Horse Racing Betting: Donn McClean’s Three Most Memorable Irish Champion Stakes Winners
The Irish Champion Stakes, is one of the most prestigious and highly anticipated flat horse races in the world.
Held annually at Leopardstown Racecourse, this illustrious event has witnessed some unforgettable showdowns between racing titans over the years. In this article, we delve into three of the most memorable renewals of the Irish Champion Stakes, as captured by esteemed horse racing journalist, Donn McClean.
Among the plethora of prestigious races that he has covered, the Irish Champion Stakes holds a special place in his heart and betting sites have odds at the ready for this year's renewal.
Donn McClean, with his seasoned expertise and keen eye for detail, captures the essence of these extraordinary races, immortalizing the triumphs, surprises, and heart-pounding moments that have shaped the Irish Champion Stakes into a timeless spectacle cherished by racing enthusiasts worldwide.
Fantastic Light, 2001
Not only is the duel between Fantastic Light and Galileo in the 2001 Irish Champion Stakes fully deserving of its place at the top of this list, but it belongs high in any list of the great horse races in the modern era.
This duel had it all. More than a horse race. Galileo the three-year-old, the dual Derby winner, unbeaten in six, trained by perennial champion trainer Aidan O’Brien and representing the world-renowned Coolmore operation; Fantastic Light the five-year-old, a slower burn, winner of the Hong Kong Cup and the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation and trained by Saeed bin Suroor.
All navy versus all royal blue, Coolmore versus Godolphin, Michael Kinane versus Frankie Dettori, and a score to settle.
When they had met in the King George at Ascot six weeks earlier, Galileo had prevailed by two lengths.
The tactics were fascinating. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Ice Dancer led at fast fractions, followed by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Give The Slip.
On the crown of the home turn, Give The Slip moved off the rail, and Fantastic Light moved into the gap that he created on the inside, while Galileo had to go wide.
The two horses went toe-to-toe from the top of the home straight, Fantastic Light and Galileo. They picked up the leader Ice Dancer at the two-furlong marker, left him in their wake in a couple of strides, and continued their duel thereafter.
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Fantastic Light had first run, the Godolphin horse held a slender advantage as they raced past the furlong pole. But Galileo was teak-tough, we knew that then and we have seen it in his progeny for the last 20 years, he dug deep for Michael Kinane on the near side, eroded the deficit. But Fantastic Light dug deep.
The Godolphin horse answered Frankie Dettori’s every call, he found reserves when he was challenged, stuck his willing neck out on the far side and got home by a head in one of the most memorable horse races ever staged on Irish soil.
High Chaparral, 2003
Only seven runners went to post for the 2003 Irish Champion Stakes, but it was a renewal in which the quality ran deep.
In the line-up that day was the 2003 Irish Derby and King George winner, the 2002 Epsom Derby and Irish Derby and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, the 2003 Irish Oaks winner, and the 2002 Japan Cup winner who was also the winner of the 2003 Prix d’Ispahan, the 2003 Eclipse and the 2003 Juddmonte International.
The fact that the 2002 Nassau Stakes winner and dual Yorkshire Oaks winner was allowed go off at 16/1 gives you an indication of the strength in-depth that there was in the race.
Again, tactics were crucial. France led from early, from Moon Ballad, Alamshar and High Chaparral. Vintage Tipple sat in fifth place along the inside, with Falbrav on her outside and Islington last of the seven.
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Frankie Dettori allowed Moon Ballad to move into the lead fully three furlongs out, and they started to race. Michael Kinane asked High Chaparral to get closer up on the outside as Alamshar made his ground along the inside. Falbrav tracked Alamshar through on the inside as they race around the home turn.
Moon Ballad travelled well in front as they straightened up for home, but left a gap on the inside for Alamshar. Islington took closer order under Kieren Fallon towards the outside, as Darryll Holland sought racing room on Falbrav among horses.
But all the while, Michael Kinane was winding High Chaparral up. In clear sailing on the near side, just towards the outside of Moon Ballad, the Sadler’s Wells colt picked up well. He hit the front as the 150-yard marker flashed past and moved to his left.
Falbrav went for the ever-narrowing gap between the leader and the rail, but he couldn’t get there and, in the end, High Chaparral got home by a neck, to provide Aidan O’Brien with his second Irish Champion Stakes (at least nine more would follow) and Michael Kinane with his fifth.
Sea The Stars, 2009
The 2009 Irish Champion Stakes was not a duel, it was a coronation. In the continuation of a thread that ran through the entire 2009 flat racing season, it was Sea The Stars first, the rest playing for places.
It was like that in the Guineas, the Derby and the Eclipse, although Rip Van Winkle did make John Oxx’s horse pull out the stops in the Eclipse. And it was like that again in the Juddmonte International, when Galileo’s brother had to quicken twice.
The crowds flocked to see him at Leopardstown on Irish Champion Stakes day 2009, they knew that it would be his last race in Ireland before his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe swansong, and he didn’t let them down.
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In beating Fame And Glory and Mastercraftsman by two and a half lengths, the Irish Derby and the St James’s Palace Stakes winner, Christopher Tsui’s horse probably put up the best performance of his career, and that includes his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victory the following month.
John Oxx had him at concert pitch and, when he moved easily to the front on the run to the furlong marker, you knew what was forthcoming. When Michael Kinane gave him a squeeze, he picked up like the superstar racehorse that he was, leaving top-class rivals in his wake and galloping into the history books, cementing his place as one of the greatest Irish racehorses of all time.
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