This Saturday, June 7th could well go down in the annals of horseracing as being one of the greatest ever in the history of the sport. Firstly, the Epsom Derby takes place at Epsom and Jim Bolger added extra lustre to the event earlier this week by committing New Approach to the race.
Later on in the night in New York, Big Brown will be bidding to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the US Triple Crown when he lines up for the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown has of course already won the first two legs of the Triple Crown; the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
In what will be the 229th running of the Epsom Derby, New Approach appears to possess the necessary attributes/credentials to win Britain’s premier Classic. A son of the mighty Galileo, who himself won this same race in 2001, New Approach was the top-rated two-year-old last season. This wasn’t at all surprising considering that he went through his juvenile campaign unbeaten by winning all five starts. If anything, the chesnut posted his best two-year-old performance by beating Rio De La Plata and Myboycharlie in the Group 1 Bank Of Scotland (Ireland) National Stakes over seven furlongs at The Curragh in mid-September whilst he rounded off the season by landing the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.
New Approach has been seen twice this season when contesting both the British and Irish 2000 Guineas. In both instances, he has come off second best to Henrythenavigator. At Newmarket, New Approach bravely tried to make all with regular partner Kevin Manning only to be cut down in the shadow of the post and ultimately beaten a short head by last season’s Royal Ascot winner Henrythenavigator.
At The Curragh, it’s safe to say that New Approach seemed to be feeling the firm ground as he hung continuously throughout and it therefore came as no surprise that Henrythenavigator was produced with precision timing to oblige by a length and three quarters, the pair finishing some three and a half lengths clear of the third-placed horse Stubbs Art.
The term firm is unlikely to feature in the description of the Epsom turf on Saturday. Additionally, Bolger has stated that the 12-furlong trip won’t pose any difficulties for his charge who is a son of his 1986 Irish Champion Stakes heroine Park Express. New Approach has experience on his side compared to some of his rivals and he can provide his canny 66-year-old handler with a first victory in the Epsom event a little after 4pm on Saturday.
And what of the opposition?
The unbeaten Casual Conquest propelled himself well and truly into the equation by making a triumphant return in the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial over 10 furlongs at Leopardstown on May 11th. In truth, Dermot Weld’s physically-imposing colt destroyed the opposition at the Foxrock venue as he beat Aidan O’Brien’s one-time leading Epsom contender Washington Irving by six lengths. Casual Conquest also won a seven-furlong Leopardstown maiden on his debut last September, but the fact remains that the Hernando-sired colt is short on experience and he’s passed over for that reason.
That leaves Curtain Call. By multiple champion stallion Sadler’s Wells, Curtain Call indicated that he’s a formidable stayer by making all the running to win the Group 2 Juddmonte Beresford Stakes by four lengths with Fran Berry over a mile for former trainer Jessica Harrington at The Curragh last September. Following one more outing, Curtain Call was transferred to former dual winning Epsom Derby handler Luca Cumani over the winter.
Curtain Call never even remotely came out of second gear when winning a Nottingham conditions race on his first start for Cumani this season. He has been pleasing connections of late as reported by his regular work-rider Francesca Cumani, daughter of trainer Cumani, in the Racing Post this week. If there’s to be a fly in the ointment, it will surely emerge in the form of Curtain Call.
Whilst the three aforementioned Derby contenders all hold valid prospects at Epsom, New Approach is likely to provide Co Wexford native Jim Bolger with his initial Epsom Derby victory by beating Curtain Call and Casual Conquest.
Across the Atlantic at Belmont Park, Big Bown can give US racing the boost that it so badly needs at present by winning the Belmont Stakes. Rick Dutrow’s charge came through his final workout for the ‘Belmont’ with flying colours on Tuesday and he’s likely to face just eight rivals on Saturday evening.
Affirmed was the 11th and most recent winner of the US Triple Crown when beating old adversary Alydar by a head in the 1978 renewal of the ‘Belmont’. Five years earlier in 1973, Secretariat earned the unofficial accolade as ‘greatest horse of the century’ when making all the running with regular partner Ron Turcotte to win the ‘Belmont’ by 31 lengths. Big Brown may not quite be in the Secretartiat mould, but it will come as a major surprise if he doesn’t add his name to the Triple Crown roll of honour on Saturday evening.
Epsom Derby and Belmont Stakes aside, there’s also plenty of domestic racing over the weekend. The Curragh stage an evening meeting on Saturday whilst Cork and Roscommon race on Sunday.
At The Curragh, Kevin Prendergast’s Mores Wells should return to the winning groove in the Nolan & Brophy Auctioneers Silver Stakes. On his most recent start, Mores Wells was beaten less than a half-length into third place by Regime and Alarazi in a Group 3 over this same 10 furlong course and distance on May 5th and he should go one better by beating Mount Nelson here.
The Joann Morgan-trained Dbest can continue his love-affair with Cork by landing the featured Cork Handicap Chase at the Mallow venue whilst Define and Garryduff East are a likely pair in the Newmarket Handicap Hurdle.
Meanwhile, Magnet For Money should continue handler Tony Martin’s excellent run by disposing of Salford City in the Pyramid Bookmakers Novice Chase at Roscommon whilst Chartani is marginally preferred to On Your Way in the Abbey Hotel Roscommon Handicap Hurdle.