Aidan O'Brien claimed a seventh career clean sweep in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby - Donn McClean takes a deep dive into how he did it and what next for the principals.
It was a Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby like no other.
No Epsom Derby winner, no foreign raiders, no bookmakers, no Tote, no paying punters. And yet, in one sense it was just like 13 of the others that had gone before.
Aidan O’Brien fielded six of the 14 runners, and four of the six filled the first four places. It added ballast to a unique relationship between trainer and race, a level of success in the premier Irish Classic that is unprecedented, and which will probably remain without equal for eons. This was the 14th time that Aidan O’Brien won the Irish Derby, and the seventh time that he fielded the 1-2-3.
The broad-brush information is straightforward. Santiago was five-day favourite for the race. His position at the top of the market strengthened further as Saturday evening rolled around, the choice of Seamie Heffernan, the Ballydoyle number one, and he won.
There is detail though.
Like the fact that the Authorized colt won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot on his last run before Saturday. That was also his seasonal debut, on soft ground over a mile and six furlongs, and travelling. It was a tough ask, to have him at concert pitch again, just eight days later. It was not a normal route to the Irish Derby, but then, this is not a normal year.
Queen’s Vase winners don’t usually drop back down in trip and win an Irish Derby. You think Queen’s Vase winners, you think St Leger in the short term, Gold Cup in the long term. Kew Gardens won the Queen’s Vase and, while he did drop back down to a mile and a half to win the Grand Prix de Paris next time, the best performances of his career were over further than the Derby distance. He won the St Leger, he beat Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup.
Top stayers Leading Light and Estimate both won the Queen’s Vase when it was run over two miles, but Stradivarius won it after it was reduced in distance to a mile and six furlongs, and Stradivarius won the Goodwood Cup on his next run, as a three-year-old, the first three-year-old winner of the race in 27 years, before going on to be the triple Gold Cup winner that he now is.
The St Leger looks like the logical race for Santiago now, but it is interesting that Seamie Heffernan said on Saturday that he didn’t need to go a mile and six furlongs, and that, speaking on Luck On Sunday the morning after, Aidan O’Brien did not rule out a tilt at the Epsom Derby for Santiago, nor for any of the horses who finished behind him on Saturday.
Runner-up Tiger Moth and third-placed Dawn Patrol both remain interesting. Tiger Moth travelled well through his race for Emmet McNamara. He made his ground up on the outside in the home straight, and he got out after Santiago after his stable companion had burst clear. While it never looked like he was going to get to the winner, he did close to a head, and he came five lengths clear of the rest of the field.
Like 13 of the 14 runners, Tiger Moth was racing for just the second time season, and it was just his third run ever. He had travelled well too in the 10-furlong maiden that he won at Leopardstown in early June, and he had kept on well to beat his better-fancied stable companion Dawn Patrol by a half a length.
There is plenty of speed in his pedigree, his dam, Lesson In Humility, won a Ballyogan Stakes and finished third in a Diamond Jubilee and in a Prix Maurice de Gheest, and he is a half-brother to Coach House, who won the Marble Hill Stakes and finished second to No Nay Never in the Norfolk Stakes. But he is by Galileo, and he stayed a mile and a half well on Saturday. He will be of interest wherever he goes next.
Dawn Patrol looked a little unlucky. He came under pressure before they turned for home, but he was picking up and he tried to follow Santiago through the gap that he had created on the far side at the two-furlong marker. Unfortunately, it had just closed by the time he got to it. He had to check and come outside on the run to the furlong pole, and he finished off his race well to get up for third.
This was just his third run too and, a son of Galileo out of a Darshaan mare and a three-parts brother to Derby winner Pour Moi, he could improve for stepping up in trip. Even though he is still a maiden, the St Leger should be on his radar too.
It was a Group 1 weekend to remember for Aidan O’Brien and for Seamie Heffernan, as the pair of them teamed up to land the Group 1 Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes too on Sunday with Magical.
The third leg of a treble on the day for trainer and rider, it was all very straightforward for the Galileo mare. Sent to the front by her rider when the stalls opened, she never saw a rival thereafter.
It’s great that Magical has remained in training as a five-year-old. She is one of the very best mares that we have seen in a long time, up there with Enable, only three-parts of a length behind Enable in the Eclipse last year, and maybe better than Enable this year. Her trainer said that he thinks she is a stronger horse this year.
She can go anywhere now. She could go to the King George, or she could go to the Tattersalls Gold Cup, and on to the top middle-distance races deeper into the season. Winner of the Champion Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes last year, it seems that she is equally adept over 10 and 12 furlongs.
Of the vanquished, Cayenne Pepper put up a more than satisfactory performance on her seasonal debut to finish second, her first run since she finished fourth in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket last October. She was well beaten by Magical, but Jessica Harrington’s filly kept on well to hold off the challenge of Fleeting for the runner-up spot. She reportedly had an interrupted spring, and her rider Shane Foley said beforehand that he expected her to come on for the run. This should bring her forward and she could be a big player in the Irish Oaks.
It was also a weekend to remember for Wayne Lordan, who rode six winners, three on Friday and three more on Saturday, three for Aidan O’Brien, three for Joseph O’Brien.
He delivered JP McManus’ filly Music To My Ears with a well-timed run from the rear to get up and land the TRM Premier Fillies’ Handicap on Friday evening, and he dictated from the front on Lloyd Williams’ colt Buckhurst in the Alleged Stakes on Saturday.
Buckhurst went into the race rated 3lb lower than Sir Dragonet, yet conceding 3lb to him, but he won well. He did have the run of the race, but he always appeared comfortable, and he picked up nicely from the front at the furlong pole when he was challenged, coming away from his rivals again close home.
Joseph O’Brien’s horse has never gone beyond Group 3 level, but he continues to progress. He ran a big race on his debut this season in the Heritage Stakes at Navan over a mile, a distance that is probably short if his best, when he went down by the bob of a head to Ancient Spirit – winner of the Celebration Stakes on Saturday – giving him 5lb. Stepped up in trip and with that run under his belt, he probably put up a career-best on Saturday.
His trainer mentioned the Tattersalls Gold Cup as a next possible target for the Australia colt, and that makes sense. His record at The Curragh now reads 2111, all Group 3 races, all over the Tattersalls Gold Cup distance of 10 furlongs, and he has earned a shot at a Group 1 prize.
Frenetic was impressive in winning the Listed Gain First Flier Stakes on Saturday. Taken over to the stands rail by Colin Keane from her near-side draw, six of six, she was over there all alone, but she always travelled well and she quickened away nicely.
Ger Lyons’ filly looked fast when she won her maiden at Navan – when she had Albany Stakes third Mother Earth back in second – and she looked fast here again, but she saw out the extra half-furlong well. She is an exciting filly.
There was an exciting finish to the Paddy Power Rockingham Handicap on Sunday, with the Kieran Cotter-trained Strong Johnson just getting up in the middle of a three-way go, Jungle Jane to his right, Urban Beat to his left, the three of them clear.
There was another three-way finish to the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes, with Speak In Colours and his young rider Shane Crosse bagging the first Group 2 wins of their respective careers, the Joseph O’Brien-trained horse showing a nice turn of foot and then just holding on from Forever In Dreams and Buffer Zone, while Big Baby Bull ran out an impressive winner of the seven-furlong Dubai Duty Free Premier Handicap on Saturday.
He kept on well for Joey Sheridan on just his second run for Denis Hogan, with the Ado McGuinness-trained Current Option doing well to come from the near-side group and chase him home.
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