Horses To Follow » Black Bear Island

Black Bear Island

I wouldn’t go losing any faith in Black Bear Island as a Derby aspirant after he could finish only third in the Prix La Force at Longchamp on Sunday. He didn’t get the run of the race at all, and you can easily forgive him this.

Settled in third place on the rail by Johnny Murtagh, he had nowhere to go when Christophe Lemaire and Olivier Peslier on War Power and Sokar dropped anchor in front on the way around the home turn. Black Bear Island visibly pulled for his head at that point, just three furlongs from home, but he was suddenly stuck for racing room as the eventual winner On Est Bien loomed up on his outside. From that point, Murtagh was powerless as the leaders dropped back into his lap and the race developed outside him. You won’t get a gap between Lemaire and Peslier and the rail too easily at Longchamp, and by the time Murtagh did manage to chart a passage through, On Est Bien had set sail for home, he had gone two and a half lengths up and had the momentum with him before the O’Brien horse could get going. Black Bear Island did pick up nicely, but he was galloping on rather than showing a lightning turn of foot. His rider wasn’t hard on him inside the final 200 yards when it was obvious that he couldn’t win, and both the winner and the second had had the benefit of running already this season, the winner having run twice since the beginning of March.

All the reasons for regarding the son of Sadler’s Wells as a live Derby prospect before this race still hold true. After getting beaten on his racecourse debut last season, he was really impressive in landing his maiden at Naas last August over seven furlongs, yet he is bred for stamina, a full-brother to Derby winner High Chaparral. Interestingly, High Chaparral also got beaten on his racecourse debut before winning a seven-furlong contest at Tipperary. He rounded off his juvenile season by winning the Racing Post Trophy, and Black Bear Island is obviously not a Group 1 winner yet, but he did impress in his public racecourse gallop at The Curragh last month, and the vibes emanating from Ballydoyle are positive. On top of that, his run last Sunday was hugely encouraging, more than educational, and significant improvement can be expected. High Chaparral contested the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown on his second run as a three-year-old, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if that contest, on 10th May, were to be Black Bear Island’s next engagement. He remains a hugely exciting prospect.

© The Irish Field, 18th April 2009