10 iconic Irish Derby Moments
Irish Independent racing correspondent Richard Forristal outlines 10 of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby's greatest champions
Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30
In its enduring 149-year history, the Irish Derby has been synonymous with exceptional racehorses.
Often, it has been the race in which greatness is confirmed, a coronation of sorts for the champion that has triumphed in the original at Epsom. That has been especially so since the Curragh Group One gained elite international status in 1962, when its current guise was initiated as the Joe McGrath Irish Sweeps Derby.
In that time, 16 of the 17 horses to complete the Derby and Irish Derby double have prevailed. Here we profile 10 of the Classic's most significant moments, though inevitably there are some notable absentees.
The Minstrel, Grey Swallow, High Chaparral, Australia and Camelot would all be worthy inclusions, as, indeed, would Aidan O'Brien, an incredible 11-time winner who has saddled the first three home on five occasions.
Orby was the first horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double and he remains the shortest-priced winner of he Irish event at odds of 1/10. It would be another 57 years before Santa Claus emulated his feat, so it was a truly extraordinary achievement at the time.
Considered the best Irish Flat horse in the first half of the 20th century, Orby was owned by Richard 'Boss' Croker, a New York politician who had been born in Co Cork before emigrating with his family during the Great Famine in 1847 and who finally returned to Ireland to watch his horses race in retirement.
The former Tammany Hall 'Boss' had retreated from public life, but he was a controversial figure whom the Jockey Club refused permission to have his horses trained in Newmarket.
Few will ever compare with the sublime Nijinsky. Vincent O'Brien's versatile colt was the first horse in 35 years to win the Triple Crown of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger, and no other has added their name to an elite list of 15 in the ensuing 45 years. In between, the remarkable and highly-strung individual also claimed the Irish Derby with characteristic panache.
With Liam Ward, his regular rider on home turf, reinstated over Lester Piggott, Nijinsky got hot before what was his final Irish outing. It mattered little, as he confirmed his enormous talent with a facile triumph.
A stylish King George VI & QE II Stakes win would precede his 11th successive victory in the St Leger. By the time the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Champion Stakes came around, he was a tired horse, but his status as one of Flat racing's timeless immortals was already assured.
Having been the top juvenile in 1974, much was expected of Grundy ahead of his Classic campaign. However, a spring hold-up contributed to his defeat in the Greenham and then he was foiled by Bolkonski in the 2,000 Guineas. He came into his own in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, before then stamping his authority all over his Derby rivals at Epsom.
Peter Walwyn had won the Irish Derby a year earlier with English Prince, so he charted a familiar path with Grundy, which stormed clear to complete a Classic treble that only Santa Claus (1964) can match. It was the first of four wins in the Curragh feature for the great Pat Eddery. One of the equine giants of his era, Grundy went on to deny Bustino in Ascot's King George in what is widely acknowledged to be one of racing's most thrilling jousts.
"It's Shergar first," exclaimed Mícheál O'Hehir as Shergar danced home in the Irish Derby, "and the rest are nowhere."
The commentating deity's BBC colleague Peter O'Sullevan proclaimed as he witnessed the irresistible Epsom hero on the Curragh: "He's only in an exercise canter!"
Shergar's story took a sinister turn when he was kidnapped in 1983 from Ballymany Stud, a stone's throw from the great plains that he graced that day in Co Kildare. His tragic fate remains the most inexplicable chapter in modern Irish folklore.
However, it was Shergar's breathtaking feats that made him such a valuable commodity. Michael Stoute's handsome bay with the distinctive white markings had strode to a record 10-length victory at Epsom, a dazzlingly emphatic display that was replicated in the Irish Derby, with the inimitable Lester Piggott standing in for a suspended Walter Swinburn. It marked a fitting return to the country of his birth. Sadly, Shergar's next visit wouldn't end so well.
El Gran Senor (1984)
Having been thwarted by Secreto in one of the most enthralling Derbys ever, El Gran Senor had a point to prove in the Irish equivalent. Pat Eddery somewhat harshly blamed himself for arriving too soon at Epsom as Vincent O'Brien's brilliant 2,000 Guineas hero got foiled on the line by a colt trained by the trainer's son, David. The late withdrawal of Secreto denied everyone the rematch that had been so keenly awaited at the Curragh, but El Gran Senor set the record straight in convincing style.
"Viva El Gran Senor," the legendary Mícheál O'Hehir declared as he stormed home from Rainbow Quest, which claimed Arc success as a four-year-old. Given the manner of El Gran Senor's Epsom defeat and the perception that the Kildare plains offered an even stiffer test, many doubted him. This proved, though, that he had as much substance as style.
Salsabil (1990) & Balanchine (1994)
As the only fillies to win the Classic since 1900, both warrant inclusion. John Dunlop's Salsabil won the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, while Balanchine was denied a short-head by Tommy Stack's Las Meninas in a thrilling Guineas before triumphing in the Oaks.
In winning the Irish Derby, they completed an unprecedented Classic multiple and they did so in style. Salsabil enjoyed a dream run up the inside before Willie Carson pulled her out to challenge. She powered clear of Deploy and Belmez - which won the King George next time - with Quest For Fame and Blue Stag - first and second in the Derby at Epsom - behind them.
Balanchine scored with similar authority for Hilal Ibrahim under a young Lanfranco Dettori, dismissing the Derby second and third King's Theatre and Colonel Collins, as well as the French Derby third and fourth, Alriffa and Tikkanen. Both fillies were exceptional three-year-olds.
St Jovite (1992)
The defining moment of one of Flat racing's most memorable rivalries with St Jovite gaining revenge on his Epsom conqueror Dr Devious by pulverising him to the tune of 12 lengths. That is still a record for the ultimate Irish Classic, as is the blistering winning time of and 2.25.6.
St Jovite, trained by one of Irish racing's most influential figures in Jim Bolger, had his Derby chance compromised by a knee injury.
He couldn't cope with Dr Devious in the final throes at Epsom, but he blossomed on home soil with a ruthless display under Christy Roche, who was cleared to ride while appealing a 15-day ban that would ultimately deny him the mount when the horse again destroyed the King George field at Ascot.
Dr Devious gained some retribution when Roche misjudged the winning post in the Irish Champion Stakes, but there was no doubting St Jovite's Curragh superiority. Those who witnessed his breathtaking rout will never forget it.
Montjeu's first visit to a racetrack in the country of his birth saw him become the fourth and latest colt to do the French and Irish Derby double.
Trained by John Hammond - born in England, raised in Herbertstown, Co Meath and based in Chantilly - and ridden by the brash, lanky and brilliant Texan Cash Asmussen, Montjeu passed the entire field en route to a resounding five-length win over the Derby runner-up Daliapour. The Epsom third Beat All was back in fourth, clear of Mutafaweq, which would go on to win the St Leger. A quirky individual, Montjeu went on achieve Arc glory under Mick Kinane, before returning as a four-year-old to land a high-class edition of the King George. A sensationally talented racehorse, he was one of the most influential sires of his era, producing four Irish Derby winners before dying in 2012.
With the stunning 2,000 Guineas victor King's Best lost to injury at halfway, the 2000 edition was denied a dust-up between the Newmarket hero and his Epsom counterpart. However, it would have taken something special to topple Sinndar, as John Oxx's Aga Khan-owned colt surged nine lengths clear of Ciro - which would complete a hat-trick of Group Ones in the Secretariat Stakes in Arlington - and the runaway French Derby winner Holding Court.
On the day, though, it wasn't so much about what Sinndar beat under Johnny Murtagh, but the emphatic manner in which he did so. He had just ended a 16-year drought for Irish horses at Epsom with a beautifully straightforward success, so this barnstorming triumph was a resounding endorsement of his tremendous class. Sinndar enjoyed a suitably high-octane swansong with a famous Arc win in the autumn, his Longchamp victims including his towering Curragh predecessor, Montjeu.
Galileo backed up his Epsom heroics with another superlative display to give the idolised Mick Kinane a first Irish Derby win at 42 years of age. He oozed superiority, spread-eagling the field with sumptuous ease en route to King George glory against his elders at Ascot, where he conquered his subsequent Irish Champion Stakes nemesis Fantastic Light. At the Curragh, Galileo left trailing the Italian Derby winner Morshdi and the 2,000 Guineas victor and Epsom runner-up Golan. Golan would go on to win the following year's King George, while the four-time Irish St Leger victor Vinnie Roe was also among Galileo's Curragh victims, so it was a vintage affair.
In succeeding his imperious sire Sadler's Wells as the world's most dominant stallion, Galileo has since fathered four Irish Derby winners, as well as being grandsire to a fifth. He is one of Flat racing's true all-time greats.