Things We Learned » Irish Derby wrap

Irish Derby wrap

There was a lot of good about last Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

There was the race for starters, the finish, the toe-to-toe between Harzand and Idaho, between Pat Smullen and Ryan Moore.  Two top-class horses and two top-class riders in their prime, all four giving their all. 

It was in the balance for a few strides, Idaho actually traded at 1.73 in-running, and the pair of them pulled nicely clear of their rivals.

In a sense, it was the ‘right’ winner, the Epsom Derby winner returning to The Curragh, an Irish horse, Irish-bred, Irish-trained, Irish-ridden.  Not that Idaho wouldn’t have been a worthy winner, but there is a sense of completion about an Irish Epsom Derby winner coming home and winning at The Curragh as well.

It was Dermot Weld’s third Irish Derby, after Zagreb and Grey Swallow, but that did not appear to diminish the magnitude of the occasion for him.  It was a similar story for The Aga Khan, it was HH’s sixth – Shergar, Shahrastani, Kahyasi, Sinndar, Alamshar, in case you are asked in a table quiz – four of whom had also, like Harzand, won the Epsom Derby, but you still sensed that it meant an awful lot. 

“Our operation has been family run for four generations,” the owner/breeder said.  “The effort at stud has to illustrate itself on the racecourse.  So thanks to everyone who has helped this horse get to where he is today.”

You could see that it also meant the world to Pat Smullen.  The rider said afterwards that, after Epsom, he didn’t think that it could be any better.  It was his first Epsom Derby win after all.  But Saturday’s win was at least up there, he told us, even though it wasn’t his first.  Maybe it was better.  To do it in front of your home crowd.

Smullen’s talents continue to gain traction around the world, and that is as it should be.  He is a world-class rider.  On the home front, that’ll surely be another day off for the school kids in Rhode then.

Red Verdon could be under-rated

The Timeform sectional times for the Irish Derby make for very interesting reading.  Harzand’s finishing speed percentage of 114.1% of overall speed tell you that, despite the presence in the race of his pacemaker, the race was run at a relatively sedate pace, a pace that facilitated a relatively strong finish.  (It’s all relative.)

There are many conclusions that you can draw from this piece of information, and here are three.  Firstly, there was the fact that Harzand was able to win off a sedate pace, which is very interesting, given that the talk after he won the Ballysax Stakes was of the St Leger, not the Derby.  He was always thought of as a stayer more than as a pacey middle distance horse, a horse for whom soft ground over a mile and a half was important. 

That may still be so, easy ground may still be his thing, and Pat Smullen admittedly did have him well positioned off that sedate pace on Saturday, but you don’t win a moderately-run Irish Derby without having pace.  That all augurs well for his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe bid, even if the ground is not bottomless at Chantilly in October.

Secondly, Idaho did really well to get as close to Harzand as he did, given how the race was run.  Aidan O’Brien’s horse was ridden more patiently than Harzand was, he was ridden for a turn of foot, which he undoubtedly has.  But he had to make his ground into a quickening pace just to that he could eyeball Harzand, he obviously had to expend lots of energy to do that.  There is no shame in going down by half a length to Harzand, but he could be even better than the bare form of Saturday’s run. 

It was interesting that Aidan O’Brien said afterwards that Idaho could be even better over further.  A son of Galileo, third in the Epsom Derby, second in the Irish Derby, he has a really good profile for the St Leger. 

Thirdly, Red Verdon ran a smashing race to finish fourth.  Ed Dunlop’s horse was even further back than Idaho was early on, he was actually stone last of the nine runners as they passed the five-furlong pole.  Still last as they passed the two-furlong pole, he picked up well from there into the quickening pace, and he finished strongly to take fourth place.  In three more strides he would have been third.

Red Verdon had no luck in-running when he finished sixth in the Epsom Derby, and he can be marked up at least a little on the bare form of his run last Saturday.  Highly progressive in the lead up to Epsom, he could be an under-rated horse now.

Sors soars 

Sors ran out an impressive winner of the Rockingham Handicap at The Curragh on Sunday.  Racing from 7lb out of the handicap, Andy Slattery’s horse kept on well on the near side under a fine ride from the talented 7lb claimer Killian Leonard to get home by a length and three quarters from Kimberella, who raced towards the far side.

It was another high in Andy Slattery’s season.  His horses continue to go really well.  Two more winners on Tuesday, Sharjah at Hamilton and Sir Dreamalot at Sligo, brought his total in Ireland and Britain for the season to 10.  And Flowerhill Nova ran well to finish second at Fairyhouse on Wednesday on his first attempt over seven furlongs, a trip that probably stretched his stamina.

Slattery has assembled a fine team for this season, headlined by Sors and Creggs Pipes, who won a big one-mile handicap at The Curragh on Guineas weekend, and Branch Line, a half-brother to four winners who won impressively on his racecourse debut at Roscommon three weeks ago.  It could be a very interesting rest-of-season ahead.

Charge draw

Here is the draw for the first three horses home in today’s Coral Charge at Sandown over the last 10 years, together with the official ground description on the day:

2015: 4, 3, 9, 6 (of 9) – good to firm

2014: 4, 8, 10, 12 (of 10) – good to firm

2013: 2, 6, 3, 8 (of 10) – good to firm

2012: 9, 8, 7, 2 (of 13) – good to soft

2011: 2, 3, 1, 10 (of 10) – good to firm

2010: 1, 2, 4, 6 (of 6) – good to firm

2009: 3, 1, 7, 11 (of 11) – good

2008: 3, 8, 4, 1 (of 10) – good to firm

2007: 3, 7, 1, 9 (of 10) – good to soft

2006: 2, 1, 9, 4 (of 12) – good to firm

Conclusions?  Low numbers have the upper hand.

Nine of the last 10 winners were drawn four or lower.  Also, 18 of the 29 places were filled by horses drawn four or lower.  That’s 62% of the places from just over 39% of the runners. 

On good to soft ground, it looks at first glance as if the advantage of a low draw is reduced, with stalls nine, eight and seven filling the first three places in 2012 when the race was run on good to soft ground.  However, the other renewal in the last decade that was run on easy ground produced a 1-2-3 of stalls three, seven and one, and a sample size of two is small.  In summary then, ideally you want to be drawn low, or you want to be getting fairly well-inflated odds if you are drawn high.


The stewards’ enquiry will resume after the next race has been run.


© The Irish Field, 2nd July 2016