The Irish Derby has lost much of its lustre over the last six years or so with some pretty poor fields. Going back over ten years, and we often had clashes between the winner of either the French or English Derby, with placed horses from the other race. In 1991 we had the winners of both, when Generous faced off against the French Derby, and latter to be Arc winner, Suave Dancer. I’ll never forget the way Montjeu sauntered through the field at the Curragh after winning the French Derby on his previous start. Unfortunately such clashes haven’t happened in recent years, and may never happen again. Since the French Derby was moved back to little over 10 furlongs, the Grand Prix de Paris is now the top 12 furlong race for 3 year old colts in France, and with that race in just 2 weeks time, there is little or no reason for the French trained horses to come to Ireland. At least this years race has a more competitive look to it, with better strength in depth than last years farce for a start.
Ruler of the World won the Epsom Derby on just his third career start. He improved hugely from each run but also benefited from being in the right place at the right time at Epsom. The pace slowed dramatically after a few furlongs and it turned into a bit of a burn up in the straight. Ruler of the World showed a very good turn of foot, from the 3 to 2 furlong pole, I did some sectionals for each of the last 3 furlongs and had him faster in that section that anything in the Coronation, Oaks or the handicap on the card. He was also faster relative to his total time for those 3 furlongs, but his final furlong was slower than many others.
I’ve seen it mentioned that he was idling, I don’t agree with this, at least not by much, maybe 1/2l at most. He gained his ground with one big spurt, perhaps the speed he showed surprised Ryan Moore who is not known for going to soon, and leaving little for the finish. From the 2 furlong pole though, where he was still behind Battle of Marengo, he only gained 1l on him, from there to the furlong pole to go 1/2l up, he then gained a similar amount from there to the line, so I don’t think he did any less in front than behind. I do think if he’d made his effort more gradually he would have beaten them further though. With him being unbeaten after 3 runs, and his trainer noted for improving such types further, he must have a good chance of adding the Irish Derby to his Epsom one.
In races that are slowly run, with the finish being faster than par for the conditions, then as a good rule of thumb, it is the horse who is closing at the line that was the most disadvantaged. They’re the horses who would do better if the line was further away, and since there finishing faster than optimum, the race wasn’t a true test at the trip, and the finisher is the one who would be most inconvenienced. The finisher in the Epsom Derby was Libertarian, and I think if they had gone an even pace he would probably have won. You can never be sure, but I’d say he certainly would have beaten the rest by a good few lengths, not only had he a far worse track position than the other horses in the frame when they quickened up, but he was also the horse that looked least suited to a test of speed at the trip.
As the race was run, Libertarian was not unlucky, he was about 1 1/2l behind Ruler of the World at the 3 pole, he couldn’t go with him, before finishing much stronger. Libertarian was unlucky in that the race was run so slowly though, and with a pacemaker employed by his new owners at the Curragh, there must be a very good chance that slow pace won’t be repeated. A pacemaker doesn’t guarantee a fast pace, as we have seen on many occasions with Ballydoyle horses going off far too fast for their ability, and being ignored by the field. Godolphin have a much better record of getting it right though, and have taken an important first step in employing a jockey that actually knows what speed he’s going, in Pat Smullen. The horse in question was only placed off 95 at Ascot, but he is improving and if he goes an even pace they won’t be able to ignore him.
Galileo Rock finished 3rd to Sugar Boy at Sandown, in what was another slowly run race which wouldn’t have suited him. He was closing fast at the line and gave the impression he would have won had they gone faster. In the Epsom Derby however, he had every chance and was in a much better position than either Ruler of the World, or Libertarian, when they quickened up. He too may have preferred a faster pace, and is still lightly enough raced to improve, but given both them horses beat him when he had things his own way, its hard to see him reversing the form.
Trading Leather came 2nd to Libertarian in the Dante and after getting a far too aggressive ride in the Irish Guineas, he bounced back to win a listed race at the Curragh over 10 furlongs. He beat Line of Battle by 3 1/2l, but that one hardly had an ideal preparation having been unplaced in a Kentucky Derby slog on his previous start. The 3rd horse was Kingston Jamaica and he looked an ordinary 100 horse before hand. Trading Leather may well stay this longer trip, but he’ll surely need to improve quite a bit for it if he’s to win. I don’t think that’s overly likely, and he looks a bad third favourite.
Sugar Boy is the only other horse quoted at less than 10/1, but I can’t say I’d have him that short. He’s won 4 of his 8 starts, but was beaten handy enough by the limited Battle Of Marengo in the Ballysax, and his subsequent Sandown win had more to do with the second horse looking a bit green and the 3rd, Galileo Rock being inconvenienced by the slow pace. Libertarian was well beaten in 4th but his subsequent exploits do nothing for the form, as he clearly didn’t run to anywhere near that level at Sandown. Sugar Boy looks a good tough type, but surely needs one or two of the others to have an off day, just to place here, and he looks more of a 20/1 shot in the win only market to me.
Festive Cheer is only 25/1, but he looks a 66/1 shot, and Little White Cloud looked to barely stay 10 fur behind Leading Light, so I can’t see him showing the necessary improvement over this longer trip.
I think the first three at Epsom will fill the same positions here, with the first two extending their superiority over the 3rd Galileo Rock. Ruler of the World may or may not have won the Epsom Derby off a stronger pace, he could probably have been ridden more efficiently over the last 3 furlongs, and being an unbeaten horse trained by Aidan O’Brien he can certainly progress again. The thing is I think he’ll need to, and 6/5 looks short for a horse that will probably need a personal best. Libertarian looked most inconvenienced by the lack of pace at Epsom, and while his trainer (answers on a postcard) wouldn’t be renowned for improving horses as much as Aidan, Libertarian is a fine big horse and is entitled to come on, as he has done with every run so far. At 7/2 with