"It's a huge weekend for us and we're all looking forward to it" - O'Brien primed for Longines Irish Champions Weekend
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For Donnacha O'Brien, there was always a light at the end of the lock-down tunnel.
Yes, the cancellation of races was a killer. The lack of certainty as to when the next race would be was even more challenging. But with Longines Irish Champions Weekend well down the line in September, there was always a long term target to aim for.
"Longines Irish Champions Weekend is probably the biggest weekend in Irish flat racing," says the south Tipperary based trainer.
"It's huge to all of us. There are a lot of big races, you have the Irish Champions Stakes which is one of the biggest races in Europe. Then you have the Moyglare Stud and the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes - two of the first juvenile group ones in the season, so yeah it's a huge weekend for us and we're all looking forward to it..."
The racing world has been turned upside down over the last few weeks and months. Races were pulled, spectators have been kept at bay and much of what we know and love about the game has changed, but for people like Donnacha O'Brien, the show had to go on.
"It's nice to be back racing, but sure lock-down didn't mean a break for us either. We obviously had to keep working and keep the horses fit and fed," he says.
"The hard part was we didn't know when we'd have a race, so we didn't know when to target our horses for. But at least we were all in the same boat and everyone understood what was going on."
"It's weird at race meetings," he adds.
"Guineas and Derbys being run and no-one there. No atmosphere but look all sports people are in the same boat. It's not ideal but it's better than having no sport at all..."
Which brings us to Longines Irish Champions Weekend. On the weekend September 12 and 13, there will be a series of high quality races ran behind closed doors in Leopardstown and the Curragh respectively.
O'Brien, who trains out of Goolds Cross, has a number of his finest horses primed for the big occasion.
"I have a few. I have Fancy Blue, a three year old filly who's probably going to run in the matron and I have Fernando Vichi who's going to run in the two-year-old group two over a mile and I have Shale for the Moyglare. They're three very important horses for me so hopefully they'll run well."
As for his own training career, Donnacha is delighted with the seamless transition he's made from trainer to jockey and he hopes that he can kick on again by the time Longines Irish Champions Weekend rolls around.
"It was always in my mind that when I stopped riding that training was what I'd look at. I wasn't sure what way I'd go about it but I got the opportunity to have a few horses in the facility over here and one thing led to another and it just fell into place."
You can keep up to date with Longines Irish Champions Weekend by following LICW's social channels with racing anchor Daragh O Conchúir interviewing winning jockeys and trainers live each day. Jarlath Regan will host a magazine show in the lead up to Longines Irish Champions Weekend called The Champions Quarter.
Donnacha details his preparation for the big weekend here.
Follow Irish Champions Weekend on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a brilliant weekend of top class racing live from Leopardstown & The Curragh with the best of entertainment from Jarlath Regan and The Academic #LICW2020