Trading the danger
Our Irish racing expert Donn McClean thinks Trading Leather is the main danger to Ruler Of The World in the Irish Derby.
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At least we can be fairly certain that Aidan O'Brien-trained horses will not fill all three places in the Irish Derby this year. Three places, just two representatives, it is unlikely at best, although, given the potency of O'Brien's dominance of the race in recent years, if you chalked up a 33 beside that one, you would still be just a little nervous if the faces started to circle.
Here is Aidan O'Brien and the Irish Derby in numbers: seven of the last seven winners, nine of the last 12, 42 of the 96 runners in the last decade. As well as that, he has saddled the first three home three times in the last six years. Not since Vincent O'Brien and the Gloucester Hurdle has one trainer dominated a race with the same force as that with which Aidan O'Brien dominates the Irish Derby.
The Irish Derby is perennially well-stocked with talent, but this year it has depth and variety as well, with five different owners and five different trainers represented by the top five horses in the market in the most fascinating renewal that we have witnessed in years.
Unsurprisingly, however, even with just two runners, it is still a Ballydoyle horse who sets the standard. Ruler Of The World did not satisfy all the purists when he won the Epsom Derby. It was a falsely-run race, they said. No early pace. They were all in a cluster coming down the hill, there were hard luck stories in behind, the time wasn't good and the first seven horses home finished within four lengths of each other.
But that analysis does the winner a grave injustice. He won despite the manner in which the race was run, not because of it. If you had sat down beforehand and written down a list of horses who would probably be inconvenienced by a sedate early pace, Ruler Of The World would have been on top of that list. He was the only horse in the Epsom Derby who had won over a mile and a half beforehand. Incidentally, he is still the only horse in that field to have done so.
Admittedly, unlike several of his rivals, the Galileo colt did enjoy a relatively clear run through the race, but he was further back than ideal off the modest pace, he was wider than ideal throughout, and he did appear to idle once he hit the front. He probably won with a fair amount more in hand than the one-and-a-half-length winning margin.
On top of that, he didn't run as a juvenile, he was running in just his third ever race in the Derby, having made his racecourse debut less than two months previously. As a half-brother to Duke Of Marmalade, who improved dramatically with age - the Danehill horse didn't win at all in six runs as a three-year-old, but, remarkably, he won five Group 1 races as a four-year-old - he still has significant potential for progression. Still unbeaten, he is the most likely winner of tomorrow's race for sure, and it is correct that he is clear favourite.
Libertarian is a player. Runner-up in the Epsom Derby, the Elaine Burke-trained colt has just that length and half to find with Ruler Of The World, and he had to come from even further back in the field than the winner. Also, if Ruler Of The World was top of your list of horses who would be inconvenienced by a sedate early pace in the Epsom Derby, Libertarian would have been second. You could even argue that their respective positions on the list could be reversed.
"The standard time for the Derby trip at Epsom - 12 furlongs and 10 yards - is five seconds slower than the standard time for the Derby trip at The Curragh, and that is significant. If Libertarian reverses placings with Ruler Of The World, it will not be because of any extra premium that The Curragh places on stamina."
A son of Derby winner New Approach, out of a Darshaan mare who won over two miles, Libertarian is all stamina. The new Godolphin recruit was the first horse off the bridle in the Dante, yet he powered through on the far side to win going away, getting stronger the further they went in that 10-and-a-half-furlong contest.
There is a school of thought that says that he will be better-suited by the more conventional track at The Curragh than he was at Epsom, which makes some sense, and by the extra test of stamina that the vast expanses of The Curragh presents, which makes none.
The Epsom Derby probably presents a greater test of stamina than the Irish Derby does. They usually start racing from early in the home straight at Epsom, with the horse who stays best usually prevailing. Also, the standard time for the Derby trip at Epsom - 12 furlongs and 10 yards - is five seconds slower than the standard time for the Derby trip at The Curragh, and that is significant. If Libertarian reverses placings with Ruler Of The World, it will not be because of any extra premium that The Curragh places on stamina.
The David Wachman-trained Galileo Rock deserves his chance in the race, although the Epsom Derby third - a three-parts brother to Goodwood Cup winner Saddler's Rock - is another who, like Libertarian, may be more of a St Leger horse than an Irish Derby horse.
Sugar Boy is fascinating. Patrick Prendergast's horse - another who will race in new silks, having been acquired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum during the week - hasn't raced since he won the Sandown Classic, battling on gallantly to beat Eye Of The Storm, with both Libertarian and Galileo Rock behind him. It is almost 50 years since the trainer's grandfather last won the Irish Derby with the Lester Piggott-ridden Meadow Court, and a Sugar Boy victory would make some story.
However, at 5/1 or 11/2, Trading Leather may be the value of the race. Jim Bolger's colt shaped like a potential Derby horse last October when he battled on tenaciously to beat Montiridge in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes over a mile at Newmarket.
He could only finish second in the Dante behind Libertarian, but he was making his seasonal debut that day, whereas Elaine Burke's horse had already raced twice this term. Trading Leather looked booked for fourth or fifth place passing the furlong pole that day before he seemed to get his second wind deep inside the final furlong, and rallied well on the near side to wrest the runner-up spot from Indian Chief. Significantly, his trainer said afterwards that he would come on appreciably for the run.
The Teofilo colt probably would have run in the Epsom Derby had his stable companion Dawn Approach not been springboarded into the Derby picture, and he would have been a really interesting contender, as evidenced by his run to finish third in the Irish 2000 Guineas seven days before the Derby over a trip that would have been too sharp.
He was much more at home when he was stepped up to 10 furlongs for a listed race back at The Curragh three weeks ago, when he stayed on strongly to beat the Group 2 winner Lines Of Battle by an ever-widening three and a half lengths.
He has yet to race over a mile and a half, and his pedigree says more miler than middle-distance horse, but his sire is by Galileo and, more importantly, he races over 10 furlongs as though he will get the Derby distance without any problem. Twelve furlongs could prove to be his optimum trip.
At his best on fast ground, significant rain would be a worry, but as long as any rain remains fleeting and the ground remains good or on the fast side of good, in an intriguing contest, Jim Bolger's colt could push Ruler Of The World harder than he has ever been pushed before.
For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com