Associated with different organizations over the years – notably the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes from 1962 to 1985 when it was known as the Irish Sweeps Derby, and Anheuser-Busch, Inc., from 1986 to 2007 when it was known as the Budweiser Irish Derby – the mile and a half classic, Ireland's Blue Riband, is up for decision this weekend at the Curragh. Carrying the Dubai Duty Free badge, as it has from 2008, the race is to be run at the new (and unusual) time of 7:40 p.m. local on Saturday, June 30th. Seven colts have been declared.
Since it got its current sponsor, the race has had only one successful trainer, and that is of course Aidan O'Brien, the master of Ballydoyle whose four wins in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby have been accompanied by five earlier triumphs in the Budweiser Irish Derby, which means he has taken home the prize on nine occasions! What’s more, he is long odds-on (just 1 to 3) to make the 2012 renewal his seventh consecutive win in the race, and tenth overall, through the unbeaten Camelot (by Montjeu). Talk about having a stranglehold!
Unlike King Arthur's castle of the same name, whose precise location, if not existence is in some doubt, the equine Camelot is the real thing. Unbeaten from both his starts at 2, he retained that distinction this year, scoring scintillating victories in the Qipco 2000 Guineas in May and the Investec Derby earlier this month. Not much needs to be said about his ability to get the trip or to trounce the level of opposition he faces. About the only question he is being asked is whether he can act on the right-handed track, and even before he attempts it, the logical answer must be: yes. In the saddle, it is the trainer's son, Joseph O'Brien, who expectedly gets the nod – no one else has ever ridden Camelot in a race.
Camelot will be accompanied by a pair of stablemates. Astrology (by Galileo), who disappointed in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, is being wheeled back in 8 days – in all probability the front-running type will be asked to make the pace under Seamie Heffernan. He is available at 25 to 1, more than thrice the quote for the third member of the team, the 7 to 1 shot, Imperial Monarch (by Galileo), last seen immersed in traffic in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby). Colm O'Donoghue, whose 266 rides in India have yielded 89 wins, gets the call aboard the Ballydoyle second string.
A decade or two ago, the Epsom Derby champion was often accompanied to the Irish equivalent by the French Derby winner, but that likelihood diminished once France Galop ill-advisedly reduced the trip of its flagship classic to 2100 m. in 2005. The sufferer that year was Andre Fabre's Hurricane Run, who found the revised trip too short and just missed behind the speedier Shamardal. Back at the correct trip, he made amends in Ireland but it seems that he will be the last victorious Gallic invader for some time to come. And British-trained runners have not proved the same force of late – none schooled just across the Irish Sea has won since 1993, when Sir Henry Cecil sent over Juddmonte's Commander-In-Chief. In 2012, all that is academic as there are no overseas challengers at all. It's only the second time in the past dozen years that neither England nor France is represented.
A couple of Irish trainers who have won this race before, namely Dermot Weld and John Oxx, have a lot in common. Both are qualified as veterinarians by training, are based locally at the Curragh (the former at Rosewell House and the latter at Currabeg Stables) and have scored twice in this event. Weld carried the trophy the short distance home through Zagreb in 1996, and Grey Swallow in 2004, while Oxx emulated him with Sinndar in 2000, and Alamshar in 2003.
Weld sends out Moyglare's Speaking Of Which (by Invincible Spirit), whose record is excellent but whose stamina must be in doubt till proven otherwise. Usual pilot, Pat Smullen, will steer the exciting colt, who comes off a win in the Group 3 Airlie Stud Gallinule Stakes over 10 furlongs, and is on offer here at 16 to 1. Unfortunately, Moyglare's principal, the Swiss businessman Walter Haefner, passed away last week at the ripe old age of 101. At the time of his death, he held the record of being the "world's oldest billionaire".
Oxx was originally set to be triple-handed through the medium of the lightly-raced Akeed Mofeed (by Dubawi), Born To Sea (also by Invincible Spirit) and Call To Battle (by King's Best), but the last-named has suffered a setback and thus misses the race. The in-form William Buick has been summoned for the 20 to 1 first-named, who has not been in action for 279 days, while Johnny Murtagh's decision to partner the second-named has resulted in an identical 20 to 1 quote. On current form, neither of the pair is likely to be a thorn in Camelot's side.
Having just sold a controlling interest in Royal Ascot two-year-old winner Dawn Approach to Godolphin earlier this week, Jim Bolger has to be flush with funds. He aims to add further to his bank balance with Light Heavy (by Teofilo), who he hopes will replicate the feat of his earlier ward, St. Jovite, a big-made colt that did the trick in 1992 (yet another cheque waiting to be cashed for Bolger is 2011's leading two-year-old, Parish Hall, who unfortunately has not recovered in time to be a factor in this season's classics, but is reportedly on the mend. The son of Teofilo is said to be "as good as any horse" he has trained).
Over in France, three Group races are scheduled on Chantilly's Sunday card. Runner-up to Camelot in the Qipco 2000 Guineas, French Fifteen (Turtle Bowl), from the yard of Nicolas Clement, tackles the marquee event, the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat (1600 m.). He is likely to face ten rivals, one of which represents the distaff set. The biggest danger looms from the improving Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Xanadou (Peintre Celebre), coming off a fluent success in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac. The German 2000 Guineas victor, Caspar Netscher (Dutch Art), could make the finish interesting.