Rab Havlin aims to crown resurgence aboard Ambiente Friendly at Irish Derby

Top US jockey Johnny Velazquez teams up with old ally Dermot Weld at Naas on Wednesday

Rab Havlin (purple) will ride the favourite in Sunday's Irish Derby, Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

It’s not often 50-year-old jockeys qualify for novice status, but Rab Havlin will be forced to concede substantial course experience at the Curragh on Sunday when teaming up with the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby favourite, Ambiente Friendly.

The veteran Scottish rider was a surprise pick to replace Callum Shepherd on the James Fanshawe-trained colt in the Epsom Derby earlier this month and on just his third ever blue-riband ride, Havlin guided Ambiente Friendly to finish runner-up to City Of Troy.

With the latter waiting for next week’s Eclipse at Sandown, Ambiente Friendly is set to avail of his free supplementary entry into the €1.25 million Curragh Classic at Tuesday’s acceptance stage. The English star is a general 5-4 favourite to emerge on top.

Victory would put a seal on Havlin’s late-career resurgence. As John Goden’s No 2 rider, he was forced to play second fiddle to his great friend Frankie Dettori until finally winning a Group One in 2022 on Commissioning in the fillies’ mile at Newmarket.


His only other top-flight victory came last month with a surprise success on Audience in the Lockinge at Newbury. He did taste Classic glory a dozen years ago, however, in the 2012 Derby Italiano in Rome. He has also landed the Oaks in Italy.

Ambiente Friendly’s owner Bill Gredley opted for Havlin at Epsom due to his greater experience, but it’s hardly a factor at the Curragh.

Havlin last rode at HQ in 2007 when unplaced in the Goffs Fillies’ Million on the Michael Bell-trained Shaker. He had just a handful of Curragh rides before that without success. They included finishing runner-up on Place Rouge for John Gosden in the 2003 Blandford Stakes.

Ambiente Friendly has over three lengths in hand of Los Angeles on Epsom form, although the latter is on home ground this time and is set to have the services of Ryan Moore for the first time in his career.

Moore finally won the sole Irish Classic to elude him a year ago on Auguste Rodin. It was his 12th Irish Derby spin. Aidan O’Brien is pursuing a 16th victory in the race. In contrast, Fanshawe’s sole Irish Classic was with Arctic Owl 24 years ago. He also landed the Matron with Soviet Song in 2004.

Havlin has continued to team up with Ambiente Friendly in his work since Epsom and been pleased with his reaction to the Epsom experience.

John Velazquez on Crimson Advocate at Royal Ascot last year. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

“He was always going to be a horse that went one way or the other after Epsom. He was a breeze-up horse, and they’ve done quite well settling him down. Riding him since Epsom he seems to have relaxed again even more,” he said.

“Coming at the race that way rather than chewing at the bridle again, that should stand him in good stead.

“I’m really excited, can’t wait, counting down the days, The horse, it’s as if he’s read the script himself, he’s maturing every day. Every time I ride him, he’s more relaxed and friendly. I know mentally he’s improved, all the ticks are in the boxes after Epsom, and he’s come out of Epsom with flying colours.”

One horse already out of the Derby reckoning is Deira Mile, who finished fourth at Epsom but is giving the Curragh a swerve.

“I’ve spoken to the owner this morning and we’re just going to give him a little bit more time,” trainer Owen Burrows said. “We feel that the Leger really is his race and he’s got one or two other entries abroad later on. He’s not going to get confirmed tomorrow and we’ll be swerving Ireland.”

Derby week sees one of the world’s greatest jockeys in Ireland as the US star Johnny Velazquez will be in action at Naas on Wednesday evening.

The Puerto Rican, who has ridden almost 7,000 winners including all three legs of the US Triple Crown, teams up with Dermot Weld for De Janeiro in a five-furlong maiden on a card that features the Al Shira’aa Oaks Trial.

Weld and Velazquez successfully teamed up in New York in 2017 to land the Man O’War Stakes at Belmont with Zhukova.

Wednesday’s Oaks Trial field includes the English hope Seaward, who is hoping to bounce back from finishing last to Ezeliya at Epsom. Moore is on Greenfinch for O’Brien, one of just two rides on the card for the Englishman.

On the back of O’Brien being crowned leading trainer at Royal Ascot for a 13th time, City Of Troy has hardened into a 4-6 favourite with the sponsors for his Eclipse attempt next week.

“Following six winners for the Ballydoyle and Coolmore team at the Royal meeting, punters have turned their attention to City Of Troy’s Coral-Eclipse bid, and the impressive Derby winner is now 4-6 to emulate Epsom greats like Nashwan and Sea The Stars,” said a Coral spokesman.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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