Donn's Articles » Irish Derby report

Irish Derby report

Jim Bolger’s remarkable year hit a new high yesterday at The Curragh, as Trading Leather galloped on resolutely to land the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby under a masterful ride by the trainer’s son-in-law Kevin Manning.

And the trainer didn’t have to think for too long when he was asked afterwards where this victory ranked in the pantheon of his achievements as a trainer.

“This is probably the very best. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

It is 21 years since Bolger’s first and previous Irish Derby. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since 1992, when St Jovite landed the race by a record-breaking 12-length margin under Christy Roche. Back then, of course, the Irish Derby was enveloped in the Budweiser banner.

“As you know, I wouldn’t be a huge fan of Budweiser,” said the trainer, pioneer pin as obvious as his subtlety. “I am delighted to have Dubai Duty Free on board this time.”

But this victory was about much more than race sponsors for Bolger. Trading Leather is a home-grown horse who was executing a home-grown plan in the premier home Classic. The colt was bred by trainer, he was sired by Teofilo, whom Bolger had trained to go unbeaten through his five-race career and emerge as Champion Junvenile in 2006, and he is owned by the trainer’s wife Jackie. As well as all that, he was superbly ridden by his son-in-law.

Until yesterday, the Bolger headlines of 2013 had been created by Dawn Approach. First in the 2000 Guineas, last in the Epsom Derby, glorious redemption in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Godolphin colt had generated more column inches than any other racehorse this season.

By contrast, Trading Leather had been quietly going about his business, largely under the headline-writer-radar. Second behind one of yesterday’s rivals in the Dante Stakes at York in May on his debut, third in the Irish 2000 Guineas, winner of a listed race at The Curragh three weeks ago, a career-best performance was required if he was going to win the Irish Derby. And that is exactly what we got.

Settled in the early stages by Manning behind the two pace-setters, Trading Leather had the perfect sit throughout. Pulling his horse to the outside early in the home straight, Manning waited until the two-furlong pole before he asked his horse to lengthen and, when he did, the response was impressive. Once in front, however, Trading Leather had to fully see out the trip as the gallant Galileo Rock chased him all the way to the line.

Warm favourite Ruler Of The World, who was bidding to provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a remarkable eighth successive victory in the Irish Derby, travelled well at the back of the field in the early stages of the race, but when Joseph O’Brien asked him to pick up as the pace quickened on the run down into the home straight, the Epsom Derby winner floundered, and he faded to finish fifth, six lengths behind his lesser-fancied stable companion Festive Cheer.

“We were very pleased with the run in the Dante,” said the winning trainer afterwards. “That was his first run of the year and we expected him to improve for it. We got side-tracked in the Irish Guineas, but we have had this race in mind for him for a while. He is entered in all the top races now. I hope.”

Things could get even better.

© The Sunday Times, 30th June 2013