Monday 24 October 2016

Path clear at the Curragh

No excuses for Harzand on a track which rarely produces a hard luck story in Derby

Jockey Pat Smullen is aiming for a Derby double on Harzand. Photo: Patrick McCann
Jockey Pat Smullen is aiming for a Derby double on Harzand. Photo: Patrick McCann

Tomorrow, the Curragh will stage the biggest meeting of its season as nine runners will face the starter for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

Back at the opening meeting of the season in March, few would have predicted how the main talking points of the season would have develop.

Aidan O'Brien's Air Force Blue was the colt that was the main talking point in any conversation about the Flat season over the winter months and when Seamie Heffernan rode him in the annual Ballydoyle post-race gallops at the first Curragh fixture, he was the centre of attention.


US Army Ranger was also at the Curragh that day but he was rather unheralded then. Pat Smullen rode him in the second of the Ballydoyle groups and that turned out to be something of an ironic combination.

When US Army Ranger made his winning debut at the Curragh, he turned into a plunge horse for the Epsom Derby and even after that maiden victory, O'Brien said: "Pat (Smullen) rode him in some work here two weeks ago and liked him but I was a bit worried beforehand (with all the money for Dermot Weld's horse in the same race)."

At the same time, a colt residing across the road in Rosewell House, by the name of Harzand, was still a maiden. He went to Cork the following weekend, on March 26, and won by 16 lengths. Earlier this month, Smullen, the man who gave valuable feedback to O'Brien on US Army Ranger back in March, guided Harzand to win the Epsom Derby, beating the very same O'Brien horse.

Smullen had looked like having to get the better of US Army Ranger again tomorrow until an unsatisfactory scope ruled him out, thus leaving us with a field of nine.

O'Brien is really relying on Idaho to provide him with a 12th win in the race now, although he does have four runners, but Harzand is the standard setter and Weld and Smullen look set to do the Derby double.


No horse had a bigger excuse to under perform at Epsom than Harzand but his foot problem proved no barrier once the race got underway and while luck in running might have eluded some of the runners at Epsom, the brilliant thing about the Irish Derby is that the Curragh rarely produces a hard luck story.

Few know more about the Derby course than O'Brien.

"It's probably the fairest track in the world," the trainer said.

"Epsom can be tactical and tricky but the Curragh suits every horse and the best horse usually wins there."

On one hand that is why it is such a shame that US Army Ranger is absent, but in Moonlight Magic and Red Verdon we've horses that might not be part of the Epsom fan club and their participation tomorrow is fascinating.

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