Things We Learned » Good Derby or bad Derby?

Good Derby or bad Derby?

Good Derby or bad Derby? It is still too early to decide, but the indications are positive.

It was a strongly-run race, and it was run in a good time, faster than every Derby
except three (Workforce’s, Golden Horn’s and Lammtara’s) since the War.
Also, while it is understandable that a 40/1 Derby winner – the longest-priced
winner since Snow Knight in 1974 – has caused some to question the merit of the
form, the ‘right’ horses finished second, third and fourth behind Wings Of Eagles.
Cliffs Of Moher, Cracksman and Eminent occupied the first three places in the
pre-race market. Add that to the solidity of the pace and the fast time, and it
looks like we might have had a very good Derby this year.

And there was no pace collapse. Timeform’s sectional figures and Racing UK’s
analysis during the week tell you that. Douglas Macarthur and The Anvil may
have gone fast up front, and the former probably did well to finish as close as he
did in seventh place after cutting out the hard fractions, but the body of the field
posted fractions that were close to optimum. It is probable that the best four
horses in the race on the day filled the first four places.

Wings Of Eagles did not fit the exact profile of a Derby winner, winner of just one
of his previous five races and beaten in his prep run, but you could make the
case. You could have marked him up on his run in the Chester Vase on his only
previous run this season, when he didn’t have the run of the race at a track at
which the run of the race is crucial, and he ran on to finish just over a length
behind his stable companion Venice Beach, who was sent off at 12/1 for the
Derby, not at 40/1.

The rest of it is down to progression and conditioning and what happened on the
day. You know that every Aidan O’Brien-trained horse that lines up in the Derby
is primed for the day. The Derby is the hub of the season at Ballydoyle. The prep
races are just the spokes.

Wings Of Eagles’ career to date has been one of progression. He progressed with
every run last season, each Timeform rating that he earned was greater than the
one that had gone before. He stepped forward again on his debut this season, he
posted another career-high in the Chester Vase, and he obviously stepped
forward again from that on Saturday.

And Padraig Beggy excelled. You get a chance in the Derby, even a 40/1 chance,
and you grab it. Beggy was cool all right at the back of the field, but that was
obviously the plan. Be patient. He tracked Ryan Moore on Cliffs Of Moher.
But Wings Of Eagles was checked twice early in the home straight, and that was
not in the plan. It was crucial that Beggy didn’t panic, and he didn’t. He allowed
his horse regain his balance when it all got a little tight before asking him to go
forward, he was confident that he had enough time to get there if his horse was
good enough. It was the ride of a man who was riding Derby winners every day
of the week.

Cliffs Of Moher shaped like a high-class horse in second place, and, out of a mare
who won over five furlongs, it is not surprising that the Eclipse looks like his
target now. Cracksman may benefit from his Epsom experience more than most,
it was just his third race ever and his first since April. And there are other
potential future winners lurking down the field: Douglas Macarthur did well
having set the fast pace, Salouen was checked in his run, Capri was wider than
ideal. Time could tell us that this was a very good Derby.

Irish Derby clash on the cards

It used to be the case that there was always the possibility that the Epsom Derby
winner and French Derby winner would clash in the Irish Derby at The Curragh.
And if both Derby winners did not go to The Curragh, there was always the
chance that at least the form from both Derbies would be strongly represented.

It probably didn’t happen as often as we thought it did – nostalgia still isn’t what
it used to be – but you remember the clashes: Generous v Suave Dancer in 1991,
Dream Well v City Honours in 1998, Sinndar v Holding Court in 2000.

It doesn’t happen so often these days, not since they reduced the distance of the
French Derby by a furlong and a half in 2005. Hurricane Run – beaten a neck by
Shamardal in that first renewal of the Prix du Jockey Club over 10 and a half
furlongs – did come over to contest the Irish Derby that year, but Epsom Derby
winner Motivator went the Eclipse route instead, and Walk In The Park, second
at Epsom, was no match for the Andre Fabre-trained colt at The Curragh.
(Obviously, we didn’t know about Douvan or Min then.)

It might happen this year though. It looks like Wings Of Eagles is going to run at
The Curragh, it is the obvious next step for him, and there is a good chance that
Epsom Derby third Cracksman will also make the trip. Also, while the Irish
Derby is not on the radar of Prix du Jockey Club winner Brametot, it is on the
radar of Waldgeist, beaten just a short head by him at Chantilly last Sunday.

There was talk of Epsom for Waldgeist, before they decided to stay closer to
home. He is the horse who won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud last
October, when he had Best Solution and Capri and Douglas Macarthur and Wings
Of Eagles behind him. Also, the Andre Fabre-trained colt races in the same
Gestut Ammerland colours that Hurricane Run carried to victory in the Irish
Derby 12 years ago.

Record watch

Aidan O’Brien’s Classic Grand Slam bid may have been thwarted by Enable, but
the season for Ballydoyle still gets better and better. O’Brien has now won five of
the first six Classics in Britain and Ireland, he has had the 1-2 in the 1000
Guineas, the 1-2- 3 in the Irish 1000 Guineas, the 1-2 in the Derby he has had the
2-3 in the one Classic that he hasn’t won.

Add Highland Reel’s Coronation Cup, and he now has six Group 1 winners on the
board this season so far. This time last year, he had four. Last year, he ended the
season with 23. Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 is not out of reach.

Time for minimum entry requirement

In a sense, it is surprising that there haven’t been more no-hopers declared for
the Derby in recent times, but the Diore Lia saga from last week highlighted an
anomaly that really should be addressed now.

If you have the funds and the inclination, as things stand there is nothing to stop
any over-adventurous owner from running his or her three-year- old colt or filly
in the Derby, but there should be.

There really should be a minimum entry requirement for the Derby, and for a
finite selection of other races.

This is not to detract from the romanticism of the Derby. It is not to exclude the
Terimons or the Blue Judges or the Blues Travellers from running. But those
three were not no-hopers, despite their inflated odds.

Terimon won his maiden 10 days before he chased Nashwan home in the Derby.
Blue Judge had finished third behind Commander In Chief in a conditions race at
Newmarket before he finished second behind him in the Derby. Blues Traveller
had finished second in the Dee Stakes before he finished third in the same Derby.

Diore Lia had been beaten 28 lengths and 18 and a half lengths respectively in
two maidens, sent off at 33/1 for the first and at 100/1 for the second. That is
just taking the romanticism of the Derby too far, into the bowels of farce.

You have to reach a minimum level before you can enter any event in the
Olympic Games.

We have ratings in horse racing, we have a ready-made barometer by which
performance can be measured. We already have a logical method through which
to go about establishing a minimum entry requirement. And ratings don’t lie.
Pealer was the lowest rated horse in Saturday’s Derby, and he finished last, 18 th
of 18. Crowned Eagle was the only other horse who was rated lower than 100,
and he finished 15 th .

Wings Of Eagles was not the highest-rated horse in the race (that would just be
too easy), but he was not far off it, 109, 4lb lower than the highest-rated horses.
Incidentally, now he is rated 119. Now he is highest.

Churchill in cinemas

Churchill is in Irish cinemas from this Friday, 16 th June, which is good timing, just
four days before he runs in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

© The Irish Field, 8th June 2017