Irish Derby preview: Under pressure meet includes star filly Tuesday

Renewed focus on attendance for Curragh’s €1 million classic highlight

A bolder name than Tuesday might be apt for a filly riding to the rescue of Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.

She is Aidan O’Brien sole runner in the €1 million highlight as the dominant trainer pursues not only a 15th success in Ireland’s premier classic but a little slice of history as he has never won with a filly before.

Not many have. Balanchine was the last filly to win in 1994 and four years before that Salsabil managed to beat the colts too. Prior to her, the record books stretched all the way back to Gallinaria in 1900.

Tuesday’s jockey Ryan Moore has tried nine times in the past to win the Irish Derby but come up short every time.

Should he succeed now in a race due off at 3.45pm, and live on RTÉ and ITV, the in-form Englishman will complete his set of English and Irish classics.

The novelty of the Ballydoyle team going for glory with a filly might prove a catalyst for Moore to break his duck and for O’Brien to break what is for him becoming increasingly rare new ground.

But what can already be said is that it has salvaged the profile of a classic coming under increased pressure with its very relevance coming under the microscope.

Earlier this week the trade paper, Racing Post, argued for a revolution to arrest the Irish Derby’s decline, proposing the classic distance of a mile and a half be cut to 10 furlongs.

That would ape the French authorities’ decision in 2005 to cut the Prix du Jockey Club trip to an extended mile and a quarter.

That move has made all but redundant the Curragh’s old role as a Derby decider between the winners at Epsom and Chantilly.

Combined with O’Brien’s dominance over the last 25 years, as well as the seemingly remorseless bloodstock industry trend towards speed rather than stamina, and the Irish Derby’s wider pertinence appears to be up for debate.

Critics of O’Brien’s dominance might do well to keep in mind that without his and Coolmore Stud’s support the problem could be worse.

Both in terms of quality and quantity Irish racing’s dominant operation has ridden to the rescue more than once over the last two decades.

It is the same this time, quality-wise, as Tuesday brings proven classic credentials as an Oaks winner and the only Group One winner in the eight-strong field.

The relative rarity of a top filly taking on the boys is also the major selling-point from a racing point of view.

Without her, a shop-window contest relying for star-power on the Epsom Derby third Westover would be quite a stretch.

Ireland’s champion jockey Colin Keane replaces Rob Hornby after Westover’s luckless passage up the Epsom straight behind Desert Crown three weeks ago.

Ralph Beckett’s runner looks to set the standard among the colts and Westover is joined by another cross-channel hope in Lionel.

O’Brien’s sons Joseph and Donnacha respectively rely on Hannibal Barca and Piz Badile. Top young riders Shane Crosse and Gavin Ryan will do the steering on that pair in a race where the only jockey with an Irish Derby under his belt is veteran Kevin Manning.

Trainers trying to break their duck at Group One level with outsiders will be Paddy Twomey (French Claim) and Andy Oliver (Glory Daze.)

Sovereign at 33-1 in 2019 was the last major long shot to emerge on top in a year that was also the last when unrestricted pre-pandemic crowds were allowed for the Derby.

It was also the year when the revamped Curragh opened and an official attendance of just less than 12,000 was present for Sovereign’s Derby victory.

Famously there were logistic foul-ups on that occasion that left the new facility struggling to cope with even such a disappointing turnout.

Criticism in the big-race build-up this time about a €50 general admission charge on the day has renewed focus on popular support for a facility that basically aspires to be busy on just two dates a year, Derby day and the Curragh leg of Irish Champions Weekend.

Separate from that, though, it is Tuesday’s appearance that is the major public interest factor from a strictly racing point of view.

O’Brien has made great play of how the sister to Minding is a late foal and only actually turned three on the day she landed the Oaks.

That gave the trainer a record 41st English classic and it came in a dramatic finish with Emily Upjohn.

If the consensus was the latter was very unlucky after stumbling at the start, then an official rating of 117 still makes Tuesday just superior to Westover.

A 7lbs gender concession has proved controversial over jumps but the 3lbs weight differential looks about right on the flat. Perhaps on this occasion it can help cue a Tuesday victory on Saturday.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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