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Irish Derby preview

After the conjecture over the strength of the 'Epsom' Derby, sights are turned towards Ireland for their version of the time-honoured classic. The racing world seeks clarification of the three-year old pecking order - will Ballydoyle extend their winning run to eight in a row or is there a new colt in the pack ready to emerge?

Making his debut on the blog is one of the guys behind the Dublin Racing Club, Stephen Cass. You can also follow him on Twitter,@CassStephen

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Irish Derby

Don’t overlook the obvious…………

Ireland’s premier flat race has been accused of being something of a snore-fest in recent years. Since 1999 it has produced five winning odds-on favourites. This, coupled with the fact that Aidan O’Brien has monopolised the contest with the last seven winners has taken the competitive gloss off when compared to its Epsom counterpart.

However an argument can be made the lack of competitiveness is not so much down to the quality of the field, but the fact that the 3yo pecking order has reached a clearer perspective following the running of the English race. Sinndar, Galileo, High Chapparal and Camelot all started at least four times their price at Epsom. What the Irish Derby lacks in competitiveness, it generally does not want for in quality. Apart from that star quartet, horses of the calibre of Alamshar, Hurricane Run and Dylan Thomas have also written their names into the annals of Irish racing folklore in recent runnings. Make no mistake, the Irish Derby is a special race and is won by a special horse more often than not.

Given its illustrious history and lack of punting angles in recent years, the 2013 renewal is a Derby to savour. When the first three home from Epsom are all involved the quality element speaks for itself. And the English Derby is the logical place to start when assessing the contenders.

Ruler of the World clearly had his problems at two given he did not see a racecourse until this April. His half-brother Duke of Marmalade was a horse with his own share of issues in his early career. But just like his illustrious sibling his career has exploded once allowed to take flight. His 6L win in the Chester Vase hinted at big promise but nothing more than that. Mister Impatience, a 97 rated horse, looked to have Ruler of the World in trouble on the bend, but once seeing daylight the son of Galileo’s class told and he relished the 12f trip.

There is no doubting his next outing in the Epsom race was a messy affair. However Ruler of the World showed excellent tactical pace to get into the race from a wide position, and the manner in which he drew away from his rivals was most impressive. On only his third run he could have been excused showing greenness and finishing a decent third or fourth but he demonstrated the grit and class that epitomises a Derby winner and given his profile and pedigree there is no reason he should not improve again.

The muddling pace meant there was plenty of hard luck stories in behind but we hear this every year and it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. Going through the last twenty Epsom winners it would be hard to argue that at least sixteen or seventeen of them were not the best horses in their respective years at the trip. Alamshar was unlucky against Kris Kin; Sir Percy’s race was devoid of general quality, and Dubai Millenium would surely have beaten Oath again if trying the extended trip subsequent to his Derby defeat, but by and large the Derby winner is a deserving winner.

As Nick Mordin pointed out in his Weekender column, of the last 25 Epsom winners to attempt the Irish equivalent, 15 have gone on to victory at the Curragh. This represents a 60% strike rate and would make Ruler of the World a 4-5 shot on that basis alone. Scope for improvement, a proven blend of speed (Derby) and stamina (Chester Vase), perfect ground, and being the effective sole representative of the race’s master trainer only serve to bolster the case for the favourite. His current odds of 6/5 are worth taking.

However I would suggest waiting until the morning of the race before backing him as bookmakers will more than likely offer at least 6/5 and don’t be surprised to see 6/4 or even 7/4 dangled in some quarters to limited stakes. Many punters dismiss these offers as €25 or €50 is the standard maximum stake but personally I am very happy to take 6/4 about a 6/5 shot to a small stake if I think it is a big price.

Libertarian is second favourite and rightly so. A Dante winner and Derby second he is the obvious danger. At Epsom he was tracking Ruler of the World coming down the hill, but became visibly unbalanced and it took him an awful long time to sort himself out in the straight. While he flew home he gave me the impression that he did not have the speed to go with the pace that Ruler of the World injected after Tattenham corner.

He shapes like a St Leger horse (he is a half brother to hurdler Ned Buntline) and will need a thunderous gallop to have any chance of overturning the form. His new owners Godolphin have supplemented Cap O’Rushes at a cost of €100,000 to undertake pacemaking duties. Libertarian is a very good horse but his pace limitations were exposed at Epsom and will be again in what is effectively an away leg for the horse.

Epsom third Galileo Rock is held by Trading Leather, Sugar Boy, Libertarian and Ruler of the World on various bits and pieces of form. He was a big price on Betfair all week and as I write is almost twice his price with the books on the exchange, available at 15. Trainer David Wachman began a quote at the five-day stage with “the owners want to run and he’s in good form so he might run”. Uninspiring to say the least.

If there is to be a fly in the ointment it may come in the shape of the Jim Bolger trained Trading Leather. A Group 3 winner at two he began this season with a good second in the Dante. Following this came a cracking third from the front in the Irish 2,000 Guineas; and then a win over 1m2f on good to firm ground in a listed race at The Curragh. He has been tried twice at Group 1 level and come up short on both occasions. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility he will improve markedly for the step up in trip but at around 5/1 the value in his price has disappeared at this stage.

Sugar Boy will be popular with each-way backers as he had Galileo Rock and a below-par Libertarian in behind when winning a Sandown Derby trial. Everything about his pedigree screams that a step up to 12f will suit but he was getting 5lb and was still well beaten by Battle of Marengo previously; and that horse has since proven to be below top class. If taking the Sandown form literally he will have a great chance, but there is a suspicion the race may have flattered him. This is a horse that was winning a Tipperary nursery as a 2yo, and while one nursery winner (Treasure Beach) has won the Irish Derby in recent years, he hardly fits the common profile and is discounted. If the money comes for him tomorrow he would rate a strong place lay.

If forced to have an each way stab Little White Cloud appeals most at 33/1. He got within three lengths of the aforementioned Battle of Marengo on only his third start. He ran very well when second to subsequent Ascot scorer Leading Light over 10f on good to firm ground at the Curragh last time; giving the impression there was more to come. He is from the family of Irish Oaks second Roses for the Lady and there can be little doubt on pedigree he will improve for the step up in trip. In the last 10 years John Oxx has sent only four horses to the Irish Derby finishing 1342. The question is whether 12f or 14f will be the optimal for him in time but Little White Cloud is worth a small investment if backing a short priced favourite is not your bag.

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