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Deirdre is set to run at Leopardstown next month.
Deirdre is set to run at Leopardstown next month.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Visit of Japanese star Deirdre opens up new market for Leopardstown

Johnny Ward looks ahead to next month’s Irish Champion Stakes.
Aug 16th 2019, 3:21 PM 3,901 1

THE IRISH CHAMPION Stakes is my favourite race of all.

While Jumps racing can perhaps still claim to stir greater emotion, you cannot beat the spectacle of the best Flat horses in the world locking horns. And when a race pits milers against middle-distance foes and older stars against the best of the Classic generation, you have it all.

Who would forget Galileo and Fantastic Light’s heroic struggle? Nearly 20,000 people visited Leopardstown that day, a crowd unheard of at the track for a Flat meeting since.

My personal favourite is High Chaparral’s controversial decision over the unfortunate Falbrav, a race in which the septet going to Leopardstown that day accounted for a staggering 17 Group 1s between them.

By the time Sea The Stars made his final visit to Foxrock, the appeal of the Champion Stakes had waned somewhat: under 10,000 turned up to see the horse of a lifetime.

However, the race is now the centrepiece of the Irish Champions Weekend — and, when it comes to the 2019 renewal, the last one under Leopardstown CEO Pat Keogh’s watch, the stars are aligning.

Let us start with Madhmoon, whose victory as a juvenile at Leopardstown in the 2018 ICW was perhaps the most popular of the two days, given the man who trains him.

Beaten half a length in the Derby, he gave the impression at the Curragh he probably would peak at around 10 furlongs, and his prep run on Thursday evening at Leopardstown — when he looked a bit rusty — will have done the job.

“The run will do him good because he’s fairly burly looking. He’ll come on a lot and the Champion Stakes is his next outing,” said Kevin Prendergast.

One of the horses he beat in the Derby, warm favourite Sir Dragonet, runs at the Curragh tonight, and it is easy to see him go to the Champion Stakes too.

Stablemate Magical is the queen of racing at the moment, at least as long as Enable is not around, and she looks very likely to tog out for the race: Aidan O’Brien so memorably ran both Found and Minding, who both found Almanzor too good in the 2016 renewal.

And this race like that one being so much better for foreign runners, that a Japanese mare might steal the show next month is something to get excited about. Deirdre, presumably not named after Mrs Rashid once wrongly convicted in Corrie, is all set to wow Irish punters.

Pat Keogh Leopardstown CEO Pat Keogh. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Nassau Stakes heroine would be the first Japanese participant in the Champion Stakes, finally justifying some or all of Keogh’s dozen trips to the land of the Rising Sun.

“Bringing Deirdre over to Europe has been a wonderful adventure, and we have been overwhelmed with the friendliness of the welcome,” said trainer Mitsuru Hashida.

“Her winning the Nassau Stakes was a fabulous day, not just for us but for Japanese racing, and we now can’t wait for her to become the first-ever Japanese runner in Ireland, especially in such a globally renowned race as the Irish Champion Stakes.”

Keogh’s visits to the Far East were partly born out of the realisation that a Japanese runner in the race could be worth a lot of money to Leopardstown. In recent years, the Japanese Racing Authority — the President of which visited three Irish racetracks in the past week — added the Champion Stakes to a list of 25 races it would link with around the world.

The Nassau Stakes is not one of those — hence Japanese punters could not wager into it — but the Champion Stakes is likely to be shown on the hugely popular Japanese racing channel, allowing bettors over there to punt into a Japanese pool on the race.

They used to bet into the same pool as the Europeans — hence Deep Impact, recently deceased, being sent off an insanely short price in the Arc in 2006 — but now the JRA realises that it needs its own pools for races like the Irish Champion Stakes, given how religiously the Japanese bet their own.

And the Japanese racing fans’ rabid following of the sport makes Irish punters seem no more interested in racing than the average young one with the fake tan on ladies’ day in Galway.

You have to see it to believe it (racing in Japan, that is).

“I was at the Japan Cup in 2017 and we hosted the President of the Japan Racing Association here last week. Pat Keogh goes out twice a year and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing is there regularly,” says Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh.

It would be the culmination of a lot of hard work to have a Japanese runner and would expose the Irish racing and breeding to a very valuable and important market. With a Japanese runner, the Japanese Tote would operate a pool on the race providing a direct return to Leopardstown. Japan is a major force in world racing and to have a runner reinforces the importance of the Irish Champion Stakes as one of the world’s leading races.

There were some bemused faces at Leopardstown Thursday when Japanese media visited, intrigued as to the stature of the racetrack Deirdre will be running at.

Leopardstown is a beautiful racetrack but its facilities would certainly not have wowed the visiting press, such are they accustomed to the best over there.

It seems fitting that, in his last Irish Champion Stakes as CEO of Leopardstown, Keogh finally got his wish. Perhaps, even, there will be enough interest from Japanese tourists — and local intrigue — that the crowd might come close to rivalling the figure that saw Galileo and Fantastic Light go into immortality all those years ago.

We had a cracking double come up last weekend and hopefully we can hit the sponsor Betway with another winner or two this weekend, starting with Spelga in the Launch Of The Irish Derby — ‘More Than A Race’ On TG4 Handicap (7.15), the Mick Halford-trained steed 18/1 with Betway at the Curragh tonight.

And in Cork’s 4.20 Saturday, the Pier 26 Supporting Marymount Hospice Handicap, Hiella looks quite nicely in for the in-form John Murtagh off 69.

Murtagh has ample memories of my favourite race. Dear Deirdre, come over and help make some more next month.

Who will be on the plane to Japan? Bernard Jackman joins Murray and Gavan to map out the Irish depth chart. We also rank the best national anthems, and Murray sits down with Peter O’Mahony.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Johnny Ward

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