On Saturday afternoon in Ireland, Aidan O’Brien takes on a select few, as the Curragh plays host to the Group One Irish Derby.
This year’s renewal could prove an absolute cracker, with John Gosden sending over the Epsom Derby third Cracksman, and Andre Fabre launching a French challenge in the form of Prix du Jockey Club runner-up Waldgeist. Ballydoyle currently have eight of the 12 entrants, including surprise Epsom winner Wings Of Eagles, as they look to add to their phenomenal record in the race. O’Brien has won 10 of the last 16, though surprisingly has only one win from the last four.
Final declarations are announced this morning, and decisions may well rest on the amount of rain that the Curragh has had, and is likely to get, between now and Saturday afternoon. O’Brien looks sure to trim his entry down substantially, having said to At The Races: “All the Epsom horses are the ones very much at the forefront of what we are doing at the moment. I would imagine Ryan will ride him (Wings Of Eagles), though he never decides until he sees what we are going to declare.”
His Epsom hero looks the stable standout, but Capri and Douglas Macarthur would have a chance should enough rain fall. The former has looked a little one-paced in his races to date, but stays well and is a gutsy character. Douglas Macarthur was employed as pacemaker last time, but is capable of a strong showing based on his Derrinstown Trial performance, when battling on bravely for victory. He also lacks gears and is therefore susceptible to a fast-finishing type.
Fabre captured this race for France in 2005, with the exceptional Hurricane Run. The wonderfully talented colt by Montjeu, went on to win the Arc later that year. Fabre’s Waldgeist looks sure to appreciate Saturday’s step-up in trip, being a son of Galileo out of a Monsun mare. He was pipped in the French Derby by Jean-Claude Rouget’s Brametot, though had a pair of O’Brien runners further back in the field. The French maestro wouldn’t be sending him over if he didn’t fancy his chances, and told the Irish Times: “It’s a good opportunity for him. I’m sure the pace will be sensible. He stays well and has good acceleration. I think the Curragh is a beautiful track, very well designed. You cannot be unlucky there. It’s a very fair course and I’ve never seen a messy race there.”
John Gosden won this race with Jack Hobbs in 2015. The horse had finished runner-up to Golden Horn in the Epsom Derby a month earlier. Pat Smullen was onboard last year’s winner Harzand, and has landed the plum ride of Cracksman, in the absence of injured Frankie Dettori. The colt’s running action suggests rain may well suit, and his pedigree (out of a Pivotal mare) also gives hope that he’ll adapt well to softer ground. Smullen is clearly excited at the prospect of partnering Gosden’s challenger, and said: “It's a brilliant ride to pick up and I'm really looking forward to Saturday. He ran a great race at Epsom. The Irish Derby is a huge race. I've been lucky enough to win it twice and I'd love to win for a third time on Saturday.”
The bookies are struggling to separate the three principals, and it would come as no surprise should the trio hold every chance entering the latter stages of the race on Saturday.