Sunday 17 December 2017

Invading Khan can deny the queen's bid for Derby glory

Punters don't appear to have been put off by Carlton House's Epsom Derby defeat, with Michael Stoute's colt heavily supported into 5/4 favouritism for tomorrow's Irish equivalent at The Curragh.

Gifted to the queen by Sheikh Mohammad, Ryan Moore's mount is one of eight runners that are set to do battle for the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored showpiece. Third in the premier Classic after an injury scare in the run-up to the race, Carlton House renews rivalry now with four of his Epsom rivals in the mile-and-a-half Group One.

Aidan O'Brien, who is bidding for an incredible ninth win in the race and his sixth in succession, is responsible for Treasure Beach and Memphis Tennessee -- second and fourth respectively at Epsom -- as well as Seville, which flopped badly on the big day. He will also saddle the French Derby disappointment Roderic O'Connor.

Interestingly, O'Brien's son Joseph rides Treasure Beach, which he partnered at Epsom, rather than Roderic O'Connor, the horse that carried him to 2,000 Guineas glory in May. In all probability, the key to tomorrow's event will lie in the Epsom race, though Kevin Prendergast's Dunboyne Express could run well on easy ground.

While Carlton House is a smashing individual, he did little to dispel stamina concerns at Epsom. When successful over 10 furlongs in the Dante previously, he raced keenly and displayed plenty toe off a slow pace, but, just like Treasure Beach at Epsom, he failed to go on and win from what looked like a commanding position late on.

The one to take out of the Derby was Carlton House's fellow invader Native Khan which finished fifth. An impressive Craven Stakes winner in April, Ed Dunlop's grey ran well to be third to Frankel in the English 2,000 Guineas, and that sort of Classic form is hard to top.

At Epsom, he travelled like the good horse that he is until turning in, but patently struggled on the camber up the straight. The son of Azamour repeatedly changed his legs under Johnny Murtagh, yet he kept on to be beaten just over two lengths.

With Native Khan all at sea, Murtagh accepted his fate well before the line. In light of that, it's fair to assume that The Curragh's more even test will suit better now.

At up to 9/1, then, Native Khan is value to deny his higher-profile counterpart and become the first English-trained Irish Derby winner for 27 years. With Murtagh -- who is going for three in a row here -- up again, he has the right man for the job on board.

The premier handicap that follows the big race boasts a far more modest type of horse. A field of 19 lines up for the €45,000 heat, which will be run over the same course as the Derby.

A large percentage of the line-up have some sort of chance, but it is hard to get away from Tony Martin's Redera at the foot of the weights. The five-year-old has been a revelation lately, defying a 19lb hike in the ratings to win for a third time on the trot over hurdles at Roscommon last time.

Redera hasn't come out of a canter in accumulating his hat-trick, so there must be a chance that he'll show a similar level of improvement on the Flat. He is 3lbs out of the handicap, but that is negated by his in-form rider Shane Foley's claim.

Earlier, Henry Candy is fancied to collect with his sole raider The Confessor in the Paddy Power Sprint. Candy has struck with three of his four Irish runners over a 15-year period, so his decision to travel for this competitive handicap is significant.

Recent Navan runner-up The Reaper and Dandy Nicholls' smart Tajneed are just two more of the 30 runners in this minefield with chances, but six furlongs on slow ground could suit The Confessor.

A three-time winner in 2010, he caught the eye when running out of gas over seven furlongs on his reappearance at Sandown two weeks ago.

Nicholls' Inxile is another that appeals for the English contingent in the Woodies DIY Sapphire Stakes. Three of the six runners in this hail from across the water, with Invincible Ash probably the pick of the home trio.

However, Mick Halford's mare goes best in fast conditions, while all ground comes alike to Inxile. In five starts since April, the six-year-old has won three times here and once in France, so he is at the peak of his powers right now.

With a little luck, the Railway Stakes will stay at home. Traditionally a race that was farmed by Aidan O'Brien, the juvenile Group Two went for export 12 months ago.

Richard Hannon's Naas winner Lilbourne Lad brings a strong English challenge once again, but Tough As Nails is due a rub of the green at headquarters.

Michael Mulvaney's colt lost a race here in the stewards' room on his debut, and ran into the subsequent Royal Ascot hero Power last time. A winner at Tipperary in between, he might not meet one quite so good as that tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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