Ruler's double quest facing stern test in red-hot Derby
A CONCERTED effort to bolster the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby's flagging status appears to be gradually succeeding, with Epsom hero Ruler Of The World poised to face a stern test in his bid to complete a Classic double on the Curragh tomorrow.
In a commendable gesture of utilitarian proportions on behalf of Coolmore, the deeply progressive Aidan O'Brien-trained colt will be joined by just a solitary stablemate – the 25/1 outsider Festive Cheer. Of course, that doesn't mean that the Ballydoyle contingent won't again fill the first two places in a Group One that has gone back to Rosegreen in each of the past seven years, but the seven other declared runners are as potent an 'outside' collective as has graced the 12-furlong showpiece for some time.
With Joseph O'Brien back in the saddle after overlooking him to Ryan Moore's benefit at Epsom, Ruler Of The World is an 11/10 favourite to bring his gifted handler's haul in the race to 11.
The jockey is confident Ruler Of The World can maintain his unbeaten record and hand father Aidan a remarkable 11th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on Saturday evening.
The master of Ballydoyle has saddled the likes of Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002) and last year's hero Camelot to win Ireland's premier Classic, with that trio all succeeding on the back of Epsom Derby glory.
Ruler Of The World, ridden by Ryan Moore at Epsom, bids to follow in their hoofprints at the Curragh, with the trainer's son getting back on board for the first time since he won his maiden at the track in April.
O'Brien jnr, who claimed his first Irish Derby aboard Camelot a year ago, said: "He's an exciting horse. He's won three times from three runs and he won very nicely the last day at Epsom so we're looking forward to it.
"He was ready to run early as a two-year-old and he was in the Chesham (at Royal Ascot) until very late on, he was going to run but then he got a little cough.
"They couldn't shift the cough for the rest of the year but he's a very exciting horse.
"You'd be hoping he'll improve for the experience of Epsom, the Curragh is a fair track and he's won there already," the jockey told At The Races.
O'Brien senior, who has won the last seven Irish Derbies, added: "We have been very happy with him (since Epsom).
"He impressed us at Epsom and we think the Curragh will suit him even better."
Likely pacesetter Festive Cheer, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, also runs for the Ballydoyle team.
For the first time since 2004, the Epsom winner will be joined by the runner-up and third in the €1.25m event at headquarters, with Elaine Burke's Libertarian and David Wachman's Galileo Rock also due to run.
Renewing rivalries with Ruler Of The World is Epsom runner-up Libertarian.
A shock winner of the Dante Stakes at York, the three-year-old proved that was no fluke with a fantastic effort at Epsom and he emerged with extra credit given he did not appear to handle the undulating track.
He has since been snapped up by Godolphin and is set to make his final start for North Yorkshire trainer Elaine Burke this weekend.
The trainer's husband, Karl, believes the stable star is open to more improvement than most from Epsom.
Burke said: "He's going there in great form. I've been very happy with his work since Epsom and I'm sure he has improved.
"Physically he looks a more mature horse than he was going into Epsom and I think mentally he has sharpened up as well.
"Considering he did not handle the track that well at Epsom, he did extremely well to finish as close as he did.
"Certainly you would think the Curragh will suit him better. The track should play to his strengths.
"Conditions should be fine for him. He wouldn't want extremes either way, but other than that he's fine.
"All these staying three-year-olds tend to progress through the summer, but being a May foal, you would like to think he has scope to improve more than the other horses that ran at Epsom.
"There is a lot of stamina on the dam's side and he'll see out the trip well. New Approach is turning into a superb stallion."
On the possibility of his wife becoming first woman in history to train an Irish Derby winner, Burke said: "It would be great to do it for Elaine. He nearly did it at Epsom and hopefully he goes one better on Saturday."
Despite the change of ownership, William Buick keeps the ride on Saturday evening and he too is confident of a bold show.
Buick said: "I'm really looking forward to it. He's a lovely horse and he did very well in the Derby and the track should suit him better at the Curragh.
"Although he's taking on the Derby winner, who will also improve for it being on a more galloping track, I'm very hopeful. We'll have to see."
Incidentally, 2004 was also the last year that a horse not owned by Coolmore won the Irish Derby as Dermot Weld's Grey Swallow foiled the odds-on Kieren Fallon-ridden North Light by half a length.
Grey Swallow's rider Pat Smullen is on Saeed Bin Suroor's Cap O'Rushes this time, after the 66/1-shot colt was supplemented along with fellow Godolphin representative Libertarian at a cost of €100,000 to perform pace-making duties for Sheikh Mohammed's latest high-profile purchase.
Jim Bolger will bid for his first triumph in the race since St Jovite's 12-length mauling of Dr Devious in 1992 when he saddles Trading Leather, while Patrick Prendergast sets out to emulate his legendary grandfather 'Darkie' with Sugar Boy.
Having conquered both Libertarian and Galileo Rock in Sandown's Classic trial at the end of April, Sugar Boy brings some choice form into battle under Chris Hayes.
Two-time winner John Oxx relies on Little White Cloud, with Pat Shanahan, who enjoyed his finest moment as a jockey when steering Zagreb to a shock victory for Weld in 1996, due to saddle Ralston Road.
All told, it amounts to an intriguing line-up, a point that pleases few more than the Curragh's general manager Paul Hensey. "It's a cracking race," Hensey said yesterday. "You can make a case for five or six along with the first three from Epsom – the likes of Trading Leather, Sugar Boy and Little White Cloud.
"We have had a bit of rain, and I reckon we'll be starting the meeting, certainly on the straight course, on good ground."
Hensey reported that 3.4mm of rainfall hit the fabled Kildare plains yesterday morning, which allowed track officials to stop artificially watering the track.
Last night, the official going was described as good to firm with good patches on the straight course ahead of tonight's opening leg of the three-day fixture.
A year ago, conditions were barely raceable, as heavy rain meant that the Irish Derby's experimental switch from a Sunday to a Saturday evening slot was inconclusive in terms of attendance, the 22,311 total amounting to just a 2pc increase on the 2011 Derby crowd, which had been down a massive 10pc on 2010.
This time, the weather forecast looks more favourable, and the fact that a clash with Kildare's Leinster SFC semi-final tie against Dublin has also been averted should ensure that a more accurate measure of the race's new location can be gauged tomorrow.