Jack Hobbs gets the nod as Derby free-for-all adds intrigue on 150th running
Aidan O'Brien will saddle 50pc of the eight runners in a compelling edition of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh this evening.
The Ballydoyle colossus is out to plunder an incredible 12th win in the country's elite Classic. With John Gosden's Epsom runner-up Jack Hobbs trading at odds-on, O'Brien clearly may have his work cut out.
Nonetheless, under the insatiable Ryan Moore, his game Prix du Jockey Club runner-up Highland Reel leads the charge for what would be O'Brien's ninth success in 10 years in the Group One.
Giovanni Canaletto and Kilimanjaro, fourth and sixth at Epsom, are also on duty, as is Qualify, which already rained on one Classic parade when thwarting Legatissimo at odds of 50/1 in the Oaks.
When you add into the mix William Haggas's Pat Cosgrave-ridden Derby third Storm The Stars and Dermot Weld's potential improver Radanpour, there is no doubt that this has the makings of a suitably fascinating affair for the landmark 150th edition of the Irish Derby.
While it would have been lovely to see one or both of Golden Horn and New Bay in attendance, it was never on the agenda for either. Regrettably, that is the modern reality.
Now that the French Derby is run over a shorter trip, the Curragh is no longer a natural objective for its winner, while, in the past 15 years, just one Derby winner not trained by O'Brien - Michael Stoute's North Light - has taken in the Irish version.
In contrast, O'Brien has come here with each of his five Epsom heroes in that time.
Today, he is arguably saddling his top four middle-distance three-year-olds, a fact that contributes significantly to this being possibly the Irish Derby that stands above all others in recent years in terms of both competitiveness and quality combined.
Of course, it may be that the carrot of free participation for the five clear market leaders has had a real bearing.
That will doubtless have come at a considerable cost to the Curragh and its headline sponsor, but, if the ambition was to improve the race as a whole, at this point you'd have to concede it is a case of mission accomplished.
3.00 Dubai Duty Free EBF Maiden 6f
Antelope Canyon drops in trip after a tame finish on his debut. Of the newcomers, Aspar, Final Frontier and the filly Adelena may be ones to note in the betting.
Verdict - Chances are Antelope Canyon will do much better yet.
3.35 Dubai Duty Free Dash 6f
Gordon Lord Byron is top-rated, but he has not been firing, must concede weight all round and is without a win here in six tries. Tested travelled well when just denied by Convergence on her seasonal bow. She will come on for that and this experiment over six furlongs is interesting. Line Of Reason won well in this grade over five at Cork two weeks ago. He is equally effective over this trip.
Verdict - The raider Line Of Reason has nap appeal.
4.10 Dubai Duty Free Fillies' Handicap 7f
Duchess Andorra and Maontri are both on hat-tricks here, with the less exposed Duchess Andorra possibly the one with more to offer despite a 10lb hike.
Sparkle Factor, second to her at Gowran Park last time, sports first-time blinkers now, while Military Angel is a live contender off a low weight having run well in Listed company at Naas, form that has been franked by the runner-up Lat Hawill.
Byzantium was a fine third in a decent Listed race on her juvenile bow, and then kept on to win narrowly at Naas. Her form is solid and 89 for 8st 10lb leaves her potentially well handicapped on her return.
Verdict - Byzantium may prove quite fairly treated.
4.45 Dubai Duty Free Celebration Stakes 1m
War Envoy bounced back to form in handicap company over this trip at Ascot. He could well repeat the feat now off favourable conditions, but he isn't one upon which to rely.
Sovereign Debt and Shepherd's Purse both ran well in defeat behind Convergence at Leopardstown last time, while Tennessee Wildcat has blossomed for its new stable. He has won three of his last four and may not be done yet.
Verdict - On current form, Tennessee Wildcat is the one.
5.20 Paddy Power Handicap 1m
A wide-open contest, with Vitally Important, Hasanour, Hi Emperor, Lean And Keen, Ill Be Your Clown, Katimavik and Stop And Linger all bringing winning form to the table.
Texas Force and Trinity Rock have also been running well, while Ebasani debuts for Mick Halford having shown real promise for John Oxx last year.
Also interesting is Burn The Boats now that he returns to a mile. He is just two pounds higher than when winning over the trip at Navan last year and he ran nicely in Listed company at Naas earlier in the month.
Verdict - At decent odds, Burn The Boats is fancied to run well.
5.50 Gain Railway Stakes (Group 2) 6f
Log Out Island was carried out on his shield when denied by Waterloo Bridge in the Norfolk at Ascot. He is a pacey sort so how he fares here over six will be intriguing.
Argentero is teak-tough. He was second to Round Two when finishing in front of Waterloo Bridge at Naas in May, and knuckled down to win well there next time. The only worry is he has had a few hard races.
Painted Cliffs took full advantage in a moderate contest at Leopardstown. He can do better still, likewise Rockaway Valley, which was impressive here last time.
Verdict - A chance is taken on Painted Cliffs stepping up again.
6.30 150th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group 1) 1m 4f
Jack Hobbs reasserted his status as a rapidly improving sort when second to Gold Horn in the Derby, drawing four-and-a-half-lengths clear of Storm The Stars, with Giovanni Canaletto two lengths further back in fourth. Second in the Dante previously, he is still a big, unfurnished individual, so you'd imagine this track will suit him better than Epsom, where he got a little unbalanced in the straight. The major fear would be that the race might be run at a false pace, as he probably needs to come off an honest gallop to really excel.
Storm The Stars and Giovanni Canaletto are also on the up, but the chances of either making up the required ground on Jack Hobbs are surely slim.
Highland Reel ran a cracking race to be second to New Bay over an extended 10 furlongs in the French Derby. He is gradually beginning to fulfil his potential and may be better still over this trip.
Qualify is hard to quantify. She looked exposed before, but then determinedly collared Legatissimo in the Oaks. She may simply have needed 12 furlongs so it would be unwise to discount her. Kilimanjaro and Radanpour have plenty to prove but both stay well.
Verdict - Jack Hobbs is trusted to confirm his quality.
7.15 Dubai Duty Free EBF Handicap 2m
Sang Tiger won a competitive heat over this sort of distance at Leopardstown. He is five pounds higher but that isn't insurmountable.
The previously frustrating Awesome Star sports first-time blinkers after winning a maiden over the same course and distance, while Hurricane Ridge, Benkei and Jeremy's Jet are others sure to make an impression.
Verdict - A penalty may not stall Sang Tiger's progress.