Things We Learned » Remarkable Derby

Remarkable Derby

There were many remarkable elements to Harzand’s win in last Saturday’s Investec Derby.  There was the Irish-trained 1-2-3 for starters.  It has been done before, it was done as recently as 2009 when Sea The Stars led home Fame And Glory, Masterofthehorse, Rip Van Winkle and Golden Sword in an Irish procession, but it just shows you how times have changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when an Irish winner was as rare as a non-existent thing.

There was the nous and guile of Dermot Weld in getting Harzand to the race.  Ten days before the Derby, HH The Aga Khan’s colt was not really in the Derby picture.  He was among the entries all right, but he wasn’t among the dispatches.  Before the Dante, before Midterm got injured, Pat Smullen was set to ride Sir Michael Stoute’s horse.  Then the rains arrived and suddenly Harzand was in.

There was more to it than the rains, however.  Harzand obviously impressed in his work during the week, he impressed his trainer sufficiently for him to consider the Epsom option.  Remember, this is a colt who finished fifth in his maiden at Gowran Park on his only run at two, and who hadn’t run since he won the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown in early April.  That was 54 days before the Derby.  All 10 previous Derby winners had run no more than 35 days before the race.

Then there was the spread plate, and the gargantuan efforts that the Rosewell House team and Jim Bolger’s farrier Jim Reilly put in just to get him to the starting line.

And there was the ride that Pat Smullen gave him.  Perfectly positioned, back in mid-division behind a furious pace, kicked at the right time, strength in the finish.  Smullen said afterwards that, unbelievably, the race worked out just as he had planned it, all the way down to tracking Idaho, the horse that he wanted to track.  You’d plan your ride in the Derby a hundred times, he said, and it would never work out like that.

These things happen for you though when you are a top class rider – the more you plan, the luckier you get – a world class rider and, finally, it looks like Smullen is being universally recognised as such now. 

Harzand could be just beginning

The great thing about Harzand now is that we don’t know how good he could be.  The Derby is obviously the ultimate goal for many, for humans, but it could be just the beginning for the Sea The Stars colt.

This was his third run of the year, his third win, and the third occasion on which he has stepped up considerably on his previous run.  The winning time was good, faster than Racing Post par, and the manner in which he went on again when he was challenged by US Army Ranger suggests that he had more energy left.  Obviously his spread plate did not affect him, obviously he wasn’t feeling it through the race, but it can’t have been ideal for him, all the attention, all the poulticing, all the standing around in buckets of ice.

The Irish Derby is the obvious next target, but the ground could come up fast at The Curragh, which would leave his very participation in doubt.  He could be a real Arc horse though.  He has that toughness, that ability to gallop that would be a serious asset in an Arc de Triomphe – at Chantilly this year – and there is always a chance that there will be a bit of cut in the ground in Paris in October.  

Dash draw

We know that a high draw is an advantage over five furlongs at Epsom.  We know that you want to be racing close to the stands rail, up at the top of the camber.

However, the degree to which this advantage is accentuated on easy ground was driven home in the Dash on Saturday, when the first six home, in the 17-runner race (after non-runners were taken out) were drawn, respectively, in stalls 14, 16, 17, 15, 12 and 13.  The four highest-drawn horses filled the first four places, and the six highest-drawn horses filled the first six places. 

Lessons?  Firstly, Boom The Groom did well to finish seventh, beaten a total of less than four lengths, from stall two, and he can be marked up a fair bit on the bare form of the race.  Secondly, the next time they race over five furlongs on easy ground at Epsom, do the combination exactas and trifectas.

Building for the future

Just shows you what success looks like.  On his first day with a trainer’s licence on Monday, his first day with horses racing under his name, with runners at Listowel and Gowran Park, and faced with the decision of where to go, where best to go to soak up the attention, bask in the reflected glory of the inevitable victories (there were four by the way), Joseph O’Brien went to Goffs.  The future won’t build itself you know. 

Quote of the week:

“Jet Setting winning the Guineas, it was like watching your daughter win a gold medal at the Olympic Games”

Robbie Dolan, Jet Setting’s lad


© The Irish Field, 11th June 2016