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The Last Derby

The Last Derby put up a fine performance on his first run since last November to win a two-and-a-half-mile hurdle at Cork on Friday evening. Well backed beforehand despite his lengthy absence, Eoin Griffin’s gelding travelled and jumped well through the early stages of the race, disputing third place with Beau Michael, behind a decent pace that was set by Siberion and Bootlegger. He got the last flight in the back straight wrong, and it looked as if Eagle’s Pass was travelling better than him as they left the back straight. However, The Last Derby was back on the bridle around the home turn, he joined Bootlegger over the second last, went on between the last two, when he was strongly challenged by Eagle’s Pass, but he found plenty on the run-in for Geraghty to go on and win by two lengths from Thomond O’Mara’s gelding, the pair of them well clear.

Although the ground was officially good for this race, the rain at Cork on Friday evening was continuous, and the stewards changed it to yielding after this race. While he had beaten Zarinava and Alpine Eagle in a novices’ hurdle on soft ground, and had finished second to Truckers Delight in a good handicap hurdle at the 2009 Punchestown Festival on soft ground, the balance of The Last Derby’s form suggested that he was a better horse on good or fast ground than on easy ground, so it was encouraging that he was able to put up such a decent performance here on easy ground. Also encouraging was the manner in which he found more on the run-in when it looked like Eagle’s Pass was coming to take his measure. It is probable that he could have found even more if more had been required.

It is also probable that the son of Anabaa didn’t get the credit that he deserved for winning a good three-mile handicap chase at Ascot last October (as is often the case when a 33/1 wins a big race) but there was no fluke about it, he travelled like a winner throughout and he was the winner on merit, despite making a mistake at the fourth last. That race has worked out well since. The runner-up hasn’t run, but the third horse, Shining Gale, won a good handicap at Haydock on his only subsequent start off a 1lb higher mark, the fourth horse, Seven Is My Number, won his next two, the Future Stars intermediate chase at Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting, and the Grade 2 Dipper Chase at Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day meeting, easily beating his only rival, Pigeon Island, subsequent Grand Annual Chase hero, while the fifth horse, Hold Em, finished third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his next start and the sixth, Just Amazing, was a 20-length winner on his next start. The Last Derby himself ran only once after that last season, very disappointingly in a handicap chase at Newcastle, but Newcastle is left-handed, he has to go right and he jumped to his right throughout before Davy Russell pulled him up.

He was off the track from then, last November, until last Friday. It is probable that Eoin Griffin has had the Galway Plate in mind for him since then, and that would make a lot of sense. Galway is right-handed, a stiff two miles and six furlongs should be ideal, the probable good ground will suit well, and he is a progressive chaser on the up. He is only six, he has only run in five chases in his life, and his current mark of 132 is just 2lb higher than the mark off which he won that handicap chase at Ascot. If top weight Church Island takes his chance in the Plate, and that appears to be Michael Hourigan’s plan at present, then The Last Derby would carry 10st 6lb in the race, which would be a lovely racing weight, but which would also be enough to enable Barry Geraghty continue his association with him. With the exception of Galway specialist Ansar, only one horse has carried more than 10st 9lb to victory in the Galway Plate since 1999, and no horse has carried more than 10st 13lb. Friday’s run should have put him spot on for Galway, and he looks over-priced for the Plate at present at around 12/1 or 14/1.

9th July 2010

© The Irish Field, 17th July 2010