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The Derby

It was a green day at Epsom yesterday as the Dermot Weld-trained Harzand – with rider Pat Smullen clad in the green silks of owner HH the Aga Khan – led home a famous Irish-trained 1-2-3 in the Investec Derby.

The drama began with the preamble.  Harzand spread a plate while travelling over, and his participation in the famous Classic was in the balance until early in the afternoon.  Trainer Dermot Weld said afterwards that they didn’t decide until an hour before the race to allow the horse take his chance.

And it was a dramatic race, as the Derby often is.  Smullen got his colt nicely settled in mid-division behind a strong pace that Colm O’Donoghue dictated on Port Douglas.  Harzand did not handle the downhill run around Tattenham Corner so well, his rider said afterwards that he got onto the wrong lead, but once he got into the home straight, it was quickly apparent that he was going to be a big player.

Moved to the outside by Smullen at the two-furlong pole, the Sea The Stars colt picked up well when his rider asked him to.  He joined leader Idaho two furlongs out, and he surged to the front on the run to the furlong pole.  It was at that point that Ryan Moore and the Aidan O’Brien-trained favourite US Army Ranger came with a withering run down the outside. 

For a few strides it looked as if he was going to overhaul Harzand and provide Aidan O’Brien with his sixth Derby, and his fourth in five years.  However, to Dermot Weld’s colt’s immense credit, he picked up again deep inside the final furlong to keep his rival at bay, actually going away again on the run to the line.  The Ballydoyle pair US Army Ranger and Idaho filled the places to complete the clean sweep for Irish-trained horses.

It was a first Epsom Derby for Weld, who went close when Casual Conquest finished third in the race in 2008.

“It’s wonderful to do it,” he said.  “We had a huge worry this morning, but with a tremendous effort from all the team, we made it.”

It was also a first Derby for Smullen.

“It was my childhood dream to win the Derby,” he said.  “It’s great to win it for the boss.  The rain came at the right time, but then we had that scare this morning, and I thought, here we go again.  But it was a fantastic effort by the boss and by the whole team.  I’m just lucky to ride these horses in their races.”


© The Sunday Times, 5th June 2016