English raider Hobbs bowls rivals over in Curragh Derby glory
Jack Hobbs emphatically confirmed his Epsom superiority over Storm The Stars and Giovanni Canaletto in Saturday's Irish Derby. In impressively straightforward style, he extended his respective margins of superiority over both rivals in the 150th edition of the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored Curragh Classic. Jack Hobbs is clearly maturing apace, and he has paid his stablemate Golden Horn some compliment ahead of this weekend's dust-up with New Bay in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.
In contrast, Highland Reel's challenge failed to materialise. If you were to take the bare form at face value, then the standard of the Epsom Classic looks far superior to its French counterpart. It's rarely that simple, of course, so Saturday's showdown will still be fascinating.
John Gosden will give Jack Hobbs a break ahead of a Prix Niel prep for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Expect him to represent the Classic generation well in Europe's most important open Group One.
Storm The Stars looks an ideal St Leger candidate. In keeping on so gallantly after making the running, he also enhanced his reputation. The same couldn't be said of the other beaten horses, but the cream of the crop, be it Gleneagles, Golden Horn, Jack Hobbs or Muhaarar, look bang up to scratch.
Given the manner in which the Irish Derby had become so frequently one-sided, Saturday's outcome was a boon. Overall, taking quality, competitiveness and the spread of opposition into account, it was the most satisfactory edition since Hurricane Run beat Scorpion in 2005.
It was also a first British-based success since that of Balanchine in 1994. Part of Sheikh Mohammed's fledgling Godolphin experiment, Balanchine wintered in Dubai but was based in Newmarket from the spring, the modus operandi that Saeed bin Suroor then built on.
Sheikh Mohammed's flagship racing vehicle has evolved greatly, with trainers of the calibre of Gosden and Jim Bolger continuing to train horses bought from within their yards. Having acquired Jack Hobbs after his Dante second to Golden Horn, he must now go down as one of Sheikh Mohammed's shrewdest recent purchases.
By Halling out of a Swain mare, he might even bleed Godolphin blue, so he is a valuable stallion prospect, given that he will offer an ideal cross with the Coolmore lines.
Worthy foreign challengers are pivotal to the status of the Irish Derby as a meaningful European Classic, and connections of potential candidates need to feel that there is value in the journey.
To that end, it will have done no harm for the race to go somewhere other than Ballydoyle for a second time in three years. Moreover, in light of the sponsors' renewed support, it will be interesting to see if this year's initiative of free entry for the winners and placed horses in nominated races is continued.
No doubt, bearing in mind that the first five in the betting were eligible for free entry, it is a costly venture, and there is obviously a sense that those least in need of being subsidised gain the most.
On the other hand, if it were to help ensure that the race will continue to regain some of its former glory on a sustained basis, then maybe there is merit in it yet.
Finally, it's no secret by now that the Irish Derby race-day experience still leaves a lot to be desired, only part of which can be attributed to the 20th century Curragh facilities.
The pageantry and ceremony feels like pageantry and ceremony for the sake of it, to the point that a large percentage of patrons are entirely removed from to the whole process.
That sense was reinforced by the failure of sound systems, with the band and singer performing 'The Curragh Of Kildare' in front of the stands before the Derby inaudible to those, well, in the stands.
As ever, the unsaddling of the Derby winner in the same vicinity out on the track is a pointless exercise. It starves the enclosures of any post-race atmosphere and serves only to reinforce a 'them and us' perception.
I have yet to meet one person with a positive view on what is a contrived routine, and there were many puzzled faces when parachutes clumsily dropped to the track in the prevailing winds after the presentations. No, I don't know what all that was about, either!
I recently read a historical report on the 1962 Irish Sweeps Derby, the one that marked the race's arrival as a serious international event.
It noted the weight of traffic coming from all corners of the country, with up to 70,000 estimated to be in attendance. On Saturday, the crowd rose year-on-year by around 2,000 to 25,255.
Having sat for half an hour in a queue on the hard shoulder of the M7 waiting to gain access to the track, then, you were again left to ponder how the current regime would accommodate such an old-fashioned swell of racing fans.
Foreign steroids issues still need to be addressed
Given the steroids furore that has been thrust upon us over the past couple of years, it is worth observing that the issue of certain foreign runners participating in this part of the world remains unsatisfactory.
The authorities in Ireland and England have moved to put in place enhanced tests and protocols, the most forceful of which, in theory at least, is out-of-competition testing.
Turf Club officials now can and do descend on yards without prior notice to take samples. Given the short withdrawal period of steroids like Nitrotain - 48 hours - the unannounced visits are crucial to the integrity of the industry.
The spot checks are now accepted as part of the regime in Ireland, Britain, France and Germany. It is different in other jurisdictions, though, most notably in America, where, to all intents and purposes, there are none. Even Australia has fallen somewhat into line with European standards of late.
Steroids are not outlawed in America the way that they are here, with regulators implementing a 30-day withdrawal period.
Stanozolol, the anabolic steroid at the centre of the Mahmood Al Zarooni controversy in 2013 and Ben Johnson's drug of choice, appears to be one of the most problematic PEDs, with an array of horses testing positive for it.
Stanozolol builds muscle mass, increases strength and improves athletic ability, so it is potent stuff to be cropping up routinely. For those interested in further reading on the issues at large currently in the US, there is an abundance of material on respected American industry websites bloodhorse.com and thoroughbreddailynews.com.
A conscientious piece appeared on the latter site last Thursday, written by Bill Casner, a respected American owner-breeder who won the 2009 Dubai World Cup with Well Armed, the 2010 Belmont Stakes and 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer and who bred Funny Cide, winner of the first two legs of the 2003 Triple Crown.
Casner has taken a strong stance on the use of medication with all of his horses. In Thursday's article, he asked serious questions of American racing's ongoing laissez-faire attitude toward the use of PEDs, going so far as to suggest that EPO is used on a routine basis without fear of detection due to its short withdrawal period and the lack of out-of-competition testing.
The pertinent question that needs to be asked right now is: when American horses come and compete in this part of the world at major international Flat festivals, are they doing so at an unfair advantage? In Britain, for instance, according to the British Horse Racing Authority's new guidelines, a horse travelling from America must present at least 10 business days before its race for testing.
However, even if it has been pumped to the gills with legally administered PEDs during its formative years, so long as its system is clear on arrival, it can line up alongside horses that have been born, reared and trained under what now pertains to be a zero-tolerance regime.
Harmonisation of anti-doping regulations may be an impossible ideal, but the status quo as it currently exists is a fundamentally uneven playing field.
Creighton conscious and responsive in Australia
Some good news emerged yesterday from Australia, where Irish rider Eddie Creighton had been placed in an induced coma after a fall in a race at Warrnambool on Saturday.
Creighton, who also had surgery on a wrist, is now reported as being conscious and responsive, though he remains in intensive care.
Tweet of the weekend
Kate O'Brien (@KateOBrien91)
'Some portion of paradise still on earth and Eden revives in the first kiss of love' - After Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron bounced back to form at the Curragh on Saturday, his lass Kate O'Brien invokes the poet after whom the horse was named alongside the photo of him being kissed by owner Jessica Cahalan (above).
2 Railway Stakes wins that Aidan O'Brien needs to match his Ballydoyle predecessor Vincent's tally of 14 after Painted Cliffs' triumph on Saturday. At Newcastle, Willie Mullins' Max Dynamite was vying for a second Irish win in the final Northumberland Plate on grass. He finished second.