Wednesday 17 January 2018

Crisis talks on agenda for Irish Derby

Brian Kavanagh, CEO, Horse Racing Ireland
Brian Kavanagh, CEO, Horse Racing Ireland

Thomas Kelly

THE possibility of shortening the distance or changing the date of the Irish Derby is to be explored following the disappointing turn-out for this year's race.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh is to meet with counterparts from England and France to discuss the Derby's future this month.

Saturday's race at the Curragh was rendered relatively uncompetitive in the absence of Kingston Hill, with Aidan O'Brien's Australia cruising to victory as the 1/8 favourite.

Epsom runner-up Kingston Hill was a late withdrawal due to fast ground and there have been similar defections in recent years from big names such as New Approach and Sea The Stars. One key factor appears to be the lack of French challengers since the distance of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) was changed to a mile and a quarter 10 years ago.

It was often the case that the Curragh staged a Derby decider between the winners from Epsom and Chantilly.

"The reduction in distance of the French Derby is just one of a number of factors," said Kavanagh.

"Racegoers at the Curragh on Saturday saw a great horse, but we want them to see a great race. It's been 10 years now since the French Derby changed in distance, but in recent years the King George has also had a lack of three-year-old contenders.

"I think the Irish Derby suffers because there are so many alternatives for the three-year-olds at this time – Sea The Stars ran in the Eclipse, it looks like Kingston Hill is going for the Grand Prix de Paris.

"In the past, the Irish Derby was always the title decider, but that is not the case anymore and it's worth looking at. Everything needs looking at.

"I've been racecourse manager at the Curragh and the ground never gets really fast; it's like a Links golf course, it's spongy grass, I just think there are too many alternative options.

"So while the crowd saw a great horse in Australia, it wasn't a great race and we need to get the opposition to turn up – it's not Aidan O'Brien's fault.

"We need to look back at them all and see what can be done because there's a knock-on effect on the King George."

O'Brien himself felt this year's renewal was up to scratch: "If there were 30 horses behind him, the pace would have been the same, so there was no difference – it was a proper-run race," he added.

Irish Independent

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