The weekend will feature five Group 1 races, shared between Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh on Sunday. The two meeting swill be promoted as a package. Explaining the new weekend earlier this week, Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, said, “Irish Champions Weekend opens up the opportunity for a new, exciting tri-nations series of autumn championships linking the top three racing nations of Europe, Starting with Ireland’s weekend, followed by Arc weekend in France, and British Champions Day at Ascot.”
That may be so, but it required considerable jiggling around with the Irish racing calendar to set up the weekend. That apparently did not worry the British Horseracing Authority, which was consulted beforehand about the proposal. Speaking for the BHA, Robin Mounsey suggested “the races involved should be complementary to the British and French Pattern, and it is not seen as competing with the St Leger, which as one of the Classics, has an assured position of importance in the Pattern.”
Mike Dillon of Ladbrokes, sponsors of the St Leger, didn’t share that view. He identified several potential problems, and was extremely irritated that neither he nor Doncaster racecourse had been informed beforehand. He said, “There are all sorts of issues, the number one being availability of jockeys. Then they are talking of ten Group races over the two days, which would affect races like the Park Stakes, Champagne Stakes and Doncaster Cup. When you have a Classic, the world’s oldest, as you did in 2012 with house full signs and a Triple Crown contender, it is surely common courtesy to keep us informed.”
The current sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes runs out after next year’s race, and Dillon said that all options were open, including moving the date of the race. That sounds as though the bookmakers are keen to extend their involvement with the race. As for an alternative date, he recognised the difficulties there would be, with the British calendar featuring the Haydock Sprint Cup the Saturday before the St Leger and Newbury Arc Trials day the weekend after.