The 143rd running of the Irish Derby takes place at The Curragh this Sunday and what a fascinating renewal it promises to be.
It’s crystal clear that recent Epsom Derby winner New Approach will be bidding to become the 16th horse to land the coveted Epsom/Curragh double on Sunday afternoon.
The three most recent Epsom winners (Motivator in 2005, Sir Percy the following year and Authorized in 2007) all failed to attempt to follow up at The Curragh in late-June. However, the Epsom 2004 winner North Light failed by a half-length to beat Dermot Weld’s Grey Swallow.
All form aficionados will be aware though that the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair of Galileo and High Chaparral brought off the Epsom/Curragh double in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The indications are that New Approach will emulate his sire Galileo by winning at The Curragh on Sunday.
A €430,000 yearling purchase at Goffs, New Approach isn’t entirely a 100% straightforward horse which trainer Jim Bolger attributes to the fact that he wore a bell around his neck as a foal to protect him from his dam Park Express, who was blind at the time.
In Bolger, New Approach has the right trainer to iron out any possible little foibles. New Approach went through last season unbeaten and he underlined his Classic credentials in the best possible fashion by making all the running to beat Godolphin’s Rio De La Plata and Group 1 Prix Morny winner Myboycharlie in the Group 1 Bank Of Scotland (Ireland) National Stakes over seven furlongs at The Curragh in mid-September. Whilst New Approach subsequently went on to win the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on his final juvenile foray, it was his National Stakes victory that surely sent him into winter quarters as ante-post favourite for both the British 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby.
It was also established that New Approach was a definite frontrunner and it wasn’t at all surprising that he tried to make all on his return in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. And what a valiant attempt it proved to be for he was ultimately headed inside the final furlong when beaten a short head by Henrythenavigator. Whilst Henrythenavigator easily dismissed New Approach in the rematch in the Irish 2000 Guineas some three weeks later, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that New Approach was never at home on the firm surface for he hung right-handed virtually from the start. As we all know, Henrythenavigator showed himself to be one of the best milers that we have seen in recent times by easily winning the St James’s Palace Stakes on the opening afternoon of Royal Ascot.
And so it was then onto Epsom for New Approach. Some doubted the confirmed frontrunner’s ability to stay 12 furlongs, but Bolger was adamant that stamina wouldn’t be an issue for New Approach as his dam Park Express (also trained by Bolger) won over 12 furlongs in the mid-1980’s.
Bolger wasn’t saying though that New Approach would be ridden with restraint at Epsom. It’s all very well to theoretically ride a horse with restraint, but if he pulled too much he would expand too much energy and his race would already be run by the time that the field reached the quarter pole. However in one of the best pieces of riding witnessed at Epsom for many a year, Kevin Manning was able to settle New Approach and he produced Princess Haya’s chesnut with precision timing to beat the slow-starting Tartan Bearer by a half-length.
There won’t be 16 runners on Sunday as there were at Epsom. Hence, it could develop into a more tactical race with New Approach surely sitting close to the pace and he’s likely to post a top-drawer performance that’s made up of both speed and stamina to land the Epsom/Curragh double.
Bolger’s St Jovite as we can all remember finished second to Dr Devious in the 1992 Epsom Derby. However, at The Curragh, the American-bred son of Pleasant Colony destroyed the opposition with Christy Roche to beat the aforementioned Dr Devious, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, by 12 lengths in a record time. It’s not outside the bounds of possibility that New Approach could do something similar at ‘headquarters’ over the weekend.
New Approach would obviously be a contender for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July where he would have to quite conceivably lock horns with either Duke Of Marmalade or his Ballydoyle stable companion Soldier Of Fortune, last year’s Irish Derby winner whom Bolger ironically bred. The Irish Champion Stakes could also feature for the Coolcullen horse, but perhaps he may not beat Henrythenavigator over 10 furlongs at Leopardstown.
That leads us onto the ‘Arc’ at Longchamp on the first Sunday in October. Three-year-olds’ have a good record in the Arc with Dalakhani, Bago, Hurricane Run and Rail Link, who won the Parisian showpiece in the four years from 2003 to 2006, all being members of the younger age group. Additionally, New Approach would be in receipt of eight lbs from his elders in the ‘Arc’ and the hustle and bustle of the mile and a half race should hold no fears for him.
All of that is pure conjecture of course. Back-tracking to the present, who will pose the biggest danger to New Approach at The Curragh?
Tartan Bearer, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for breeders’ Ballymacoll Stud Farm, ran the race of his life to finish second to New Approach at Epsom. This own-brother to Golan will be bidding to provide Barbadian Stoute with a fourth Irish Derby success after Shergar in 1981, Shareef Dancer two years later and Shahrastani in 1986.
It could happen though that a bigger danger to New Approach will emerge in the form of the towering Casual Conquest.
By Hernando, the Dermot Weld-trained Casual Conquest of course finished third to New Approach and Tartan Bearer at Epsom when he was beaten some five lengths altogether.
That was just Casual Conquest’s third career start, both of his previous victories coming at Leopardstown and indeed he was particularly impressive when winning the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes over 10 furlongs on his seasonal debut at the Foxrock venue on May 11th. Weld has won two previous renewals of the Irish Derby with Zagreb in 1996 and Grey Swallow some eight years later.
Nothing would give the Rosewell House maestro greater satisfaction than to win an Irish Derby with a horse owned by his long-standing supporters Moyglare Stud Farm, but the probability is that Casual Conquest will come up just a little short against New Approach although he is likely to get the better of Tartan Bearer for second place.
There’s also a strong supporting card at The Curragh on Sunday (1.30 pm start) with a top-class field virtually guaranteed for the Group 2 One 51 Railway Stakes over six furlongs. It could well happen that Jim Bolger will experience a truly memorable afternoon as he’s likely to capture this ultra-prestigious contest with Intense Focus.
An American-bred son of Giant’s Causeway, Intense Focus posted a most commendable effort by finishing second to Art Connoisseur in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes over six furlongs on the opening day of last week’s Royal Ascot meeting. Intense Focus, a former Curragh maiden winner, will surely go one better here and he’s likely to have most to fear from Aidan O’Brien’s Sea Of Marmara.
Myboycharlie is an extremely interesting proposition in the Group 3 William Fry Sapphire Stakes.
This Tommy Stack-trained son of Danetime won the Group 1 Prix Morney at Deauville last season before then finishing third to New Approach in the Group 1 National Stakes at The Curragh in mid-September. Myboycharlie is now been trained with a sprinting career in mind and he can step up on his fifth placed seasonal debut effort in a six-furlong sprint at The Curragh on May 24th by showing a clean pair of heels to ‘Dandy’ Nicholls’ British challenger Tax Free.
Eddie Lynam’s Capt Chaos, winner of the Group 3 Aussie Rules European Breeders Fund Tetrarch Stakes at The Curragh in early May, should make the step up to a mile by beating Navajo Moon in the Woodies D.I.Y. Celebration Stakes.
Meanwhile, Tommy Stack’s three-year-old filly Aine can attain due reward for her consistency by disposing of Flash McGahon in the Netjets Scurry Handicap and First In Line is marginally preferred to Chevie in the opening Ladbrokes.com Premier Handicap.