O'Brien to Star on Derby day

  • By: Donn McClean
  • Last Updated: June 27 2014, 20:37 BST

Donn McClean previews Irish Derby weekend at the Curragh where Australia bids for another Classic.

Joseph O'Brien: Can win on Australia. And Alben Star.
Joseph O'Brien: Can win on Australia. And Alben Star.

It’s all about balance, has been all week.  Too much rain and Australia won’t run, too little and Kingston Hill won’t.  Either way, you’re left with a seesaw that’s either down on the left or down on the right, tilted one way or the other.  But the right amount of rain, and you have a seesaw that is level, nicely balanced, poised, the Epsom Derby 1-2 set to go toe-to-toe once more.

In truth, on anything other than very soft ground, it is difficult to see how Kingston Hill is going to make up the one-and-a-bit-length margin by which he was beaten at Epsom. 

Roger Varian’s horse ran a cracker in the Derby, he stayed every step of the way to the line, and he pulled three lengths clear of the rest of the field.  However, Australia travelled better than him at every stage of the race and, while Aidan O’Brien’s horse did not pull four or five lengths clear, as it looked like he might, at no point in the race did you think that Kingston Hill was going to beat him.

You could point to the fact that Kingston Hill did well from a disadvantageous draw in stall two at Epsom, but he did have the run of the race.  He occupied that position of which Lester used to speak, fourth or fifth, just behind the leaders and one off the rail, and he went for home when Andrea Atzeni wanted him to.  Australia was a little wider than ideal, he covered more ground, but he was still able to cover his rival’s move.

You could also point to the fact that Kingston Hill will enjoy the stiff test that The Curragh presents more than Australia will.  You could suggest that Australia appeared to be coming to the end of his stamina rope at Epsom, and that the stiff finish at The Curragh could see him exposed. 

But that would be to ignore the fact that the standard time for a mile and a half at The Curragh is actually five seconds faster than the standard time for a mile and a half (and 10 yards) at Epsom.  So, even allowing for Epsom’s tight turns and cambers, it is probable that, contrary to popular belief, the Epsom Derby presents a stiffer stamina test than the Irish Derby.

There are other interesting contenders.  Geoffrey Chaucer probably shouldn’t be a 20/1 shot.  Remember that he was only 10/1 for the Epsom Derby on the back of his really promising run in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on his seasonal debut, when he was conceding 3lb to his rivals, and you can easily ignore his Epsom Derby run.

You can also ignore Fascinating Rock’s run at Epsom, given how ill-at-ease he appeared to be on the track, and that he and Western Hymn had a two-furlong duel around Tattenham Corner.

However, all things being equal, as long as everybody is fit and healthy and well and doesn’t suffer dramatically poor luck in-running, and as long as the ground is not lightning fast nor turtle slow, Australia should win again, thereby providing Aidan O’Brien with his 11th win in the race and his seventh in the last eight years.  Remarkable.

Alkasser is one of the more interesting runners in the Paddy Power Scurry.  Dermot Weld’s horse won the Group 3 Tetrarch Stakes over seven furlongs at The Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend, and his trainer left him in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot until the final declaration stage. 

The Shamardal colt is a progressive three-year-old who has raced just three times in his life and who has the potential to go beyond his handicap rating of 106 – he was also in the Jersey Stakes until final declarations – but he is likely to be popular and he is poorly-drawn in stall five.  This is a race that tends to be dominated by the high-drawn horses.  Six of the first seven home in the race last year were drawn 21 or higher, while in 2001 the first three home were drawn in stalls 30, 24 and 27 respectively.

Alben Star has drawn stall 25, and that gives him a big chance.  Richard Fahey’s horse is six now, but he remains progressive and he ran a cracker in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot on Saturday to finish fourth behind Baccarat, racing prominently in a race that was run to suit the hold-up horses.  He gets to compete off the same handicap mark on Saturday, and the booking of Joseph O’Brien is a significant positive.

On Sunday, Ambivalent could again be the answer to the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes.  Roger Varian’s filly probably put up the best performance of her career up to that point when she battled on gallantly to win this race last year under Johnny Murtagh, and she looks better than ever this season.

After running a cracker to finish third behind Gentildonna and Cirrus Des Aigles in the Dubai Sheema Classic at the end of March, she returned to Britain to win the Group 2 Middleton Stakes at York’s Dante meeting, and she ran out of her skin to finish third behind Cirrus Des Aigles and Flintshire in the Coronation Cup on Derby day at Epsom.  That is top class form.

This is a hot race, as you would expect for a Pretty Polly Stakes.  Thistle Bird is high-class over nine and 10 furlongs and comes here in top form, while Venus De Milo, second in the Irish Oaks last season, was a game winner of a Group 3 contest at Cork last time and should progress from that, and Marvellous was a really impressive winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas on her penultimate run before disappointing in the Oaks.

However, Ambivalent is a tough filly who finds plenty for pressure and who, possibly as a consequence, is often under-rated.  She is tough, she handles the track well, this is probably her optimum trip and she should love the ground.  If she can get out on or near an easy pace early on, it could be difficult for her rivals to pass her.