Sport Horse Racing

Monday 19 February 2018

'Wings' retired but O'Brien still reigns

Ballydoyle maestro hails bravery of injured Epsom hero as Heffernan drives Capri to yet another Curragh Derby success for champion trainer

Capri (left), with Seamie Heffernan up, leads runner-up Cracksman (right), with Pat Smullen up, and third-placed Wings Of Eagles (Ryan Moore) on the way to winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Capri (left), with Seamie Heffernan up, leads runner-up Cracksman (right), with Pat Smullen up, and third-placed Wings Of Eagles (Ryan Moore) on the way to winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

That weathered adage about having three Derby horses and thus none is even more redundant after Aidan O'Brien once again landed the spoils at the Curragh.

Capri's victory on Saturday was his 12th in the race, Seamus Heffernan's third and the fifth of the immortal Galileo as a stallion, but the demise of Wings Of Eagles snared some of the gloss.

A statement issued by Coolmore yesterday read: "Wings Of Eagles was found to be lame this morning. He was examined today in his box in Ballydoyle by the attending (vet) who diagnosed a fracture of his left front sesamoid. Sadly, this is a career-ending injury."

O'Brien believes the Epsom hero ran an "incredible" race to finish third considering the extent of his injury.

Aidan O’Brien experienced contrasting emotions at the Curragh. Photo: PA Wire
Aidan O’Brien experienced contrasting emotions at the Curragh. Photo: PA Wire

"When the lads X-rayed him, his sesamoid had completely come apart. It's incredible he ran the race he did with that," he said. "We're very sorry to lose him because he was a very unusual horse in that he stayed very well but quickened very well. It's just one of those things. It's a pity."

In finishing a close third despite sustaining injury, Wings Of Eagles illustrated his resolution to the small crowd. It was a brave way to bow out.

O'Brien also revealed he could undergo an operation today, while Capri is set for a midsummer break ahead of an autumn campaign.

At the wire on Saturday, little more than a neck separated three horses, leaving little doubt that there is little between what is far from a vintage lot. It was Ballydoyle which called the shots when it came to tactics; it was never likely to be any other way.

This is unsettling for some racing fans, that bigger operations can sacrifice talented horses with a view to bettering the chance of more talented ones, but Ballydoyle does it well with a view to ensuring an even or strong pace in Group One races, depending on the plan of the day.

Capri got a fine ride off Seamus Heffernan in what was always going to be a different race to Epsom.


Heffernan's mount, which has looked a staying type, was in the box seat tracking The Anvil. Wings Of Eagles was farther back, now trying to reel in other steeds on softer ground, and Cracksman's Pat Smullen eyed him.

Essentially, we were taking about inches at the line, shortly after which Cracksman had gotten the better of Capri, but it was too late for the history books.

Cracksman looked one of the first beaten and stayed on really strong, almost providing Frankel with that breakthrough Classic success, and he is becoming a really likeable colt.

Despite the loss of Wings Of Eagles, with Capri potentially going up to the Leger distance and Cliffs Of Moher reverting to ten furlongs for the Eclipse, O'Brien happily still has top older horses for the all-aged mile-and-a-half races too. Capri's future plans will depend on what John Magnier thinks of his stud prospects, which O'Brien alluded to after the race.

He is out of a middle-distance mare and, were he to achieve nothing more, he would not be pitched high as a Flat stallion: indeed dual Derby winner Harzand is available at €15,000. There is every chance Capri will go down the National Hunt route as a daddy in due course.

Cracksman's trainer, John Gosden, was referenced after the race by Coolmore's John Magnier, whose backing for the Curragh retaining the Derby during renovation was soon apparent in an RTé interview after the race.

Neither Gosden nor Andre Fabre (trainer of fourth-placed Waldgeist), Magnier said, would have had a runner in the Irish Derby were it not at the Curragh, which is debateable given what calibre of runner Leopardstown attracts every September from overseas on Champions Weekend.

Noel Meade, head of the trainers' body, had by Saturday evening called on a rethink as to where the Derby should be held: fewer than 5,500 were at a race that not long ago attracted around five times that number. Ger Lyons has been against the under-renovation headquarters staging the race all along.

For Coolmore and its servant Aidan O'Brien, though, it was another day, another Classic win. Like Magnier, he soon extolled the Curragh's fairness, and there is no getting away from the intrinsic quality of the track.

"He trains them to improve from race to race," Heffernan said.

It is as easy as that - at least it is to Aidan O'Brien.

Minding fears as star filly remains out

It wasn't all good news for O'Brien on a mixed weekend for Ballydoyle, with the trainer raising doubts about the brilliant filly Minding returning to the track, while high-class filly Somehow has been put down after fracturing a cannon bone.

Minding, a daughter of Galileo, is a seven-time Group One winner, but has not been seen in competitive action since making an impressive start to the campaign in the Mooresbridge Stakes at Naas in early May after suffering a setback.

O'Brien had hoped to welcome the filly back into training this week, but revealed she is not yet ready to return to exercise.

"We'll leave her another month, but if we go another month we could run out of time, I'm not sure," he said.

Somehow, meanwhile, won five of her 12 starts including the Group Two Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket in May.

She was last seen filling the runner-up spot in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.

"It's a real pity as she was such a good filly, and had progressed well this season," said the trainer, who saddled a treble at the Curragh yesterday.

Tote so wrong to lay into layers

The Tote has long seemed an operation which serves no purpose other than to keep seasonal workers in a job and people who have tried to turn the "nanny goat" around could be seen to face an impossible task.

Beyond the exotic stuff, such as the Pick 6 when it might spill over into a small meet from Galway, there is next to no compelling reason to bet with the Tote, unless you want to chat up one of the women at the window. Likely she will have the time to do so.

The betting exchanges' progress has resulted in on-course bookmakers cutting their over-rounds and thus offering better value, while the Tote has been left behind, with less money going into the pool and far too frequent instances of shockingly bad returns, especially in the place market.

So its advertisement having a go at the on-course bookmakers earlier this week seemed a cross between desperate and childish, especially as the layers are fighting hard for their own survival.


"This is Dermot," it read beside a man (presumably Dermot) who is dropping what appears to be at least €300 on the ground. "Dermot throws money away by betting with the bookies at the Curragh. Don't be like Dermot."

It gets worse. The case study used in the ad is the winning SP of Alexios Komnenos at the Curragh (50/1, while Tote paid €90.60 to a euro).

First of all, the horse has three names in the ad, rather than two.

Secondly, that race took place over a year ago: is that the most topical example the Tote could have come up with? And thirdly, I'd love to see the dividend if Dermot put the €300 on.

The Tote may have a minuscule marketing budget - who knows? - but somebody had to sanction this. Compare this tripe to the mischievous genius of Paddy Power in its marketing and the Tote comes across as a sad case, doing a tour of the bar and finding nobody to talk to in an impossible quest for relevance.

This is a sad thing for Irish racing.


Kevin Manning is in excellent form and dictated matters to a nicety aboard Cirin Toinne at Tipperary on Thursday, the 5/2 chance making all for Jim Bolger.


John Levins has had a relatively quiet year but he recorded a double on Thursday at Tipperary, with a punt from 20/1 into 6/1 coming good on El Tren, owned by his fiancée Tara Browne. His other winner, Zippy (16/1), was also punted on track.


"I was nearly giving this game up and she's my only horse in training at the moment. It's a long time since I've had a winner but I've had hardly no runners. I've no horses and the horses we are buying we just aren't able to compete."

- Mick Flannery, who trains local to the track, had his first winner since May 2012 when Palmones scored at Ballinrobe.


"Laughable that they'd fall over themselves to run around Epsom but would worry about doing so at Leopardstown! #notbuyingit"

- Ger Lyons (@gerlyonsracing) on John Magnier's comment about the Curragh.

Irish Independent

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