Curragh seeking to attract more international runners for Irish Derby
‘The English horses are not prepared to come over and take on the Irish horses again when they got well beaten at Epsom’
Anthony Van Dyck winning the Derby at Epsom on June 1st. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
The Curragh authorities are examining if further steps can be taken to encourage greater international participation in future in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. For the fourth time in 20 years this Saturday’s €1.5 million renewal of Ireland’s premier classic will be an all-local affair.
Just 10 horses remain in the Derby ahead of Thursday’s final declaration stage, with half a dozen trained by Aidan O’Brien, who is pursuing a 13th win in the race. His Anthony Van Dyck has been backed into evens favourite with some firms to become the 19th colt to complete the Epsom-Curragh double.
However, Saturday’s classic is the first Derby run at the revamped Curragh which has seen an €81 million redevelopment intended to provide Irish racing with an international shop-window facility.
Ahead of Thursday evening’s start to the three-day Derby festival, the Curragh’s racing manager stressed that there was an ambition to encourage overseas participation, but that international Derby three-year-olds were not there in 2019.
“The aspiration will always be there to get more international runners – 100 per cent. But it’s just the way it’s panned out. We’ve proactively looked at runners and the Irish horses are so strong this year that there isn’t really anything out there to travel.
“You saw what happened at Epsom, and the English horses are not prepared to come over and take on the Irish horses again when they got well beaten at Epsom,” said Evan Arkwright.
A “win and you’re in” incentive was launched in 2015 after competition fears were raised principally around the dominance of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team.
It provides incentives for the winners and placed horses in a number of major classics and trials in Europe and in Dubai with entry, forfeit and even supplementary fees refunded if horses run in the Irish Derby.
“It’s an initiative that worked really well last year. We had three horses come in as supplementaries last year because of it. But this year the international horses aren’t there.
“We have to look at everything again. We will 100 per cent look at it. Since I’ve taken my new role over we have targeted horses for races and visited French and English trainers promoting all our races, but particularly the bigger classics.
“We want to bring international competition and build up the support programme over the whole weekend. So we will see if there are more things that we need to be doing to get more international runners. But when the [Derby] horses aren’t there, what can you do?” said Arkwright.
The Curragh spokesman described as “a shame” Saturday’s clash between the Derby, which is due off at 5.20pm, and an All-Ireland senior football qualifier between Kildare and Tyrone set for nearby Newbridge with a 5pm throw in.
Attempts to persuade GAA officials to move the game to another day or delay it on Saturday were unsuccessful.
A similar clash occurred last year with a high-profile Kildare-Mayo match taking place in Newbridge on Derby day, although crowd numbers at the Curragh in 2018 were restricted due to planning considerations.
The two high-profile events mean some congestion is likely in the area and on the M8 motorway, although Arkwright is happy traffic problems will not prove an issue with access to the Curragh.
“We have a good traffic plan in place. The guards would have been consulted on all this; they’re obviously not concerned. Hopefully we don’t have to be either.”
A lack of cross-channel participation is not an issue in Thursday’s featured Tote Rockingham Handicap. The Rockingham is the first in a four-race series of major handicap races worth €450,000 in all that are taking place at HQ this year. It has attracted eight British-based sprinters, although the value option might be Rapid Reaction with Andrew Slattery employing his 5lb claim.
A first Irish Derby win for 86-year-old local trainer Kevin Prendergast would be hugely popular on Saturday should Madhmoon emerge best. Prendergast’s legendary father Paddy won the Derby four times, including in 1963 with Ragusa, who is remembered in Thursday’s €50,000 mile and a half handicap.
Topweight Sea The Lion goes for three in a row, although on ground still containing an ease Inscribe may kick off a profitable programme for Ger Lyons.