King of the Curragh out to triumph again with landmark success
Brian Sheerin on a Classic with a welcome European angle
There are surely few expansive open spaces more conducive to leaving the hairs standing on the back of your neck than the Curragh plains, home to the Irish Derby since 1866.
It was on these hallowed grounds in 1997 that Desert King came with a late surge to provide Aidan O’Brien with his first taste of success in our most prestigious Classic. Little did we know then what would come to pass.
The legendary Vincent O’Brien trained six Irish Derby winners over the course of a 32-year period. His namesake equalled that tally in an 11-year stretch, and he has trained a further five since. Mind-boggling.
O’Brien will be bidding to mark the 20th anniversary of Desert King’s landmark Derby triumph with a five-strong team spearheaded by Epsom hero Wings Of Eagles.
Memorably, Padraig Beggy was thrust into the limelight when he brought the son of Pour Moi with a wet sail to foil the stable's fancied Cliffs Of Moher in the sport's definitive three-year-olds' Group 1.
Stable jockey Ryan Moore takes over here, with Beggy just missing the cut. There aren't many Classics that Moore has yet to win, but this €1.5m 12-furlong affair is one of them.
Encouragingly for Moore, three of the last five Irish Derby victors were completing the Epsom-Curragh double.
Set for a great battle of Europe
In times past, the Curragh contest served as a deciding showdown between the English and French Derby victors. The Prix du Jockey Club winner Brametot is absent, but the presence of Andre Fabre's Waldgeist, just denied at Chantilly, adds a fascinating dimension to what is a battle on Europe on turf.
That's because John Gosden, an Irish Derby winner in 2015 with Jack Hobbs, has also gamely pitched in his Epsom third Cracksman. We are set for a thrilling scrap between horses representing perhaps Europe's three pre-eminent trainers.
The cool hand of Pat Smullen, who won his second Irish Derby aboard Harzand 12 months ago, replaces the injured Frankie Dettori aboard Gosden's unexposed colt.
Fabre first plundered Irish Derby glory with Winged Love in 1995 and then again with Hurricane Run ten years later. His forays are always to be respected, and how Waldgeist fares will at the very least offer a barometer for the merits of the French Derby form against that of Epsom.
A regrettable situation
Of course, it is a bit of an oddity that owing to the ongoing redevelopment this great spectacle will take place in front of a crowd capped at just 6,000, despite the fact that 18,244 people passed through the gates last year.
Today's limit is set at less than a quarter of the number who turned up to see Jack Hobbs record a silky smooth success in 2015. It is a regrettable situation. The idea of turning people away at the gates surely contrasts sharply with the message that we should be trying to deliver on our flagship days. But, the show must go on . . .
Future stars on track for Railway showdown
Ahead of the main event, a total prize-fund of €115,000 is up for grabs in the Group 2 GAIN Railway Stakes, a race O’Brien has won an impressive 12 times with horses like Rock Of Gibraltar, George Washington and Mastercraftsman.
Intriguingly, he turns out Coventry third Murillo quickly after his fine run at the royal meeting, with Moore opting for him over the beautifully bred Rostropovich.
O'Brien's son Joseph will saddle True Blue Moon, who ran a race not devoid of promise when sixth in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. The Holy Roman Emperor colt tackles 6f for the first time here.
Gordon Elliott decided to side-step Ascot with Beckford, who runs for a first time in the Newtown Anner Stud Farm Ltd colours. Both Aidan and Vincent O'Brien initially made their mark in the National Hunt sphere, and success for Beckford would further legitimise Elliott's reputation as a relentless force of nature who won't stop until he has scaled the very summit of his profession.
Ellison chasing an elusive first Plate
At Newcastle, the Northumberland Plate takes centre stage. And while Aidan O'Brien will be busy trying to continue his long and storied history at the Curragh with another Classic success, Brian Ellison will attempt to win an elusive first Northumberland Plate with Seamour.
The six-year-old has come close in the past. After finishing sixth in 2015, the Azamour gelding suffered an agonising defeat in the race 12 months ago, when he was worn down in the dying strides after looking the likely winner for most of the run-in.
Flymetothestars has the profile of a real improver for Sir Mark Prescott. Unbeaten at Newcastle, the Sea The Stars gelding faces his toughest assignment yet, but is likely to give Seamour plenty to worry about. Let battle commence.