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By Anil Mukhi | 26 Jun 2020 |

It’s the first time ever that the Irish Derby precedes the Investec-sponsored original in England, and thus there are no runners emerging from Epsom, bidding for redemption. Overall the race appears to be lacking in quality with no Group 1 winners lining up.

No less than 13 runners trained by Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, have had their names inscribed on the scroll of honour of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Gr.1) in years gone by. The latest renewal at The Curragh, Co. Kildare, is scheduled for Saturday, June 27th, 2020, at 7:15 p.m. local time (11:45 p.m. in India). With severe prize money cuts due to the pandemic, the winner’s share (€427,500) is just about 60% ofwhat it was once worth (€725,000). Even so, in Indian terms it is a colossal prize, about Rs.3.6 crores, for the one which triumphantly enters the winner’s enclosure while the vanquished brigade slinks away in silence.

In a bid to add to those O'Brien victories, he fields 6 (or 40%) of the 15-strong field. To extend his long-term legacy and overall impact on the sport are 4 runners trained by his offspring. AOB’seldest son Joseph – who won this race with Latrobe in 2018 – has a trio and a further participant is sheltered by AOB’s younger son, Donnacha! That leaves only five contestants from elsewhere in Ireland. 

Dealing first with this latter bunch, one recalls that Jim Bolger pulled off a surprise in this race in 2013 with Trading Leather(by Teofilo). This time he fields the inexperienced Fiscal Rules(by Make Believe), who will be making only his third career start. Bolger rarely tilts at windmills so one has to think the 8 to 1 chance would be worth an each-way flutter. He was only four lengths off a Classic victory behind Siskin (by First Defence) at just his second lifetime start and is entitled to progress.

With the abbreviated season scuppering plans to get middle distance runners fit, several maidens take their chance here. Still basking in the glow of Siskin’s win in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas earlier this month, Ger Lyons sends out Chiricahua (by Camelot), second at both his starts last year but yet to start in 2020. While the colt’s sire won this race, it will require a great leap of faith to think that the son will improve the 40+ pointsneeded for the job, from his current Racing Post rating of 84. That was earned from his effort last time out in a mile maiden last November.

Jessica Harrington has had a mixed sort of start to 2020. While Alpine Star (by Sea The Moon) shone at Royal Ascot, Millisle(by Starspangledbanner) disappointed at both her starts this term. The stable is represented by a non-winner in Gold Maze (by Golden Horn). Having run in better company, he has a rating of 99 and stable jockey Shane Foley will continue his association.

Sometimes it’s good to be in the news. At other times, when the spotlight is harsh, featuring in the headlines could be undesirable. Trainer Emmet Mullins was recently fined €5,000 and received a three-month racecourse ban after breaching coronavirus protocolsat Leopardstown racecourse in Dublin. In contrast, rider Rachael Blackmore, normally associated with jumps racing, gained fame when she scored a Listed race victory on the flat at Limerick 10 days ago. The pair team up with King Of The Throne (by Hard Spun), whose quote of 66 to 1 succinctly sums up his chance.

And that brings us to the most dominant active trainer in the world, who receives upwards of 100 juveniles each year, almost all superbly-bred.

O’Brien senior’s chief hope is Santiago (by Authorized), who is shortening up in distance after annexing the Gr.2 Queens Vase at Royal Ascot over 14 furlongs last week. The mount of Seamie Heffernan has not been out of 1-2 from 4 starts, and there is no compelling reason to think he will not remain consistent. His rider has taken home the trophy on three previous occasions, so knows what is needed. The colt is a 3 to 1 chance.

Lesser fancied stablemates – particularly rapidly-improving three-year-olds – often surprise even their closest connections. If one looks closely at the credentials of Arthur’s Kingdom (by Camelot), one finds there is a lot to like about the 9 to 2 second favourite. With one win and four runner-up efforts, one of which came in a Group 1 contest, he is more the finished article than a work in progress. In addition, he stays well and will enjoy galloping on the long Curragh straight. He could give Wayne Lordan his maiden Irish Derby win.

Three potentially useful sons of Galileo in Dawn Patrol, Iberiaand Tiger Moth, along with one grandson, via Australia, in Order Of Australia, round off the Ballydoyle contingent. Of this quartet, the first and last are maidens, while Iberia has always seemed to find others too good for him following his debut success. Only Tiger Moth, a maiden winner 18 days ago, can perhaps justify his entry.

One unbeaten runner, Crossfirehurricane (by Kitten’s Joy), schooled by Joseph O’Brien, seems curiously unfancied for one with four wins from as many starts under his belt. In India such a candidate for honours might have been odds-on, but here he is offered at 11 to 2! Some reasons adduced for this phenomenon are (a) the possibility that he might not stay, (b) the relative inexperience of rider Shane Crosse, and (c) the comparatively low rating of his last effort in the Gr.3 Coolmore Ten Sovereigns Gallinule Stakes. One must always respect undefeated runners – in a nutshell, if he is good enough, he will win.

Young Joseph has also declared a filly in the shape of New York Girl (by New Approach), last seen running encouragingly when fourth in the Gr.1 Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas a fortnight ago.As Classic races usually represent the highest level of form, she cannot be ruled out. Declan McDonogh will guide the chestnut, aiming to follow in the footsteps of Salsabil (1990) and Balanchine (1994).

Finishing well beaten by Crossfirehurricane in the Gallinule, Sherpa (by Zoffany) may not be the best vehicle for Donnacha O’Brien to notch up a win in the Irish Derby as a trainer to accompany the victory he recorded as a jockey in the same race on Latrobe.

To sum it, Arthur’s Kingdom is taken to win with Santiago, Crossfirehurricane and Fiscal Rules vying for places on the board.