Sunday 16 June 2019

Staying power isn't always in Derby DNA

Epsom absence of 2,000 Guineas hero 'Gold' due to his 'genetics' goes against the grain

Now Or Never and Kieran Fallon winning the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Now Or Never and Kieran Fallon winning the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

Of all the slightly dull Epsom Derby permutations of late, the decision to rule out the Hugo Palmer-trained 2,000 Guineas victor Galileo Gold on the basis of a genetic test is surely the most disappointing.

Of course, the development is a massive boon for the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh on Saturday week.

It is also a huge boost for Equinome, an emerging Irish biotechnology company that specialises in identifying a horse's optimum race distance.

In a laboratory in University College, Dublin, it was established that, of four potential variations, Hugo Palmer's son of Paco Boy is a CC type, indicating that he will be most effective at a mile or less. So that's that, then.

Science is the way forward, apparently, but you hope they don't get hold of a blood sample of Vautour's; it would be a travesty if connections were influenced by such a method to send him back for another Ryanair.

Horse racing is an inexact science, which is why Red Rum won three Grand Nationals despite being bred to race over a mile and starting off his career with a dead-heat over five furlongs. Venturing into the unknown to test the limits of the very best horses against the best of the rest is the sport's allure.

We want to see how they respond when taken out of their comfort zone, and how they react to different challenges. Temperament and courage are critical.

Some horses will exhibit an intangible or immeasurable capacity to find more for pressure than a horse that might be more regally bred or be perceived to have more natural talent.

Imagine if Sea The Stars had been established as a CC type.

Would that have discouraged connections from running him in the Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, or even in the Eclipse?

Likewise, for all that at times we are compelled to decry a lack of sporting ambition on Coolmore's behalf, at least they tilted at windmills with Camelot and - to a lesser extent - Australia.

They know that there is only one Derby, and that the glory of winning it translates into big bobs at stud. Still, there are enough commercial disincentives that discourage connections from pushing the boundaries with top-class colts without adding more.

It should be stressed that this corner in no way means to knock the work that is being undertaken by the Equinome team, and they have clearly hit upon something that is of genuine value to the bloodstock industry.

At the same time, though, the move to scratch Galileo Gold from the Epsom Classic is seemingly underlined by this genetic test.

Maybe Palmer and the colt's Qatari owners were looking for an excuse not to run him over 12 furlongs, but it feels like a cop-out. Even Jim Bolger, who was one of Equinome's co-founders in 2009, has indicated in the past that he uses the speed gene test "more for breeding than training".

He added: "If you get one with a really good temperament that switches off and is taking nothing out of himself, there is always a chance that a horse like that could still stay a mile-and-a-half in spite of the fact that he is a CC."

Bolger also said: "Generally the CC types would be your first two-year-old runners of the season and will mature quicker than the CTs or the TTs."


Last year, Galileo Gold didn't run until May 30, when he was beaten, before then improving to win. He kept progressing, culminating with a strong-finishing third to Ultra in a French Group One in October.

He was hardly the most precocious juvenile, a point emphasised by the fact that he has seemingly trained on and matured so well. That doesn't sound very CC. In the Guineas, he raced handily under Frankie Dettori, but, despite having swathes of open space in front of him on his first run of the year, he relaxed on a lovely even keel for his rider.

Maybe he wouldn't stay the Derby trip, but he might, because he has a fine temperament and a steely resolve. He would surely have a better chance of staying it than Dawn Approach did, yet that didn't stop Bolger and Sheikh Mohammed having a cut in 2013. The Derby is nearly always worth a stab, and bombing in it didn't do Dawn Approach any harm.

Moreover, the Derby is there for the taking. None of the trials to date have suggested there is a great deal between the other protagonists, a point again emphasised by the crowded finish to yesterday's Leopardstown heat.

History tells us that the Guineas is up there with the best Derby trials, and there is a touch of 2003 or 2013 about this year's premier Classic. Kris Kin and Ruler Of The World, both successful at Chester en route to Epsom, were woefully sub-standard winners in those years.

With that in mind, it would have added enormously to the race if the Galileo Gold team opted to invoke Micheál ó Muircheartaigh's infamous analysis of Seán óg ó hAilpín's genealogy. There's nothing like a good freak of nature.

Smullen to emulate Kinane on Midterm

Pat Smullen will take the hot-seat on the Derby favourite Midterm in Thursday's Dante Stakes at York.

The perennial champion excelled on spare rides in Britain last year, especially so when donning Khalid Abdullah's iconic silks. After US Army Ranger's unconvincing triumph at Chester, Midterm was thrust to the head of the betting for the Epsom Classic.

Smullen will relish the opportunity to renew links with such a revered Derby maestro as Stoute, who has already conjured five wins in the premier Classic. Abdullah has won it on three occasions, and there is a little symmetry to his 1993 success. On that occasion, Mick Kinane, operating chiefly as Dermot Weld's stable jockey, was emerging as the go-to man on the international stage.

Kinane rebuffed overtures to move to England, but his status as a world-class rider meant that many of the sport's most influential figures were happy to use him on a piecemeal basis.

Roll the clock forward and the similarities with Smullen are pretty obvious, so it will be fascinating to see him sport the Abdullah colours aboard Midterm in such a pivotal trial.

Aidan O'Brien looks like running Deauville and Black Sea in the Group Two, though his Landofhopeandglory did little to promote its Epsom cause when fourth to Humphrey Bogart at Lingfield on Saturday.

Despite having won just one of its previous seven starts, the Richard Hannon-trained winner could now be supplemented for the Derby at a cost of £75,000.

That could present a massive opportunity for his jockey Sean Levey, who was such a popular figure here during his formative years with O'Brien.

Levey, who was born in Swaziland, has been the main beneficiary of Richard Hughes's retirement. With 14 wins from 64 rides for Hannon this term, he is the stable's number one rider on a daily basis and has ridden more than three times as many winners for the yard as anyone else.

The chances on the big stage have yet to happen, but they might yet, starting with Humphrey Bogart, so here's looking at you, Levey.

O'Brien did depart Lingfield with the winner of the Oaks trial in Seventh Heaven. The Ballydoyle fillies look formidable, but Seventh Heaven is still as big as 33/1 for the Oaks despite knuckling down gamely to prevail by a neck from Architecture.

Next Saturday, Newbury's Lockinge is the main event. The mile Group One should feature Ger Lyons' Endless Drama, an exciting colt that was last seen finishing second to Gleneagles in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

O'Brien may supplement The Gurkha for Sunday's French 2,000 Guineas, and he also indicated at Leopardstown yesterday that his 1,000 Guineas third Alice Springs could tackle the fillies' equivalent.

Tweet of the weekend

Henry de Bromhead (@HenrydeBromhead)

Lovely start to Deans Road's chasing career. Better suited by better ground and he could go to Kilbeggan in June. Davy was super on him.

The Waterford handler, who initiated a double in the maiden hurdle with the Bryan Cooper-ridden Balzac Turgot (9/1), commends Russell's refined front-running steer aboard the first-time chaser at Limerick yesterday.

Numbers Game
14 Age of Blazing Beacon, which ran out a dogged winner of the handicap chase for Conor Maxwell at Limerick. It was Frank McGuinness' charge's first win since 2013 and his sixth in all.

Irish Independent

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