No sponsor for Leopardstown’s 2020 Irish Champion Stakes

Qatar’s Qipco pulled their backing in April having sponsored the race for last six years

The Irish Champion Stakes, €750,000 centrepiece of the upcoming Irish Champions Weekend, will not be sponsored.

In April it was confirmed that Qatari investment vehicle Qipco had pulled out of sponsoring an event it had backed for the previous six years. That was despite its most prominent figure, Sheikh Fahad, winning the race with Roaring Lion in 2018.

Leopardstown officials were informed prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that Qipco would not continue with its sponsorship. Attempts to come up with a replacement during the Covid-19 health emergency have proved unsuccessful.

It means the champion stakes will be the sole big race without a backer during champions weekend, Irish flat racing’s showpiece event that this year takes place behind closed doors from September 12th-13th.


Horse Racing Ireland’s (HRI) chief executive downplayed the significance of that and pointed to the unique circumstances of a year decimated by coronavirus.

“We took a view that this was an exceptional year so whilst we were looking for a sponsor I wouldn’t say it was an aggressive marketing campaign that you would normally see.

“It’s a valuable sponsorship commodity. But to realise the true value of it you’d have to have a normal year or a year when the full benefits of a sponsorship can be realised.

“We’ve taken that view in the past about certain races. It’s better to have a year with no sponsorship rather than rush into a deal that might not be in the best long-term interests.

“It happened with the Lexus [Chase] and Savills [at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival] when we had a year with no sponsor. The same happened with the Hennessy.

"It doesn't reflect on the race long term. It may reflect on the year that's in it," said Brian Kavanagh.

Sponsorship and expectations

Overall, the HRI boss said sponsorship within racing had stood up well considering the public health emergency and the sport having to be held behind closed doors since early June.

“I would say the position with regard to race sponsorship has exceeded our expectations about six months into a pandemic,” said Mr Kavanagh.

“Sponsors have been loyal which is greatly appreciated and the situation has been relatively reassuring. Losing the Punchestown festival and losing the Grand National meeting meant losing some high profile opportunities. But if you look at Galway, or the Curragh, or champions weekend other than the main race itself, most sponsors are still there. That’s very encouraging,” he added.

A number of sponsors are involved in Wednesday's eight-race card at Bellewstown which could see Co Cork trainer John Murphy continue his recent good run.

On the mark in a valuable restricted race at Naas on Sunday with the 50-1 shot Sweet Gardenia, Murphy had also saddled three winners at Killarney the previous week.

One of them, Vita Veritas, carries a 7lb penalty into another handicap but proven form on very testing ground can trump that.

Martha's Vineyard was runner-up in another race at Killarney which suggests the going will be no problem either.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column