse had all won that Sandown showpiece – and all were trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Irish Champions Stakes: Other Factors
- All 23 winners already had at least one Group 1 win to their name
- 18 of the past 23 winners had previously won a Group 1 event over this 1m2f trip
- 17 of the past 23 winners arrived at Leopardstown with an Official Rating of 121 or higher
- Galileo is the leading sire over this period, with five winners