Racing Review: Derby dominance
Our racing panel look back on a busy weekend of action and consider the likely next port of call for Irish Derby hero Australia.
Aidan O’Brien has now won the Irish Derby eight times in nine years and saddled the first three home on five occasions. Is this a satisfactory state of affairs and, if not, what changes would you make to the race?
Michael Shinners: They are the dominant force in Irish racing and want to win their Derby, I don’t really see a problem. The lack of opposition clearly detracts from the race, but I’m not sure what can be done. The racing calendar becomes incredibly busy with the Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot and the Coral Ecilpse all coming in quick succession and that in my opinion is the main problem.
Matt Brocklebank: It's hardly satisfying but we shouldn't be shocked that Ireland's powerhouse stable invariably has the best three-year-olds and does all it can to win 'their' Derby every year. The timing of the race could be tweaked, as it's obviously too close to Ascot if attracting some of the Royal meeting's winners is the aim, but that would have a knock-on effect elsewhere. It's dangerous to talk of amending the distance as if we're not careful we could end up without any top-class 12-furlong contests at all.
Ben Linfoot: It's not necessarily O'Brien's dominance, which should be applauded, but is it satisfactory to have a 1/8 favourite trained by anybody in a Classic? Saturday's race was a bit of a non-event, which is a shame considering how brilliant Australia clearly is, but nobody wants to see effective walkovers like that in such an important race. Mind you, if Kingston Hill had turned up we might've been treated to one of the races of the season so maybe there's not too much wrong with the current schedule. The change in distance to the French Derby has clearly had a knock-on effect, but perhaps the positioning just after Royal Ascot is also a factor and that's always been the case. I'd leave things as they are for now, but clearly things need to be monitored in the coming years.
Regardless of that, Australia looked every bit a class act once again and connections are now considering dropping him back to 10 furlongs with the QIPCO Irish Champions Stakes on the table. How would you campaign him and would you back him for the Arc?
MS: The race I would target is the Juddmonte International at York. The ground should be perfect, as should the 10 furlongs. I’m not sure the Arc would be quite his thing, with the potential for soft ground a definite possibility.
MB: Australia has never struck me as a mile and a half horse but he's now won two Derbies with consummate ease so it's about time I reassessed! Dropping back to 10 furlongs looks the obvious move but he's all class and I can see him cruising through the Arc. He's now as short as 3/1 for the Longchamp showpiece (5/1 still available) and, with no other obvious contender for the race, the 'lads' at Ballydoyle must be extremely tempted to aim for France.
BL: Being a Yorkshireman I agree with Michael as I'd love to see Australia strut his stuff at York. I fear we won't see Australia in the Arc with the Irish Champion Stakes already mentioned as his autumn target, but Coolmore aren't one to shirk a challenge and I'm sure we'll see their current pride and joy up against some of the best older horses on the planet as the season progresses. I'd go Juddmonte, Arc, Breeder's Cup - but that is the stuff of fantasy!
There was plenty of competitive racing elsewhere over the weekend – what other performance most impressed you and, if different, which horse will you be taking out of the weekend?
BL: Noble Mission ran another cracker in defeat in the Grand Prix Saint-Cloud where he was only just mugged late in the day. His form has stacked up brilliantly thanks to the exploits of Telescope and to a lesser extent Magician, and he can have a fruitful autumn campaign. He could emulate his famous brother and win the Champion Stakes as 10 furlongs and a bit of cut is perfect.
MB: It may seem obvious but the Northumberland Plate winner Angel Gabrial should be followed, no matter where he goes. He scored with loads in hand, comprehensively reversing Chester Cup form with Suegioo, and he looks a very smart stayer in the making. There was no surprise to read connections are now eyeing the Goodwood Cup and I'll be with him all the way. If I can stretch the weekend back to Friday night, Robot Boy won the Gosforth Park Cup is ready fashion and he looks another top sprinter for David Barron and the O'Kane/Murphy ownership.
MS: I was really impressed by Angel Gabrial in winning the Northumberland Plate. The way he travelled and then picked up showed him to be a horse with a touch of class. Where he goes from here is up for debate, with his owner sounding as though he was keen to try the Melbourne Cup. Either way he looks better than a handicapper.
Looking ahead to next Saturday and there’s a strong entry for the Coral-Elicpse at Sandown even if the dual-Derby winner won’t be there. Who’s your idea of the likeliest winner at this stage?
BL: Verrazano. Aidan O'Brien always gets a Group One out of these overseas stars that he's sent and this fellow looks set to relish a mile and a quarter. He won a Grade 1 on Dirt in America by ten lengths over nine and he should thrive for the step up.
MS: If the ground stays quick, The Fugue will be hard to beat. She was incredibly impressive at Royal Ascot and with the yard continuing in red hot form she looks the one to be with at the moment.
MB: I certainly think The Fugue is a vulnerable favourite, despite conditions looking likely to be in her favour again. Night Of Thunder is well worth a crack at the race and shapes like the trip won't be a problem but Verrazano is dangerously over-priced around 11/2 in my view and he looks good value to upset the jolly.