Stage set for Camelot to sparkle at twilight
If the Curragh management needed a little divine intervention to match their attempts at reviving the flagging fortunes of its showpiece event, then they appear to have got it.
For the first time in 25 years, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is being run on a Saturday, with its positioning as the climax of a superb twilight card at 7.40 a worthy experiment.
The venture might have counted for nothing, though, if potential race-goers didn't have something worth coming to see, and in that sense the emergence of Camelot has been a gift.
Efficient in the 2,000 Guineas and exquisite in the Epsom Derby, tonight the son of Montjeu will bid to complete an audacious Classic treble that was last executed by Nijinsky in 1970.
In itself, Aidan O'Brien's decision to come here is a desperately needed boon for the race, as this is the first time since 2004 that the Epsom hero will line out in the Curragh equivalent.
O'Brien's High Chaparral last completed the prestigious Group One double 10 years ago, and the Ballydoyle maestro's tremendous support for the €1.25m feature is evident in the fact that he is bidding for his seventh successive victory, and a 10th in all.
His imperious 19-year-old son Joseph, of course, is the man charged with guiding the long odds-on favourite safely home in the sort of testing conditions that the talented colt has never encountered before.
Jim Bolger relies on the workmanlike Light Heavy, while John Oxx's Born To Sea, spoken of as a potential sprinter at the season's outset, now steps up to 12 furlongs.
His promising stablemate Akeed Mofeed faces a stiff task on a belated reappearance, with Dermot Weld's Gallinule winner Speaking Of Which a potential non-starter following the week's downpours.
In the absence of a British challenger, the field is completed by the Epsom third Astrology and the mud-loving Imperial Monarch, stablemates of Camelot that will, respectively, be steered by Seamie Heffernan and Colm O'Donoghue, who have landed three of the last five Irish Derbies between them.
Should the hot-pot fluff his lines, either could conceivably step in to ensure that Samitar's interruption of Ballydoyle's stranglehold on the season's Classics here last month was nothing more than a hiccup.
3.40 Dubai Duty Free Voyager EBF Maiden (6f)
Leitir Mor, seventh to Dawn Approach at Ascot, had Hard Yards and Nabat Sultan behind when second here previously, but looks a shade exposed. Ballydoyle's George Vancouver kept on for fifth on his Navan bow, while Horizon Sky may find one or two too good again.
Verdict: George Vancouver has scope to progress.
4.10 Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire EBF Fillies' Handicap (7f)
British raider Hopes N Dreams has won three of its last four, but is up another 12lb now. New Magic and One Fine Day, both hat-trick seekers, handle a cut, with the latter still quite unexposed. Angel Bright, Rock On Ciara and Imaginationrunwild are due respect.
Verdict: One Fine Day is unbeaten in testing ground.
4.45 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship Celebration Stakes (Listed) (1m)
Mizani is now two from three, and enjoyed a cut when streaking clear at Navan. However, his fellow Aga Khan-owned Sharestan sets the standard, dropping to a mile for a first time since being headed by Famous Name at Leopardstown in April. Amira's Prince accounted for Speaking Of Which when winning his maiden over course and distance, before failing to see out 10 furlongs at Newmarket subsequently.
Verdict: Sharestan is favoured over the dark horse Amira's Prince.
5.20 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Handicap (1m)
Bold Thady Quill is 5lb better off with Potomac for a length-and-a-half defeat at Cork. Potomac might still be going the right way too, though three-time Dundalk scorer Akasaka has it all to prove on soft ground.
Verdict: Bold Thady Quill is never far away.
5.55 Paddy Power Sprint (6f)
Bubbly Bellini continued his remarkable run to win easily for a third time in quick succession at Limerick. Up 13lb for that and 29lb in two weeks, he has more on here over a trip that is possibly shy of his best. Arctic excelled in the mud at Navan, while Battleroftheboyne, third then, is 6lb better off now.
Verdict: Battleroftheboyne is in good nick and goes well here.
6.30 Dubai Duty Free Full Of Surprises Railway Stakes
(Group two) (6f)
Mick Channon's decision to travel the maiden Ayaar is of note, but Cristoforo Colombo is the one to beat, having ran a fine third to Dawn Approach at Ascot. Pedro The Great made light of soft going to score at Leopardstown, with Probably and Almanack other winners on duty.
Verdict: If Cristoforo Colombo copes with the conditions, he should win.
7.0 Woodies DIY Sapphire Stakes (Group three) (5f)
Tiddliwinks won well here at the Guineas meeting, but may need better ground. Mirza is a cross-channel contender that relished the mud when obliging at Cork, with Judge 'N Jury another raider that won in good company in the soft at York.
Definightly, the top-rated runner, is at his best over this five-furlong trip on slow ground, while Santo Padre, fourth to Mirza at Cork, reopposes off slightly better terms here.
Verdict: Definightly is the pick of a strong travelling party.
7.40 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group One) (1m 4f)
Camelot may be as good a three-year-old as we have seen in recent years, completing the 2,000 Guineas-Epsom Derby double in style to retain his unbeaten record.
He is the stand-out candidate and, while he is untested on the ground, Montjeu's offspring usually handle the soft. Light Heavy has been a revelation in winning three on the spin this term, including our two main Derby trials.
But the form of those races hasn't worked out at all, so Imperial Monarch may be the best of the rest. Proven in the conditions, he was far better than his finishing position suggested in the French Derby. The ground appears to have gone for Speaking Of Which.
Verdict: Camelot should confirm his growing reputation.