Sunday 25 September 2016

Harzand's Irish Derby bid remains in the balance

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

Should Harzand win under Pat Smullen, he will become the 18th horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double Picture Credit: AFP/Getty
Should Harzand win under Pat Smullen, he will become the 18th horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double Picture Credit: AFP/Getty

Dermot Weld has issued a cautiously upbeat appraisal of Harzand's participation in tomorrow's Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby after his Epsom victor appeared among nine final declarations for the €1.5m Classic.

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With five millimetres of rainfall forecast for the Curragh region last night and heavy showers amounting to around three times that a possibility today, conditions could end up being ideal for the mud-loving Derby victor.

As a result, once the non-runner no bet market kicked in following yesterday's final declaration stage, bookmakers moved to reduce their exposure to Harzand by slashing him from 6/4 into a best priced 10/11.

"Every little bit of rain that falls will help, but my worry is really not the ground," Weld reiterated. "My biggest worry is that he is very tough, but he had a very hard race at Epsom; it left its mark on him and I'd love another week.

"He's well and at the moment he has been declared and we'll review it from there. As we have seen with US Army Ranger, anything can happen."

After the news broke that US Army Ranger would miss the 12-furlong Group One following a poor scope, his Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate Idaho shot to the head of the market alongside Harzand at odds of 6/4.

The Epsom third, which is one of four Ballydoyle runners and will be ridden by Ryan Moore, can now be backed at up to 9/4. It is 10/1 bar the two, with Ed Dunlop's Red Verdon - supplemented at a cost of €100,000 - next in the betting, followed by Jim Bolger's Epsom flop, Moonlight Magic.

Claudio Monteverdi, Port Douglas and Shogun complete the Ballydoyle team, while Weld and the Aga Khan will also be represented by Ebediyin and Bolger by Stellar Mass.

Should Harzand win under Pat Smullen, he will become the 18th horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double, and the first locally-trained winner since Weld and Smullen struck with Grey Swallow in 2004.

That was a third Irish Derby success in five years for Curragh handlers, following wins for John Oxx's Alamshar in 2003 and Sinndar in 2000.

Kevin Prendergast ended even more yawning barren spells by plundering last month's 2,000 Guineas with Awtaad.

That was the first Irish winner of the mile Classic not to be trained in Ballydoyle for 30 years, bridging a gap to another Weld hero, Flash Of Steel.

Having failed to confirm its Curragh superiority over Galileo Gold when third in Royal Ascot's St James's Palace Stakes, Awtaad could now be targeted at the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

Next month's Sussex Stakes at Goodwood was his other option. "He came home from Ascot well and couldn't be in better form," Prendergast revealed of Awtaad. "He ran a good race, but the ground was atrocious. He can handle easy to soft ground, but just couldn't cope with that at all, and, the way the race was run, Frankie (Dettori) was just in a different league on the day.

"The Jacques le Marois at Deauville on August 14 could be next. It's not set in stone, but that's the way we're thinking.

"I would say Goodwood is out. We have the option of stepping up to a mile-and-a-quarter in the Irish Champion Stakes later in the year, or we could stick at a mile in the QEII at Ascot. We'll just see how things go."

Irish Independent

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