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Irish Derby

If the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby were run at SW19 and called Wimbledon, Aidan O’Brien would be Federer and Nadal combined. O’Brien has won Ireland’s premier Classic seven times in the last 10 years and, when he sent out Cape Blanco to win it last year, leading home another Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in the race, he became the first trainer ever to win any Irish Classic five times on the spin.

Only one trainer in history has won any Classic six times in a row – Robert Robson, who won the English 1000 Guineas every year between 1818 and 1823. If one of O’Brien’s representatives lands the Irish Derby this afternoon, he will bridge a gap of almost 200 years.

The perennial quandary for punters rears its head again today: which one? The usual trick is to wait and see which horse the stable jockey chooses to ride and to row in with that one, but that hasn’t always worked. Kieren Fallon chose to ride Eagle Mountain in 2007, Johnny Murtagh chose to ride Alessandro Volta in 2008, and both times it was Seamie Heffernan who won the race on Soldier Of Fortune and Frozen Fire respectively.

It is even more difficult this year. Guess what – no stable jockey. Ryan Moore has been O’Brien’s go-to rider all season, but, just as he did at Epsom, Moore will be batting against the Ballydoyle battalions this afternoon from Carlton House’s back. With Moore’s name missing from the team sheet, it is impossible to get an insider’s steer on the relative merits of O’Brien’s representatives through jockey bookings. Policy this season seems to be that rides are divvied up between Colm O’Donoghue, Seamie Heffernan and Joseph O’Brien with no apparent pecking order. Each rider seems to ride the horse that he best-knows or best-suits.

Colm O’Donoghue gave Treasure Beach a clever ride when he went down by just a head to Pour Moi in the Epsom Derby, and he gets another chance today. Joseph O’Brien has ridden Memphis Tennessee in three of his four races, including in the Epsom Derby, so it is no surprise that he keeps that ride. Christophe Soumillon rode Seville in the Dante and in the Derby, but he has commitments at Saint-Cloud this afternoon, so dual Irish Derby winner Seamie Heffernan steps in for the ride on a horse he rode on his racecourse debut at Galway last September.

And it is no surprise that Wayne Lordan has been called up to ride the fourth Ballydoyle horse Roderic O’Connor. Lordan is riding out of his skin these days, as was showcased by his ride on the Tommy Stack-trained Lolly For Dolly to land the Windsor Forest Stakes at Royal Ascot 11 days ago and, in riding mainly for David Wachman, he is often seen sporting a set of Coolmore-connection silks.

The betting suggests that Treasure Beach is O’Brien’s main hope, and that makes sense. Colm O’Donoghue must have thought that he had won his first Epsom Derby on the Galileo colt when he went a length up deep inside the final furlong, before the baton-wielding cartwheel-turning Frenchman flashed home on the near side.

You could never have thought that a Ballydoyle horse who was beaten in a nursery at Listowel could metamorphosise into a Derby contender, but Treasure Beach proved that he had progressed markedly from two to three when he won the Chester Vase on his seasonal debut. That form is working out really well, with runner-up Nathaniel running out a most impressive winner of the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, and taking up his position at the top of the St Leger ante post market, and third-placed Slumber having no luck in-running when finishing a highly promising third in the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes the previous day. Treasure Beach was having just his second run of the season at Epsom, and he should progress again.

There was only a length and a half between Treasure Beach and Memphis Tennessee at Epsom, and there may not be much between them this afternoon either. Like his stable companion, Memphis Tennessee was having just his second run of the season at Epsom, but he ran just twice as a juvenile, so he is really lightly-raced still and consequently has significant scope for progression.

He didn’t face competition for the early lead at Epsom, but he still stretched his field out from the top of the hill. That was obviously the plan, he is a galloper, it made sense to allow him stride on, and the chances of his stable companions were not going to be compromised by a decent gallop. He may fill a similar prominent role today, but the galloping nature of The Curragh’s track should suit him better than Epsom’s undulations, and he may hold onto the lead for a little longer today than he did at Epsom.

In contrast to his two stable companions, Seville was desperately disappointing at Epsom. He didn’t handle the track, he didn’t come down the hill, the run was far too bad to be true, and you can easily put a line through it. Another son of Galileo, Seville is much better judged on his runs in the Racing Post Trophy last year and in the Dante this year, when he was second to Casamento and Carlton House respectively.

He does have a length and a half to find with Carlton House on their York run, but they didn’t go a great pace that day, which wouldn’t have suited the Ballydoyle colt. He struck the front two furlongs out, but was outpaced by the Queen’s horse inside the final furlong. A faster gallop today should suit, as should the extra furlong and a half, and it is significant that he was quietly backed in the ante post markets earlier this week.

Jockey bookings and bookmaker prices suggest that Roderic O’Connor is the fourth Ballydoyle string, but he is a Group 1 winner as a juvenile and an Irish 2000 Guineas winner, and Frozen Fire was a 16/1 shot, only third best of Team Ballydoyle, when he won the Irish Derby three years ago.

It is a strong team that O’Brien has assembled once again. Robert Robson’s record is hanging by a thread.

© The Sunday Times, 26th June 2011