Saturday 24 February 2018

Maktoums' gamble on Monterosso to pay off

Damien McElroy

The Maktoums are going all out to break the latter-day domination of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby by the Coolmore-Ballydoyle alliance with both the supplemented Monterosso and Chabal declared for tomorrow's Curragh renewal.

No strangers to Classic victories at headquarters, Sheikh Mohammed and his family have splashed out €125,000 to add the Mark Johnston-trained Monterosso to the field for the premier Irish Classic at the behest of Frankie Dettori.

The Italian jockey has a particularly soft spot for the ever-improving Dubawi colt on which he put Ballydoyle's surprise English Derby runner-up At First Sight firmly in his place at Ascot last Friday in the King Edward VII Stakes.

While some ease in the going may be needed for Jim Bolger's former inmate Chabal to back up Johnston's charge, a safe if somewhat lively surface will hold absolutely no fears for Monterosso on Ascot evidence even if he's poised for his first taste of Group One action.

In complete contrast, Aidan O'Brien, who seeks a fifth Irish Derby triumph on the bounce and the eighth of his glittering career tomorrow, can call on five colts, of which At First Sight, Jan Vermeer (fourth) and Midas Touch (fifth) have competed with varying degrees of success at Epsom as well as French Derby also-ran Cape Blanco, which defeated English Derby hero Workforce at York.

Numerically therefore, it's advantage Ballydoyle on behalf of the triumvirate of Coolmore partners who must be getting used to being mob-handed in the colts' Classics at this stage. And last year's renewal, which saw each of the 11 runners based in Irish stables, established the first purely domestic field since the Irish Derby was opened up to sponsorship.

We are also getting used to the English Derby winner not travelling on to The Curragh as this is the sixth year on the trot for that scenario, while there had been no French Derby victor sighted here in the six years since that race was shortened to an extended mile and a quarter.

Nevertheless, the standing of the Curragh Derby cannot be readily downgraded as the recent roll of honour includes Sinndar, Montjeu, Galileo, Hurricane Run, Dylan Thomas and last year's steadily progressive standard-bearer Fame And Glory.

Proponents of the English Derby as the definitive Classic over the middle distance for colts in this part of the world might not wish to be reminded that seven of the last 14 to take the Epsom spoils never managed to win again. Thus, there's the potential at least for tomorrow's winner to go on to better things and uphold the status of the Dubai Duty Free promotion that promises to be every bit as competitive as the €1,250,000 purse would suggest.

If you're a Coolmore-Ballydoyle fan, the waters have been muddied to some extent by Johnny Murtagh's decision to opt for Chantilly disappointment Cape Blanco rather than stay loyal to Jan Vermeer, which lost both of his stick-on front shoes at Epsom. That switch late in the week by the champion jockey affords his understudy Seamus Heffernan the chance aboard Gallinule Stakes-winner Jan Vermeer to follow up his successive triumphs aboard Soldier Of Fortune and Frozen Fire.

Midas Touch could prove to be the stable's third string despite his Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial victory as At First Sight looked a tired horse when attempting to uphold Epsom form at Royal Ascot.

All of this points to the current crop of middle distance colts at Ballydoyle being a far from vintage bunch, so a chance is taken that Monterosso can continue on an upward curve and handsomely repay his hefty supplementary fee.

Mark Johnston's runners seem to thrive on hard work and he was sufficiently content that Dettori's mount had shrugged off the after-effects of his Ascot exertions to encourage the Maktoums to splash the cash last Tuesday.

The Yorkshire-based handler and Dettori might manage a morale-boosting win earlier in the afternoon during the opening leg of the Jackpot with Sea Lord, which was eighth of the 27 runners to Ransom Note in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot.

Form at that glamour gathering could in fact be the key as well to both the Railway Stakes and the opening Dubai Duty Free Maiden as Aidan O'Brien is happy to resume quickly also with Samuel Morse and Petronius Maximus.

O'Brien has virtually monopolised the Railway Stakes since his transfer to Ballydoyle and Samuel Morse, which was fourth in the Coventry Stakes to Strong Suit, can bounce back to winning ways at the track where he's already scored twice.

A 20/1 chance when a fast-finishing second to Marine Commando for the Windsor Castle Stakes, Petronius Maximus stands out here when reverting to maiden company and moving up to six furlongs from a decent draw.

Irish Independent

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