Things We Learned » Warrior a worthy favourite

Warrior a worthy favourite 

First the ground, then the draw.  If Saxon Warrior goes and wins today’s Investec Derby, he will have done it despite the circumstances, not because of them.

The ground was soft when Aidan O’Brien’s horse won the Beresford Stakes at Naas last September, and it was good to soft when he won the Racing Post Trophy.  But it was good when he won the Guineas, when he put up the best performance of his life to date.

His trainer was worried about the ground before the Beresford, and Ryan Moore said afterwards that the soft conditions were not ideal for him, despite the fact that he won.  The ground was firm when his sire Deep Impact won the Japan Cup, and it was also firm when he won the Arima Kinen on his last run, when he achieved the highest Timeform rating of his career.

Saxon Warrior’s dam Maybe never raced on firm ground, but she won her maiden on her racecourse debut on the only occasion on which she raced on good to firm, and she put up the best performance of her career in winning the Moyglare Stud Stakes on good ground.

Good ground would have been ideal for Saxon Warrior today on his first foray beyond a mile.  Easy ground is not ideal.

His draw in stall one is also tricky.  They turn to the right after they have gone a furlong and a half in the Derby, which means that the low-drawn horses have to either drop in or utilise valuable energy on the run up the hill, widest of all, in order to secure a prominent position.

That right-hand kink about 10 and a half furlongs from Epsom’s famed winning post, and it is probably the reason why a low draw is a negative over a mile and a half, but a positive over a mile and a quarter. 

It can be done.  You can win a Derby from stall one.  Oath won from stall one in 1999, Roberto won from stall one in 1972, Blakeney won from stall one in 1969.  But that’s it.  Just three winners from stall one since stalls were first used for Derby in 1967.  Three from 51, and none since 1999.  Indeed, no horse who has emerged from stall one has managed to finish in the first three in the Derby in the last decade.

That said, Saxon Warrior’s Guineas win represents the best piece of form in the race by some way.  And it is probable that a mile is sharper than ideal for him, and that he will progress for his Guineas run, his seasonal debut. 

Also, if you could choose a trainer who could design a plan that would mitigate the potential impact of a poor draw, you would choose Aidan O’Brien.  And if you could choose a man to implement said plan, you would choose Ryan Moore.  It is a fascinating challenge that they face, and it all adds to the intrigue of the race.

Guineas maidens no more

There was a feelgood factor to the two Irish Guineas (what’s the plural of Guineas?), the two Tattersalls ones, the 2000 one and the 1000 one, at The Curragh last weekend.  Both winning trainers were Classic maidens going into the weekend, and that would have been good enough on its own to generate the afore-mentioned factor.  But there was more to it than that.

You would have to travel far from the Curragh if you wanted to find somebody with a bad word to say about Ken Condon.  The positive vibe in the winner’s enclosure afterwards was palpable.

It was a brave move too by Condon, to allow Romanised take his chance in the Classic, a colt who hadn’t won in four runs since he won his maiden on his racecourse debut at Navan in April last year.  But he had run well behind Masar in the Solario Stakes at Sandown on his final run last season, and he hadn’t had much luck in-running in the Tetrarch Stakes on his debut this season. 

Importantly, Condon retained his faith in Robert Ng’s horse, as did rider Shane Foley, who always thought he was a smart colt.  The trainer said afterwards that he knew that his horse was an outsider, but he also knew that he deserved his place in the line-up. 

Some way to get off the mark for the season.  An Irish 2000 Guineas.  Your first Classic.  Your first Group 1.

Alpha Centauri’s win in the Irish 1000 Guineas on Sunday was just as popular.  Jessica Harrington has won Cheltenham Gold Cups and Irish Gold Cups and Queen Mother Champion Chases and Champion Hurdles and Aintree Hurdles and Arkles and Deloitte Hurdles and John Durkan Chases and RSA Chases.  She has even won Group races on the flat, Group 1s and all.  But she had never won a Classic.  Not before Sunday.

And like Condon, she retained faith in her horse.  Crucially, the Niarchos Family’s filly had not raced on good or fast ground since she had finished second to Different League in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot last June.  Before that, she had won a listed race at Naas by five lengths.  Fast ground was key.  She bounced off it on Sunday and, under a superbly well-timed ride by Colm O’Donoghue, she delivered.

In as much as there are similarities between the two trainers, there are also similarities between the two horses.  Both juveniles with potential, both well beaten on debut this season, both racing for the sixth time in their respective lives at the weekend, both February foals, both by Coolmore-based stallions.  Both put up the best performances of their respective careers before last weekend in defeat at Royal Ascot last year.

Next up for both?  Probably Royal Ascot this year. 

Feelgood factor

Speaking of feelgood, it was fantastic to see Pat Smullen at the races on Sunday, looking and sounding as healthy as he looked and sounded.  All he was missing was a saddle and a set of silks.

You know that he would love to be going to Epsom this morning to ride Hazapour for Dermot Weld and HH The Aga Khan, just as he went to Epsom on this day two years ago to ride Hazapour’s maternal ‘uncle’ Harzand for the trainer and owner, and came home with the trophy.  But it was great to read, in Alan Sweetman’s interview with Dermot Weld in the Racing Post during the week, that rider and trainer are in daily contact. 

“He’s part of the team,” Weld is quoted as saying.  “He’s not just a brilliant jockey, but a man with great personal qualities.”

Blackmore back

How long do you take off after you break your nose?  No more than eight days, if you are Rachael Blackmore.

Caliption was travelling well up on the outside and just behind the pace at Limerick two weeks ago when fellow Gigginstown House horse Cote Tete fell in front of him and brought him down.  Rachael Blackmore had nowhere to go.  You trust to luck in those instances.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have much: the horse came down and the rider broke her nose. 

It was good to see her back at Ballinrobe on Monday for three rides, and for five more on Tuesday.  She was aggressive on chasing debutant Balzac Turgot in the beginners’ chase on Tuesday, and Henry de Bromhead’s horse responded with some accurate jumping.  The Gigginstown House horse battled on well from the second last fence when it looked like he might be swamped by the closers, and he stayed on well for Blackmore’s urgings over the last and up the run-in to withstand Rashaan’s late challenge.

That victory put the rider back at the top of the 2018/19 National Hunt jockeys’ championship with nine winners, level with David Mullins and Robbie Power.  She is in good company.

Tetrarch form looks strong

Five horses have now come out of the Coolmore Zoffany Irish EBF Tetrarch Stakes run at Naas four weeks ago and run, and three of them have won. 

Third-placed Brother Bear won the Listed Owenstown Stud Stakes back at Naas two weeks later, fourth-placed Hence won the one-mile fillies’ handicap at The Curragh on Saturday, and sixth-placed Romanised won the Guineas.

Would Be King finished second in the Tetrarch Stakes, and he obviously didn’t give his true running in the Guineas.  It might be worthwhile giving Ger Lyons’ horse another chance.  Imaging won the Tetrarch Stakes, and he hasn’t run since.  He is a horse who is worth keeping in mind, especially for when the ground eases a little again.

© The Irish Field, 2nd June 2018