'Ranger' odds-on to reverse Derby form
If the betting is anything to go by, the likelihood of Aidan O'Brien feasting on a 12th success in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is increasing with every passing minute.
With Dermot Weld sounding circumspect about his Epsom victor Harzand ahead of the €1.5m Group One, the money has come for his closest pursuer in the premier Classic.
Yesterday morning, trading at top-priced odds of 5/4, Harzand shaded favouritism from US Army Ranger, which was no bigger than a 6/4 shot.
Then Dermot Weld expanded on his various concerns about his stable star completing the Derby double on At The Races, and the market promptly reacted. Harzand can now be backed at up to 13/8, and US Army Ranger is odds-on with most firms.
Likely to join US Army Ranger in the Curragh's showpiece 12-furlong event will be the Epsom third, his stablemate Idaho, which is now 4/1 from 6/1. After yesterday's five-day entry stage, O'Brien is responsible for six of 11 potential starters.
Weld has engaged a possible pacemaker for Harzand in the shape of Ebediyin, while Jim Bolger's Derby flop Moonlight Magic could be joined by the stable's improved 100-rated handicapper, Stellar Mass.
Ed Dunlop's Red Verdon, supplemented at a cost of €100,000 despite being outclassed at Epsom, is the sole cross-channel entry, a fact that will frustrate Curragh officials immensely, not least with a €250,000 boost taking the prize fund to €1.5m.
Last year, a free entry initiative for horses that won or were placed in nominated qualifiers appeared to have a positive impact, with connections of six of the eight runners refunded.
This time, though, owners and trainers have unanimously turned their noses up at the scheme. Theoretically, up to 25 horses could have qualified for a free tilt at the lucrative prize, yet the first three from Epsom and Moonlight Magic - by dint of his Derrinstown Stud Derby trial triumph - will be the only ones that qualify if declared.
John Gosden's Wings Of Desire even managed to qualify on two separate occasions, yet he was ruled out earlier in the week in favour of the Grand Prix de Paris. As such, it would be another blow to the race's broader appeal if Harzand were to miss out.
Weld has reiterated earlier comments that the horse took time to get over his Epsom exertions, which included its pulling a shoe on the morning of the race.
However, yesterday Weld added of Harzand: "I think he is putting his weight back on and perking up. My only worry is that he had a tough race and it took a lot out of him. It is definitely coming a week sooner than I'd like.
"He is moving very nicely and provided we're satisfied with him on Thursday at declaration time, he'll run on Saturday. The ground should be all right; the final decision will be made on the day of the race."
Conditions at the Curragh are being given as good to yielding on the round course. Around six millimetres of rainfall is forecast for the region tomorrow and Friday, which would be unlikely to make much difference to the ground.
O'Brien has War Decree, Pedestal, Peace Envoy and Intelligence Cross engaged in his quest to plunder a 13th win in the Group Two Railway Stakes earlier on the card, while Dandy Nicholls' Sovereign Debt could bid to replicate its 2015 triumph in the Celebration Stakes.
On Sunday, O'Brien's Minding is expected to get the opportunity to atone for her shock defeat to Jet Setting in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. The brilliant Newmarket and Epsom heroine is one of a diverse field of 10 to go forward for the Pretty Polly Stakes.
Stablemates Alice Springs and Pretty Perfect are also in the mix for the €250,000 Group One, with Martyn Meade's Irish Rookie one of five cross-channel entries that lack any real star appeal.
Meanwhile, Harzand's big-race rider Pat Smullen is expected to be reunited with recent course winner Time Test in Sandown's Eclipse Stakes should Ryan Moore be claimed to ride one of O'Brien 13 entries.
Roger Charlton's exciting Khalid Abdullah-owned four-year-old - which missed Royal Ascot due to the soft ground - is a general 5/2 ante-post favourite for the 10-furlong Group One on Saturday week.
"Ryan Moore has always been keen to ride him but he may not be available," Charlton said yesterday. "In that event, Pat Smullen is more than likely to come in for the ride as he has an agreement with (Abdullah's) Juddmonte, but that we won't know until next week."