Australia 0, Ireland 1?

  • By: Donn McClean
  • Last Updated: June 6 2014, 17:17 BST

History and the market tell you that it is more likely than not that an Irish horse will win Saturday’s Investec Derby.

John Oxx: Doesn't run horses in Classics for the sake of it.
John Oxx: Doesn't run horses in Classics for the sake of it.

There have been seven Irish-trained winners since the turn of the millennium. Seven Irish, six British and one French. The fact that Sinndar in 2000 was the first Irish-trained winner in 16 years – since Secreto and Christy Roche left El Gran Senor and Pat Eddery and just about the entire racing world gobsmacked – is easily swept under the carpet for the purposes of this stat. We can put that down to one of those well-documented ‘quiet’ spells. (A long one.)

A wise man – an exponent of regression analysis – once said that the best way to try to determine what is going to happen in the future is to look at what happened in the past. That may be so, but a better way is to look at the market, and the Derby market is telling us that, at best combined odds, it is about 1/2 that an Irish horse will prevail.

So what to do with Australia? Is he the correct favourite for the race? Undoubtedly. Was he value at odds-on? Easy to say now that he is a 13/8 shot, but no he probably wasn’t. Is he value now at 13/8?  That’s more difficult.

The arguments for and against have been well-made since the Guineas, and have been increasing in potency in the last few days.

Here are the bones of the argument in favour. He was a really progressive juvenile last year, always held in the highest regard by Aidan O’Brien. He has been reportedly hugely impressive at home, to such an extent that he has been acclaimed by his trainer as potentially the best that he has ever trained.

He is by stamina influence and Derby winner Galileo, and he is out of Oaks winner Ouija Board, the Derby is the race that he was bred to win, yet he still had the pace to finish third in a really strong Guineas, winning his ‘race’ on the stands side. If he improves for the step up to a mile and a half, he could win the Derby by seven or eight lengths.

And the argument against? While he looked impressive in beating erstwhile Derby favourite Free Eagle at Leopardstown last September, there was a sense afterwards that we didn’t see the real Free Eagle that day.  Even with that victory under his belt, strip his form down to the bare bone, and he is a Group Three-winning juvenile who was beaten in the Guineas on his only run at three. 

Also, despite his breeding, given that he ran so well in the Guineas and that he is reportedly showing so much speed at home, it is not certain that he will improve for the step up to a mile and a half.

That’s the thing about the Derby, it comes so early in the season that there is still a lack of hard evidence as to the capabilities of the participants, mere adolescents all. We just don’t know how good Australia can be. He could be a superstar but, on balance, given the evidence that we have, scant though it may be, at 13/8 you can be against him.  You can be happy to allow him win at that price, prove himself to be the superstar that he has the potential to be, and acclaim him as such even in the knowledge that your stake is lost.

The Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial could hold the key to the Derby this year. It has been a while since it did, a lot of horses have graced Epsom’s winner’s enclosure since the Sinndar-Galileo-High Chaparral rat-tat-tat at the dawn of the century. However, indications are that this year’s renewal was a strong one, and all three protagonists could be players on Saturday.

"Of the triumvirate, however, Ebanoran could be the most under-rated and therefore the most over-priced. He is twice the price of Geoffrey Chaucer, despite the fact that he beat him by two and a half lengths in the Derrinstown."
Donn makes his case in the Investec Derby

The overall winning time of the Derrinstown was poor, but they went really slowly through the early stages of the race.  The vagaries and inaccuracies of hand-timings notwithstanding, it looks like they covered the final two furlongs in that 10-furlong race in a time that was a second faster than the time that they clocked over the same distance of ground in any of the other races run on the day, despite the fact that four of the other races were run over a mile or less. 

But what of their relative merits?  You can argue a case for any of the three. Fascinating Rock did really well to win the race, given that he was held up in rear in a race that was run at such a sedate pace. He was last when they started the two-and-a-half-furlong sprint for home, so he did well to finish as well as he did. 

Dermot Weld’s horse did need the intervention of the stewards in order to claim the winner’s purse, but it is easy to argue that he would have got past Ebanoran had he not been impeded. He has been unlucky with the draw, 15 of 16 is a worry, but he will not mind it if the thunder storms arrive.

It is also easy to argue the case for Geoffrey Chaucer, despite the fact that he only finished third at Leopardstown.  He was hampered initially when Ebanoran went to his left, and he was hampered again when Ebanoran went to his right, with the result that Joseph O’Brien just allowed him coast home.

As well as that, Aidan O’Brien’s colt was making his seasonal debut in the Derrinstown, unlike his two rivals, who had had the benefit of at least one run, and he was conceding 3lb all round. Last year’s Beresford Stakes winner – like Derby winner Sea The Stars and Derby runner-up Eagle Mountain in recent years – he has been strong in the market for the last week, and the booking of Ryan Moore suggests that he is regarded as next best of the Ballydoyle contingent.

Of the triumvirate, however, Ebanoran could be the most under-rated and therefore the most over-priced. He is twice the price of Geoffrey Chaucer, despite the fact that he beat him by two and a half lengths in the Derrinstown.

Okay, so John Oxx’s colt was a little wayward at Leopardstown, and that is a bit of a worry for Epsom, but he never stopped going forward. You can forgive a horse for moving in towards the inside rail, as Ebanoran did, as he strikes the front and moves on, and Declan McDonogh said that his horse was distracted by something in the infield late on, which caused him to move back to his right.

There are lots of positives. The turn of foot that he showed at Leopardstown, into an increasing pace, was the turn of foot of a high-class performer. Also, the willingness that he displayed late on, the manner in which he stretched his neck out in an effort to stem Fascinating Rock’s challenge on his outside, was wholly admirable. That attitude will stand to him on Saturday.

Ebanoran is by July Cup winner Oasis Dream, which is obviously where he gets his speed, but he is out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Ebadiyla, who won an Irish Oaks and a French St Leger, and who is a half-sister to Ascot Gold Cup winners Enzeli and Estimate. It would be surprising if he did not stay a mile and a half. Indeed, on breeding it is more likely that he will improve for the step up in trip than dis-improve.

Ebanoran has been drawn well in stall six, not too wide and not too close to the inside, and he will not mind good or soft ground. Finally and significantly, he is trained by John Oxx, who does not over-face his horses. Ever. 

Oxx’s first runner in the Derby was Sinndar, and he has had just two since: Alamshar, who finished a fairly unlucky close-up third in 2003, and Sea The Stars. 

For more of Donn’s thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com