Harzand overcomes late scare to claim Derby win
A few hours before the Epsom Derby yesterday, Harzand was standing in a racecourse stable with one of his feet in a bucket of ice after pulling off a shoe on the way to the track. Dermot Weld, his trainer, assessed his chance of lining up in the big race as "60-40". From the moment he left the stalls, however, Harzand glided around this most demanding of courses to give Weld and Pat Smullen, his jockey, their first victories in the most famous Flat race in the world.
Weld's final instruction to Smullen as he set off towards the start was to trot Harzand behind the stalls and pull him out if he had any doubts about his soundness. Smullen did not, and the chaotic uncertainty of the morning and early afternoon was replaced by something close to serenity as Harzand and his jockey made their way around the Downs.
"It was one of those races when everything went according to plan," Smullen said after two-and-a-half minutes when he was perfectly placed at every stage. As recently as a month ago, Weld had suggested that the Irish Derby, on a flatter course, would be a more suitable target for a horse with Harzand's height and bulk. As it turned out, there was no cause for concern.
This looked like one of the most open Derbys for many years beforehand, and while the punters latched on to US Army Ranger to send him off favourite at 7-2, Harzand also attracted support to start as the third-favourite at 13-2. As the race continued to develop on the run to Tattenham Corner, the riders prepared to play their final cards, and Mickael Barzalona, on Cloth Of Stars, delivered the first significant challenge when he struck for home a quarter of a mile out.
Within moments, though, his effort started to falter and Smullen sent Harzand into the lead. Ryan Moore, who had turned for home in last place on US Army Ranger, emerged from the pursuers to mount a final charge but he could reach only Harzand's saddlecloth and no further.
Harzand crossed the line a length-and-a-half clear of US Army Ranger with Idaho, a stable companion of the runner-up at Aidan O'Brien's yard in Co Tipperary, another length and a quarter away in third. The result echoed that of Sea The Stars, Harzand's sire, who beat two O'Brien-trained runners by one-and-three-quarter lengths in 2009.
Jim Reilly, the blacksmith who carefully reshod the winner a few hours before the race, did not make it onto the podium to meet the Queen, but Weld paid a rich tribute to his efforts afterwards.
"He was pretty unlikely to run today after what happened," Weld said. "Racing plates are very light and he pulled one off, and he drew blood as well, so his foot was very sore. I've got excellent staff, and immediately old-fashioned treatment came in. He hadn't damaged the plate - and Jim is a very gifted man and he was able to tack it back on. The final test was Pat's call. I told him that if he wasn't happy with him at the start, he should just pull him out."
Smullen was more than happy as Harzand stayed on in the closing stages, and expects the colt to improve further as the season progresses.
"I could sense the horse coming to me, and I spotted in the corner of my eye the white face of US Army Ranger, so I knew it was him," Smullen said. "I couldn't believe that my horse dug in again and found another gear."
The Irish Derby is the next obvious race for Harzand, as it is for US Army Ranger, and Paddy Power offer the pair at 11-8 and 13-8 respectively for the race at The Curragh on June 25. John Gosden's Dante winner Wings Of Desire, who finished fourth for Frankie Dettori yesterday, is at 6-1
Sunday Indo Sport