Sprinting Significance

Why speed is crucial to the long-term expansion of Longines Irish Champions Weekend

SUCCESS for this year’s second running of Longines Irish Champions Weekend could hinge on the outcome of the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes.

The sprint will be run as a Group 2 for the first time, making it Ireland’s highest-ranked sprint, and has doubled in prize money to €200,000 in a bid to attract the horses that could help it climb to that coveted Group 1 spot.

Reaching that point would give Ireland it’s first Group 1 sprint and open a new door for Irish Flat racing to draw the public in.

Attendances at the Curragh consistently being out-ranked by those at Galway, Punchestown, Listowel and Leopardstown, strongly highlights the unpopularity of Flat racing in Ireland.

This has been blamed on things like Aidan O’Brien’s dominance and the lack of a narrative, which Irish Champions Weekend was created to solve.

It has given the season the grand finale it deserves for horses and racegoers, but its feature races are not beginner-friendly, nor International.

The sprint is arguably the most accessible race to the Flat racing newcomer because it is a straight dash; there’s little time for tactical racing and anyone can understand what is happening.

It is also a genre which allows horses to run regularly and return year after year, giving something for people to follow.

Cartier Sprinter of the Year 2014, Sole Power, has such a fan base he has his owner Twitter page (@SolePowerHorse), as does Gordon Lord Byron (@GLB_Racing), the bargain-buy International superstar.

It is also the category that is most likely to bring Irish Champions Weekend competitors from the US, Asia and Australia and have it acknowledge as an international meeting – and championship.

It was significant then to find seven of the first eight home in Royal Ascot’s Group 1 Kings’s Stand Stakes among the final entries for the Curragh race.

The European Pattern Committee assesses races on the average ratings of the top four finishers, based on the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, over a period of three years and allocates Group 1 status to races that achieve an average of 115.

The entries include three horses rated more than 115 and a further eight rated between 111 and 114, on British and Irish rankings, giving the race the possibility of the perfect start on its journey towards the top rung.

The race receives a further boost by the fact that the 118-rated Sole Power and the 116-rated Gordon Lord Byron are trained in Ireland by Eddie Lynam and Tom Hogan, who have been hugely vocal about the lack of opportunities for sprinters in Ireland and will not miss a chance to help change that.

Irish Champions Weekend has proven it can successfully attract the best in Britain and Ireland, huge crowds, and world-class sponsors. An upgrade of the Flying Five Stakes could be the move that takes it to the next level.

Read about Patrick Harty and Jack Kennedy in the rest of my View From Ireland column in this month’s Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder Magazine.

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