Colin Keane lands first Irish Derby with wide-margin winner Westover

Official derby day attendance of 11,300 lower than 2019 figure

With fluctuating tastes in jockeys under the spotlight, Colin Keane underlined how a change of rider can pay off as he guided Westover to a seven-length success in Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.

The Ralph Beckett trained colt, an unlucky third to Desert Crown at Epsom three weeks previously, was always in control of the €1 million classic and the 11-8 joint-favourite easily accounted for the 18-1 runner up Piz Badile with French Claim at 16-1 in third.

Tuesday, the other joint-favourite, and only filly in the race, never figured and could finish only fourth in front of an official attendance of 11,300 people..

It was a first victory in Ireland’s premier classic for Keane whose local knowledge was pivotal in him securing the mount on Westover.

Owners Juddmonte Farms opted for Ireland’s triple-champion jockey over Westover’s regular partner Rob Hornby who had endured an interrupted passage in the straight at Epsom.

Keane had previously won a 2,000 Guineas and Oaks at the Curragh, just two of his 100 previous career winners at the track, and was sure-footed throughout on Saturday, slotting Westover behind the pace-forcing French Claim and then kicking clear in the straight.

The 27 year old was quick to praise Hornby for giving him advice on how to ride Westover during a phone call in the morning.

Keane said: “Full dues to Rob Hornby. I rang him this morning and he told me everything I need to know about the horse – a true gentleman.

“He said the horse gets the trip well and he’ll get further so don’t be afraid to use him up. He said one thing he will do is he will get to the line. Ralph said the same and when you turn in get him rolling and you’ll stay going.

“He gave me a beautiful ride. He’s a monster of a horse so he is only going to be a better horse next year.”

Frankie Dettori getting put on “sabbatical” by John Gosden the day before underlines how even the greatest jockeys can find themselves disposable no matter how civilised the language used.

Dettori’s response on Saturday was to win on his only mount at Newmarket, deliver a flying dismount to his fans and announce his determination to continue riding at least for this season and next.

“Me and John had a meeting and we decided to give each other a break, or a sabbatical. We are still good friends and I shall be forever grateful for what John has done for me in the past,” the 51 year old Italian veteran said.

If Westover’s victory must have strung Hornby it was a perfect opportunity for Keane to remind an international audience of his talents.

Having previously won the 2,000 Guineas for Juddmone on Siskin in dramatic style, this was a much more straightforward affair with Westover underlining how unfortunate he was not to finish at least second at Epsom.

Off a relatively sedate pace, Keane always had Westover in the perfect position and once kicking clear early in the straight it was only a question of ‘how far.’

The winning distance was ultimately the longest since Soldier Of Fortune won the 2007 Derby by nine lengths in 2007.

Westover could now get another crack at his Epsom conqueror Desert Crown in next month’s King George at Ascot. He was installed a 5-1 shot for that by some firms but as short as 7-4 for the St Leger later in the season.

Whether Hornby can get back on board for those assignments remains to be seen but Beckett was keen to relish his own fourth classic victory, and a first with a colt.

“Colin was positive on him from the outset and took the bull by the horns. Rob Hornby spoke to him at lunchtime today and encouraged him to ride him that way.

“It’s important that you go out with your boots on in these occasions and Colin certainly did that today. I really didn’t think he would win like that at this stage. He’s a big horse and still a work in progress. He’s going to get better with age.

“I never felt he was going to stop when he got into his stride. He drifted out a bit into the middle of the track and is still, as I say, a work in progress. I hope there is more to come with him. He has a great temperament and that shone through today.

“This was always a race that would fit in well. The track suits him and it’s wonderful to get it done. It’s a big day for us.

“We’ll discuss it with the family and everybody to see what we do next. It depends how he comes out of today. He’s in the King George and that would certainly be an option.

“He’s not ground dependent and that is important. We can really go where we want, when we want, when we are happy with the horse,” Beckett said.

Aidan O’Brien pointed to how the first three in the Derby held the first three places throughout but said he was happy enough with Tuesday’s effort.

It was in the very next race that Ryan Moore joked they’d run the wrong horse in the Derby as Aikhal sprang a 20-1 shock in the Group Three International Stakes.

Out of the money on his first start of the season at Ascot in Group 1 company, Aikhal clarly progressed rapidly for the outing to bely his big odds, beating Duke De Sessa by over four lengths.

“You’d be delighted with what he has done there. He has beaten some real sold older horses,” Moore reported. “Hopefully he has got a bright future from here. He won well and they weren’t getting anywhere near him.”

Earlier Moore and O’Brien were edged out in the Group Two Gain Railway Stakes with the 5-6 favourite Blackbeared just beaten by Johnny Murtagh’s juvenile Shartash.

Saturday’s attendance was less than the near 12,000 at the 2019 Derby, the last time unrestricted crowds could go to the big race pre-pandemic.

“I’m pleased with that. There’s a good atmosphere. It looks like the facilities worked in terms of food and beverages. The weather wasn’t totally kind but at least we had a dry day,” said the Curragh’s chief executive, Brian Kavanagh.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column