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By Anil Mukhi | 28 Jun 2019 |

Anil Mukhi

After a brilliant run of seven consecutive wins in the Irish Derby (sponsored for the 12th year in a row by Dubai Duty Free) during the years from 2006 to 2012, Ireland’s perennial champion trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has won it “only” twice in the ensuing half a dozen years, for a total of 12 wins going back to 1997. Given the importance of this valuable race, worth a total of €1,500,000, he is back in 2019 with a multi-pronged attack, his Ballydoyle Stables supplying no less than five of the eight runners!

This year’s renewal, the 154th running of this richly-endowed Classic, is set for Saturday, June 29th at 5:20 p.m. local (9:50 p.m. in India) at the headquarters of Irish racing, The Curragh in Co. Kildare, which has undergone extensive renovation recently at the cost of €81 million. The old facility was rather run down, while the last two years’ renewals were conducted in the midst of construction and drew a relatively small crowd due to limitations of access. Thus one can safely say that normal service will be restored this year and a large attendance is likely to enjoy the action-packed card.  Horse Racing Ireland and The Curragh have joined hands with Racecourse Media Group to develop a package that will be broadcast live in more than 80 countries.

All but one of the runners is descended in the male line from Sadler’s Wells, but more to the point, every single participant has the blood of that outstanding mare, Urban Sea, coursing through its veins! For the fourth time in the last couple of decades, there will be no foreign-trained raiders. Two – Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld – of the other three Irish trainers with runners have previously enjoyed success in this event, which represents the pinnacle of Classic achievement in Ireland.

Which brings us to the one runner from a yard that has relished eight Irish Classic triumphs but none as yet in the race that matters, the Blue Riband of the Irish Turf. This is Investec Derby runner-up, Madhmoon (by Dawn Approach), handled by 87-year-old Kevin Prendergast, rightfully described as “one of the all-time greats of the Irish training ranks”. He has sent out the winners of over 2,000 races over the years from his base at Friarstown in Kildare, just a few miles from the racecourse. 

Although the stable has had only one win this month, Prendergast was upbeat about his ward: “He couldn’t be better and he’s running against the same horses as he ran against at Epsom. If he has a bit of luck on his side, he could get the nod.” Chris Hayes, well known in India for his feats aboard the likes of Set Alight and Siachen, will be in the saddle, sporting the popular Hamdan Al Maktoum silks. It may be recalled that Madhmoon ran a cracker at Epsom, finding only the eventual winner Anthony Van Dyck (by Galileo) too good for him and that too by a mere half-length. Third-placed Japan (by Galileo) has since franked the form with a facile win in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot last week.

Coming to the five-strong Ballydoyle contingent: the stable’s No. 1 rider Ryan Moore takes over from Seamie Heffernan aboard the Investec Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck, the favourite at 5 to 4. Barring the luck of the race, there are few grounds for expecting a different result here from that which was recorded in Surrey, England. Yes, the going might be a tad softer, the direction right-handed rather than counter-clockwise, and the configuration of the vast plain that is The Curragh quite different from the cambers and undulations of Epsom, but these are not necessarily enough to overturn the verdict. That said, Moore has yet to win this feature in his star-studded career!

Some feel that Broome (by Australia), who has a tendency to race sluggishly, could display greater improvement than his stablemate. The 11 to 4 shot, to be piloted by Donnacha O’Brien, was doing his best work at the finish of the Investec Derby and was gaining ground on the winner at the death. Now that the trainer’s son knows his mount better, he might be able to galvanize him earlier and take revenge over the public choice.

Nothing that Norway (by Galileo), a full brother to Ruler Of The World, has done this season entitles him to consideration, as he has upwards of seven lengths to find on form. Although a contrarian might point out that the presence of Seamie Heffernan– the super-sub – in the saddle is adequate! If you buy this argument, and it works, then you will be rewarded with a 20-fold return on your investment. Even bigger is the 40 to 1 price on the last two Ballydoyle inmates, Il Paradiso (by Galileo), with Wayne Lordan astride, and Sovereign (by Galileo), who gives Padraig Beggy another opportunity for a high-priced Derby winner. Logically, the only reason for their participation is to act as pacemakers and to hope for a chance to pick up some stake money.

Sporting the same colours as Madhmoon is Dermot Weld’s Rakan (by Sea The Stars), who comes off a win in a small field in a listed race over the 2400 m. trip at Leopardstown. Former champion in Britain, Jim Crowley, will jet over for the ride on the well-bred colt, available earlier at 20 to 1, but backed down since to 14 to 1. A whiff of support has reduced the price against Jim Bolger’s home-bred, Guaranteed (by Teofilo) from 66 to 1 to half that amount. Longtime stable rider – and the trainer’s son-in-law – Kevin Manning will be in charge. Both Rakan and Guaranteed have been soundly beaten by Broome so their chance is forlorn.     

It’s tough to envisage a result that does not involve either Anthony Van Dyck or Broome or Madhmoon entering the winner’s circle. The trio is so closely matched on form that the manner in which the race is run will have a decisive bearing on the result.