Irish Derby a tantalising puzzle as Epsom form is put to the test
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (5.20) has come a long way in its 153-year existence. Created in 1866, it took until 1907 for Orby to do the Epsom and Curragh Derby double, and another 57 years before Santa Claus became the second.
These days things are different and Anthony Van Dyck would become the 19th horse to etch his name on both trophies were he to collect the €855,000 first prize.
Epsom runner-up Madhmoon and fourth-placed Broome, who both finished half a length behind him in a blanket finish to the Epsom thriller, reoppose and they will ensure the favourite faces a similarly stiff examination in a race that will be broadcast in more than 80 countries.
It appears to be a shootout between the big three, but John Magnier's willingness to support the race with five Coolmore runners and guarantee a field of eight – and therefore three places for each-way punters – means the race takes on a fascinating added dimension with the possibility one of the five outsiders could gatecrash the places.
Away from the Curragh, gamble of the week Gibbs Hill returns from 724 days off the track in the Betfair Exchange Northumberland Plate Handicap (3.35).
The six-year-old will be having just his eighth career start, and his first since July 2017, in the 2m½f contest, for which he was supported during the week from 20-1 into a general 7-2.
Irish Derby looks a delight
The Irish Derby puzzle is tantalising. Three horses, connected by one major piece of form in which they were separated by less than a length, again do battle. With such small margins, each set of connections are more than entitled to expect a reversal.
While Anthony Van Dyck came out on top at Epsom, that is not to say the form will be repeated.
All three were held up off a strong pace set by Sovereign and while he and Padraig Beggy are also in the field, it is unlikely they will have to go as hard to dictate to an eight-runner field at the Curragh, and the pace-setter may even be afforded some rope off the front if none of the main challengers are keen to keep tabs on him.
At Epsom, Anthony Van Dyck was comfortably passed by Madhmoon and Broome and then battled back when things opened up on the inside and they met the rising ground, suggesting a slower pace might well be to his detriment.
While Broome challenged widest and earliest, coming nine-wide round the tight home turn and getting rolling very early, which meant his run had flattened out when the others challenged.
Madhmoon travelled strongest, looking like the winner for much of the straight before Anthony Van Dyck's finishing flurry.
There was a time around 2012 when O'Brien had won the last seven editions of this great race, that Yost – the global leaders in vice manufacturing – probably considered advertising their latest product as having a grip as strong as Aidan O'Brien's on the Irish Derby.
But since then it has loosened slightly, with the trophy making its way back to Ballydoyle after just two of the last six renewals. That must give hope to Kevin Prendergast, who tries to add his name to a trophy his father Paddy won four times between 1950 and 1965.
Royal Ascot runners turned out quickly
The Irish Derby is not the only puzzle. In fact it is the seventh of a whopping eight on a Curragh card, which also features a Royal Ascot winner.
Coventry Stakes scorer Arizona may not be turning up for the Group 2 Gain Railway Stakes (4.40) – with O'Brien instead relying on Fort Myers and Monarch Of Eygpt in the five runner affair, but Wolferton winner Addeybb does step up from Listed company to tackle the Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Full Of Surprises International Stakes (3.30), which also features one-time Irish Derby hopeful Buckhurst.
Old-timer Gordon Lord Byron, former Railway winner Beckford and Jim Bolger's intriguing Argentinian import Southern Horse all clash in the Listed Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship Dash Stakes (2.20).
Dettori is back in town after break
Frankie Dettori is back riding in Britain for the first time since his amazing Royal Ascot. He was in action at the Curragh on Friday and takes two rides for Mark Johnston in his home town of Newmarket today.
He joins forces with Companion in the Listed Randox Health Empress Fillies' Stakes (2.05) and Cardsharp in the Group 3 Randox Health Criterion Stakes (3.15), where he will take on former Group 1 winners Limato and Suedois.
Talking of top class sprinters, long-time Diamond Jubilee ante-post favourite Invincible Army attempts to get back to winning ways in Newcastle's Group 3 Betfair Exchange Chipchase Stakes (2.25).
Gibbs faces uphill battle in Plate
It has been a while since Gibbs Hill was seen on a racecourse. The six-year-old has been off the track so long he has only raced three times during Theresa May's leadership and faces a big ask in such a competitive handicap.
Only twice since 1985 – Bold Gait (1995) and Higher Power (2017) – has a horse won this off an official rating of 105 or higher (though Windsor Castle won off 104 in 1997), and this 19-runner £150,000 marathon is as tough as starting assignments come.
Gibbs Hill in numbers
724 – days since Gibbs Hill last raced
1 from 27 – record of horses rated 105+ in the Northumberland Plate since 1998
But trainer Roger Varian has his string firing, landed a major handicap gamble at Royal Ascot with Cape Byron and reports Gibbs Hill's recent work to be pleasing.
Go comes back
In comparison to Gibbs Hill, Wells Farhh Go has just had a lunch break.
All six of his career starts have come with May in 10 Downing Street and his 311-day absence – due to a stress fracture behind – ruled him out of the St Leger and the first half of this season, but he returns as one of four runners in the Randox Health Fred Archer Stakes (3.50).
It is a Listed contest over the same course and a furlong shorter than his Group 3 Bahrain Trophy success last year.
He followed that win by chasing home Old Persian, Cross Counter and Kew Gardens in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur, which highlights just what a talent he was and how exciting it is to have the Tim Easterby-trained four-year-old back.
The rule of six
King's Advice, who is six-for-six since moving to Mark Johnston, goes in search of another win in the Northumberland Plate, while Noble Behest will try and join him by winning for the sixth time in a row at Chester (4.55).
The latter boasts an unusual profile for several reasons. Firstly, his winning sequence started in August 2017 and secondly, he is now on his third trainer in the same time frame.
Marcus Tregoning won the first three races with the then 58-rated son of Sir Percy, before he was bought for 80,000gns and moved to Robert Stephens, who won with him in December and January.
He has since moved to another dual purpose trainer in Ian Williams and given the last of those wins was a dead-heat off a mark of 76, the fact he lines up here off the same mark gives him half a chance.
As does stall one, which is always crucial around Chester and despite this being just a six-runner contest over two miles, every little helps.
He, of course, faces a Dr Marwan Koukash-owned runner in Angel Gabrial, one of seven to appear in Koukash's grey silks on the card.
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