Things We Learned » Coming up blue

Coming up blue

It may or may not be related to the greater responsibilities that John Ferguson has been given this year with Godolphin, but their purchase of high-class milers Dutch Connection and Home Of The Brave during the week is a positive move for the blue team.

Dutch Connection is a nicely progressive seven-furlong to one-mile horse who, winner of the Jersey Stakes last year, has a big chance of landing the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury this afternoon.  Home Of The Brave won the Free Handicap at Newmarket last year and the Minstrel Stakes at The Curragh (although he was subsequently disqualified for a banned substance), and he has started off this year nicely by winning a listed race at Leicester last month. 

Both are progressive and high-class four-year-olds whose best days could be ahead of them, and that is key. 

In parallel, Godolphin have gone from a position just a week ago, in which they didn’t really have a legitimate Derby contender, to one in which they now have three possibles.  The Jim Bolger-trained Moonlight Magic is obviously a contender now after his victory in the Derrinstown Trial at Leopardstown last Sunday. (See below.) 

The Andre Fabre-trained Cloth Of Stars, winner of the Prix La Force last month, is also a contender now after he landed the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud 50 minutes before Moonlight Magic won (that’s the Pour Moi route, Prix La Force, Prix Greffulhe, Epsom Derby), and John Gosden has indicated that Linguistic is not out of the picture, despite his narrow defeat to Viren’s Army in the Dee Stakes at Chester last Friday. 

As well as that, they have won three of the top handicaps this season so far: the Lincoln with Secret Brief, the Victoria Cup at Ascot last Saturday with Flash Fire and the Hambleton Handicap at York on Thursday with Always Smile.  It could be all coming up blue again.

Derrinstown still a pointer

It is not that long ago that Leopardstown’s Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial was considered to be not only the best Epsom Derby trial in Ireland, but the best Epsom Derby trial anywhere.  A Sinndar-Galileo-High Chaparral rat-tat-tat will do that for you.

You would never have believed, after the third of that triumvirate High Chaparral had been led out of Epsom’s winner’s enclosure in 2002, that Leicester would win the Premier League before another Derrinstown winner who would follow up in the Derby.

Yet, despite the fact that there hasn’t been a Derby winner since, there have been some top class winners of the Derrinstown.  Alamshar won it the year after High Chaparral, and John Oxx’s horse finished third in the Epsom Derby before winning the Irish Derby and the King George. 

Yeats won the Derrinstown the year after that, and Yeats would have been a warm favourite for the Epsom Derby had injury not intervened.  And subsequent events – a Coronation Cup, a Goodwood Cup, an Irish Leger, a Prix Royal-Oak and, of course, four Ascot Gold Cups – tell you that he probably would have won the 2004 Derby too.

Dylan Thomas won the Derrinstown in 2006 and, a less than lucky third in the Derby, he came back and won the Irish Derby later that year before following up in the Irish Champion Stakes.  Then, as a four-year-old, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt won the Prix Ganay, the King George, the Irish Champion Stakes again and, famously, the Arc de Triomphe.

Casual Conquest won the Derrinstown in 2008, and he finished third in the Epsom Derby and second in the Irish Derby before landing the Tattersalls Gold Cup the following year.  Fame And Glory won the Derrinstown in 2009, and he finished second behind Sea The Stars at Epsom before winning the Irish Derby.  Then as a four-year-old, he won the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Coronation Cup, and he stepped up in trip as a five-year-old to win the Ascot Gold Cup and the British Champions Long Distance Cup.

Fascinating Rock is in the record books as the Derrinstown winner of 2014, awarded the race by the stewards after he had been beaten a head by Ebanoran.  After disappointing behind Australia in both the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby, Dermot Weld’s horse returned last year to win four of his six races, going down by just a neck to Al Kazeem in the Tattersalls Gold Cup before rounding off his season by landing the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October.

It is a pity that two years ago the Derrinstown race lost the Group 2 status that it had gained in 2003, after the race had gone through a five-year lull.  So the exploits of Moonlight Magic, Shogun, Idaho and Beacon Rock now this year will determine whether or not that imbalance can be redressed.

Zhukova zings

Zhukova was good in landing the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas on Wednesday. 

The Dermot Weld-trained filly came under pressure early enough, but that was to be expected from a filly who won the Oyster Stakes at Galway last September and for home the 10-furlong trip should be an absolute minimum.  She found lots for Pat Smullen, she hit the front at the two-furlong pole and she stayed on powerfully all the way to the line to beat two talented fillies in Pretty Perfect and Bocca Baciata.

The Blue Wind Stakes is usually a very good fillies’ race.  The last five winners before Zhukova were Pleascach, Tarfasha, Euphrasia, Princess Highway and Banimpire. 

Also, it is not easy for four-year-old fillies in the race.  At this time of year and over 10 furlongs, they have to give a stone to the youngsters, and that can make them vulnerable.  One only one four-year-old – Euphrasia in 2013 – has prevailed in the last 10 years, despite the fact that the make-up of the fields have been more or less evenly split, 47 three-year-olds out of a total of 82 runners in total in the last decade.

Weld said after Wednesday’s race that he would probably put Zhukova away now, skip the summer, wait for the easier ground in the autumn and train her for then.  Wednesday’s race was just her sixth race ever, she still has bundles of scope for progression, and the wait could be worthwhile.

Notebook race

One of the most interesting races run at York this week was the three-year-olds’ seven-furlong handicap on Wednesday.  It was only a Class 3 handicap, but the first three home – Castle Harbour, Chief Whip and Monteverdi – went into the race as three highly progressive colts, they dominated the market and they dominated the finish.

This is a race that has been won in the recent past by Udododontu, That Is The Spirit, Lancelot Du Lac, Baccarat and Common Touch, and it is interesting that the winner’s trainer John Gosden spoke of the Group 3 Jersey Stakes for Castle Harbour as his next possible target, not another handicap, not the Britannia.

Between the three of them, they had run just a total of five times before Wednesday’s race, and there could be much more to come from all three.

Ring a bell?

So a John Gosden-trained colt who wasn’t entered in the Derby, and who wasn’t really in the Derby picture, wins the Dante Stakes at York, beating a better-fancied stable companion, and springs immediate talk of supplementary fees.  Is this ringing any bells, no?


© The Irish Field, 14th May 2016