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Irish Derby report

The last time the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby was run on a Saturday, Aidan O’Brien was seven years away from taking out a trainer’s licence. But yesterday at The Curragh, in the first Saturday Irish Derby in a quarter of a century, Camelot galloped home through the heavy ground and the evening sunshine to register the champion trainer’s 10th victory in the race, his seventh in a row.

The intermittent squally showers that peppered the afternoon at The Curragh, further softening the already soft terrain, threatened to de-rail Camelot’s attempt to become the first horse since High Chaparral in 2002 to complete the Epsom Derby/Irish Derby double. But a sigh of relief greeted the news that filtered through just after three o’clock that the son of Montjeu would take his chance, despite his trainer’s obvious concern over the ever-softening ground.

“We were very worried about the ground,” said O’Brien afterwards. “We have always thought that soft ground was a real problem for Camelot. At home he doesn’t even really walk on that ground. We knew when he won the Guineas that he had speed, and we saw at Epsom that he had the class, but the ground was a real concern today. I can’t tell you how delighted we are to have won the race.”

The importance of the Irish Derby as a race, and of Dubai Duty Free as a sponsor, emerged as a key factor in the decision to allow Camelot take his chance.

“We obviously have a good loyal international sponsor,” said John Magnier, representing the winning owners. “And as you know they have committed to another three years, so it would have been like the tail wagging the dog if we didn’t run. We got away with it, fair play to Aidan. The gallops at home have been flooded, and Camelot hasn’t been on the grass since Epsom.”

It was Camelot’s stable companion Astrology who took the Irish Derby quintet through the early stages of the race, just as he had done in the Epsom Derby. Akeed Mofeed and Light Heavy went on from Astrology around the home turn, but Camelot quickly took it up under Joseph O’Brien out in the centre of the track.

He was immediately challenged by Born To Sea – competing over a distance in excess of a mile for the first time in his life – who had been in the favourite’s slipstream from flagfall. The John Oxx-trained colt gave his all for Johnny Murtagh but, in truth, it never really looked like he was going to out-muscle Camelot, the Ballydoyle colt prevailing by two lengths, and the front pair finishing clear of Light Heavy in third.

“I was quite worried turning into the home straight that he was struggling on the ground,” said Joseph, registering his first victory in the race. “It’s sticky ground, they’re not even getting through it, it’s the complete opposite to what he would like. His wheels were spinning in that ground. I’m sure we’d have won considerably more easily if the ground had been better.”

Camelot was the long odds-on favourite, victory was fully expected, but in winning the Irish Derby, in conditions that were far from ideal, he further enhanced his burgeoning reputation. He is now unbeaten in five races, he has won a 2000 Guineas, an Epsom Derby and an Irish Derby, and a bid to win the St Leger, thereby becoming the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to win all three legs of the Triple Crown, is very firmly on the cards.

“The Triple Crown is always the dream,” said the winning trainer. “It has been the dream all along with a lot of horses. But this horse has passed all the tests. We have a statue of Nijinsky at the gate in Ballydoyle, he looks at us every day going in and out, we have always dreamed that we would have another one to put on the other side of the gate.”

That dream is within touching distance now.

© The Sunday Times, 1st July 2012