McDonogh hoping his Express can fire
With ground conditions on The Curragh continuing to ease ahead of Sunday's Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, former champion jockey Declan McDonogh is optimistic that Dunboyne Express will show his true colours in the prestigious Group One.
A popular fancy for last month's 2,000 Guineas, the Kevin Prendergast-trained colt disappointed when fifth behind Roderic O'Connor. However, that was the first time that Dunboyne Express raced on firm going, and McDonogh has welcomed this week's rainfall, which resulted in conditions on The Curragh's round course being described as good to yielding yesterday.
"He is very effective on soft ground," the rider said of the 25/1 shot, "so if it turns up on the soft side, he'd be a lively outsider that could run into a place. I rode him in a piece of work on Tuesday morning on ground that was yielding and he worked really well. He is a big price but, if the rain keeps coming, he could run a good race."
McDonogh feels the quick ground on Guineas day contributed to Dunboyne Express' poor display. Equally credible, though, is his assertion that the horse will not come into his own until he tackles a mile and a half on Sunday.
The son of Shamardal is out of a sister to the 2000 Epsom Oaks winner Love Divine, which itself produced a stout stayer by way of the 2006 St Leger hero Sixties Icon.
"We were initially disappointed," McDonogh said of Dunboyne Express' Guineas effort. "He travelled nicely but, when I asked him to pick up, he just didn't have a go on the firm ground. Having said that, he is bred to stay; being so closely related to Love Divine and Sixties Icon, he probably wants a mile and a half anyway."
Should Dunboyne Express prevail on Sunday, he would provide the 31-year-old McDonogh with a first Classic success. It would also be a timely triumph for Prendergast, who has yet to train a winner of the showpiece, and who is due to be inducted into The Curragh's Hall Of Fame on Saturday.
Dunboyne Express could renew rivalry with Roderic O'Connor, one of Aidan O'Brien's four entries, on Sunday. He also has previous form with the unplaced Epsom Derby runners Native Khan and Seville, having finished behind both when fifth to Casamento in the Racing Post Trophy in October.
While conceding Dunboyne Express needs "to come back to his best" to figure, McDonogh believes that his proximity on that occasion to Native Khan -- just a place behind -- augurs well.
Ed Dunlop's charge was ultimately beaten only two and a half lengths when fifth to Pour Moi at Epsom. That run came just hours after Native Khan's retained rider Kieren Fallon was prevented from partnering him in the premier Classic following a legal wrangle with the horse's owner Ibrahim Araci.
Johnny Murtagh eventually took the ride, yet it was Fallon who was yesterday talking up Native Khan's chance.
Should the Epsom third Carlton House also run on Sunday, Native Khan would have to turn that form around, but Fallon stated: "(Native Khan) is sure to act much better around The Curragh than at Epsom. In my opinion he should give the queen's horse (Carlton House) a closer race this time."
McDonogh, on the other hand, reckons that the Michael Stoute-trained 7/4 favourite is the one that will be better for the more even Curragh plains.
"Carlton House will be hard to beat," he suggested. "I think things just didn't happen for him in the Derby. The Curragh is more straightforward, so he is entitled to be the price that he is."
Richard Hannon, meanwhile, looks set to run his impressive Naas winner Lilbourne Lad in Sunday's Railway Stakes. The Acclamation colt added to his debut Doncaster win with a six-length success in the Listed Rochestown Stakes at Naas. "He goes over there at the weekend, although I'm not sure what Aidan's (O'Brien) going to run yet," said Hannon.