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Irish Derby weekend review

Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby day on Saturday at The Curragh was a raceday with a difference.  It was a raceday with people.  A crowd.  Not hordes and masses, queuing six deep at the champagne bar and raising the roof, but still people, a thousand of them, part of the pilot project that is designed to get people back doing stuff. 

It made you realise how much you miss people, how privileged you are to be allowed go to the races sometimes these days.  The degree to which racing needs people.  Not that you didn’t know that already, tumbleweed at Galway, eerie silences all over the place, but there’s nothing like a smattering to hammer it home. 

There was noise at The Curragh on Saturday, there was cheering, there was commotion.  Atmosphere even.  And the noise level probably reached its zenith when Lone Eagle and Frankie Dettori set sail for home at the top of the home straight in the Irish Derby, and Hurricane Lane and William Buick set off in pursuit. 

The whole race came down to a match between the two raiders from Britain, a duel for the Irish Derby from the two-furlong marker to the winning line, determined by whether or not the pursuer had sufficient ground at his disposal to enable him bridge the gap to the pursued. 

Lone Eagle wasn’t stopping, it looked likely that he would last all the way home, so likely, in fact, that he traded at 1.03 in-running.  But Hurricane Lane has class and he has stamina, Charlie Appleby’s colt won the Dante and his dam won over two miles, and he eroded the deficit, joined Martyn Meade’s horse with five strides to spare, and went on to win by a neck.  It was a captivating contest, two high-class young colts in full flight, the pair of them stretching seven lengths clear of Wordsworth, the next best. 

Hurricane Lane was the first British-trained horse to win the Irish Derby since the John Gosden-trained Jack Hobbs won it in 2015.  Jack Hobbs was ridden by William Buick too, and, just like Hurricane Lane, he raced at The Curragh in Godolphin blue, and he led home a British 1-2, with the William Haggas-trained Storm The Stars chasing him home. 

The immediate talk after the Irish Derby was of the St Leger, and that is interesting.  Hurricane Lane obviously stays a mile and a half well, and he races like he could be even better if he steps up in trip.  But he is very good over a mile and a half too.

It has been some Derby month for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin, a Derby double, the Epsom Derby with Adayar and now the Irish Derby.  Hurricane Lane finished seven lengths behind Adayar at Epsom, but it is not a given that he is inferior to his stable companion.  Hurricane Lane didn’t have the run of the race at Epsom, he was wider than ideal around the home turn, he didn’t really handle the downhill run, and he came home without his two front shoes. 

By contrast, Adayar, after overcoming the physical and historic difficulty presented by stall one, had a ground-saving run through the race, under an excellent daredevil ground-saving ride by Adam Kirby. 

Adayar is obviously a high-class colt, but remember, he was only considered to be third best of the Godolphin Epsom triumvirate going into the Derby, his SP was more than two and a half times that of Hurricane Lane. 

It will be interesting to chart the respective paths of the two Godolphin colts now through the season.  They will obviously diverge, at least for now.  The talk is of potentially the King George path for Adayar, the Leger path for Hurricane Lane, and these are nice paths to be charting.

Lone Eagle’s path will be an interesting one too.  Winner of his three races last season, the Group 3 Zetland Stakes among them, he was impressive in winning the Cocked Hat Stakes on soft ground at Goodwood on his last run before Saturday.  He probably would have been a shorter price for the Irish Derby than he was, had some rain arrived before kick-off, but he performed admirably on Saturday’s good ground.  The Grand Prix de Paris could be next on his radar, and he is a progressive horse who could hold a high rank among the middle-distance horses at the end of the season.

There was an awful lot going on on Saturday.  Romantic Proposal was seriously impressive in winning the listed six-furlong race that opened proceedings, under a superbly confident ride from Chris Hayes. 

It was the first time that horse and rider teamed up in a race, but Chris Hayes rode Eddie Lynam’s mare as if he had been riding her all his life, stone cold out the back.  There was no semblance of panic when the two-furlong marker flashed past and still there were two banks of horses in front of him.  The rider just waited for the gaps to develop, and they did, as they often do when you are travelling as well as his mare was.

She skipped through two gaps, and suddenly she was in the front rank and going clear before hitting the winning line with a length and a half to spare over Teresa Mendoza, and probably more in hand.

Eddie Lynam has done some job with Clipper Logistics’ filly, since she won a seven-furlong handicap at Cork in September 2019 off a mark of 68.  She has dropped down in trip and she has stepped up in class.

She ran a big race on her previous run too, to get to within a half-length of the high-class Sonaiyla in the Group 3 Ballyogan Stakes, challenging late and wide in a race in which the pace held up well, but this was a step forward from that.  She holds entries in the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Oaks day, and in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August.  Both of those races are over five furlongs, but she had bags of speed, the stronger early pace of a five-furlong race, a Group 1 race, could suit her even better than the pace of a six-furlong race, and we know how good Eddie Lynam is with his sprinters.

Go Bears Go was tough and brave in making most of the running to land the Group 2 Gain Railway Stakes, David Loughnane’s colt stepping up to six furlongs for the first time after going so close to landing the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot over five, as was Cadillac, in getting home by a short head from Dawn Patrol in the Group 3 International Stakes. 

That was Jessica Harrington’s colt’s first attempt at 10 furlongs, and he saw it out well, getting home by the bob of a head from Joseph O’Brien’s horse.  It was Cadillac’s seasonal debut too, there is every chance that he will come on for this run, and the fact that he saw out the 10th furlong well opens up options.  The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September is an option, and why not?  He is only three, and he is progressive.  Also, he is two for two at Leopardstown, and he probably put up the best performance of his life in winning the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at the Foxrock track last September.

Thundering Nights was very good in winning the Group 1 Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes on Sunday.  Joseph O’Brien’s filly had to be brave, she quickened up well for Shane Crosse to hit the front on the run to the furlong marker, but she had to pick up again when she was challenged by Santa Barbara on her inside.  She did, she had a neck in hand at the winning line, and it looked like she was going forward again.

This was the Night Of Thunder filly’s 11th run, her third of the season, and her first since she went to Belmont Park in America and went down by just a nose to Mean Mary in a Grade 2 race there.  That was just over three weeks before Sunday. She is obviously tough as well as talented.

She is progressive too, this performance was up there with her very best, a first Group 1 win.  You can think only Group 1 races with her now, the Nassau Stakes, the Yorkshire Oaks, the Prix Jean Romanet, the Prix de l’Opera, the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.  All are options.

Urban Beat did well to win the Rockingham Handicap under top weight, a second winner at the meeting for trainer Johnny Murtagh and rider Ben Coen after Fourhometwo had bravely got home by a half a length in the Listed Celebration Stakes on Saturday. 

The young rider used his head, made a beeline for the stands rail from his draw in stall 17 on the near side, even though the stalls were positioned further towards the far side than the advertised ‘Centre’ suggested. 

The rider said afterwards that he thought for a while that he was on his own on the near side.  He wasn’t, he had two rivals for company, but he might as well have been, because Urban Beat didn’t see a rival between the time that he left the stalls and the time that he pulled up after crossing the winning line.

There were eye-catchers from the weekend, lots of them, like Mosala, who did well to get as close as he did to Effernock Fizz in the Ragusa Handicap on Sunday, coming from the back in a race in which the pace held up well, and Men On The Hill, who only finished sixth in the Barronstown Stud Maiden on Sunday, but who was only beaten a total of two lengths and who might have even won had the race panned out a little better for him, and Smile Of Love, who probably would have finished better than fifth in the juvenile fillies’ maiden on Friday had she had more room on the inside rail two furlongs out.

And there was noise, and there was commotion, and there were people.  More to follow soon hopefully. 

© Sporting Life, 28th June 2021