Hits and misses for Aidan O'Brien in the Irish Champion Stakes

Sat 9 Sep 2017

By Racinguk.com staff

Churchill, a brilliant winner of this year's 2000 Guineas either side of the Irish Sea, looks set to go off a warm order for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

His trainer Aidan O'Brien claimed his first Irish Champion victory with Giant's Causeway back in 2000 and few could have predicted the unprecedented success the County Wexford handler would go on to enjoy over the next 17 years.

Six more renewals have gone to the 16-time champion trainer, but although he may hold the record for the most winners of the race, O'Brien has not always had things his own way in the 10-furlong showpiece.

Coolmore have often thrown their best horses into the ring, and some of the biggest names in racing feature among those to have triumphed.

But be warned, the long odds-on shots have not always done the business. 


Giant's Causeway (2000)

It was the 'Iron Horse' who gave O'Brien his first Irish Champion win at odds of 8-11, recording his fifth consecutive success at the highest level in the process. 

Bachir v Giant's Causeway - Ireland- 2000 Giant's Causeway's Irish Champion Stakes win was his fifth on the trot, having been defeated by Bachir in the Irish 2000 Guineas. (Racingfotos)

High Chaparral (2003)

A three-year wait followed his first victory and it was the imperious High Chaparral who provided O'Brien with his second. The dual Derby winner fended off the late challenge of Luca Cumani's Falbrav, who endured a luckless passage, to score by a neck.

Oratorio (2005)

It was the turn of Oratorio in 2005. The son of Danehill denied the emphatic Epsom Derby winner Motivator by half a length, just as he had done when landing the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown two months earlier. Oratorio's Leopardstown triumph kick-started three years of Ballydoyle dominance, with future Arc winner Dylan Thomas taking the next two runnings.

Cape Blanco (2010)

Another three-year wait for glory followed before Seamie Heffernan stole a march on the field aboard Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco to finish five and a half lengths in front of his more fancied stablemate Rip Van Winkle.

So You Think (2011)

Heffernan was aboard the winner again 12 months on as So You Think obliged at odds of 1-4, beating the brilliant mare Snow Fairy, who subsequently went on to win the 2012 renewal.


Galileo (2001)

Just a year on from Giant's Causeway's victory, most will remember the mighty Galileo, now an unparalleled sire of a host of champions, tasting defeat for the first time in his illustrious career when going down all guns blazing to Godolphin's Fantastic Light.

Irish Champion - Fantastic Light - Galileo Godolphin's Fantastic Light edged out Galileo in a thirller in 2001. (Racingfotos)

Hawk Wing (2002)

A similar pattern emerged 12 months later as another Ballydoyle hotpot, Hawk Wing, lost out by a whisker to the Godolphin-owned Grandera at odds of 8-11. A sweet two years for the boys in blue.

Australia (2014)

In more recent times, many fingers were burnt when Australia, a dual Derby winner and supposedly a good thing at 30-100, was collared late by The Grey Gatsby in 2014, a horse whom he had beaten comfortably the time before in York's Juddmonte International.

Fame and Glory chased home the brilliant Sea The Stars in 2009, while St Nicholas Abbey was third behind the aforementioned Snow Fairy in 2012.

Last year's Arc heroine Found was runner-up behind Golden Horn in 2015 and found only French challenger Almanzor too strong 12 months ago, prior to her landmark victory in France.

Found was not even the Ballydoyle first string last season, with principal contender Minding only third.


As a dual Classic winner, Churchill deserves his place at the top of the betting.

Following his Newmarket and Curragh triumphs, the Galileo colt badly fluffed his lines at Royal Ascot, but his runner-up finish behind Ulysses in last month's Juddmonte International at York was a step in the right direction.

However, it will be a brave man who takes odds-on about a horse who has been beaten on his two most recent starts and his task is not straightforward.

Eminent was no match for O'Brien's ace in the Guineas, but has come forward plenty since, judged on his impressive recent success in France.

Churchill is very much the Ballydoyle number one, but he is not the only representative. Taj Mahal looks to have his work cut out, but lesser horses than Epsom Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher have won Group Ones and it would not be first time an apparent O'Brien good thing has suffered defeat at the hands of a lesser-fancied stablemate.

So while the market might suggest it is a penalty kick for Churchill, history tells us that penalties can often fly a short-head wide of the post.

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