Harzand faces test of resilience at Curragh in Derby double quest
Odds favour another head-to-head between Epsom winner and Idaho
Harzand ridden by jockey Pat Smullen wins the Investec Derby at Epsom racecourse on June 4th. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Class is a given in Derby winners. So is courage. However, by any measure, should Harzand become the 18th colt to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double today he will have proven himself notably stout-hearted.
Just three weeks after overcoming a late injury scare to his foot at Epsom, and providing Dermot Weld with the crowning glory of a legendary career, Harzand’s participation in the €1.5 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is a major test both of his own resilience and his trainer’s judgment.
Inevitably sore on that injured foot in the aftermath of Epsom, Harzand also had to undertake a course of antibiotics, as well as recover from the exertions of having beaten US Army Ranger and Idaho in such a thrilling finish.
Even Weld’s veterinary skill doesn’t extend to exactly quantifying the toll that has taken overall, nor to querying the Aga Khan-owned star about it directly. Weld concedes he would ideally like another week to play with but race calendar vagaries rule that out.
So a call has had to be made. Harzand hasn’t given any concrete reason why he shouldn’t run and with US Army Ranger’s injury problems ruling him out the Curragh authorities will have been notably relieved about Weld’s green-light, given recent concerns about the Irish Derby’s competitiveness.
Nevertheless, while his participation is a guarantee of Harzand’s physical wellbeing, only the strain of a race will reveal any other lingering effects of what has been a seismic June for a still relatively inexperienced horse.
“What he is is very tough and courageous, which is why we are even talking about running him. He’s a horse who’ll meet you halfway, he’ll go more than halfway to meet you in fact. And that’s the big plus,” Weld said.
It is such intangibles which will ultimately determine whether or not the colt can join an illustrious list of dual-Derby heroes and become the Aga Khan’s sixth winner of Ireland’s premier classic.
Four of the five previous victors did the double, including Shergar in 1981 and Sinndar in 2000.
They represented much more straightforward scenarios than the Aga’s latest classic star who on top of everything else wouldn’t appreciate ground conditions any faster than good.
Idaho leads an Aidan O’Brien quartet which will attempt to give the champion trainer a remarkable 12th win in a classic he has dominated like no other. Between 2006 and 2012, O’Brien famously won seven-in-a-row and Australia led home a fifth clean-sweep of the places in 2014.
It is Idaho’s task to make it third time lucky in career clashes with Harzand who was less than three lengths ahead of him at Epsom. Ryan Moore teams up with Idaho for the first time this season and it will be the first time this season the colt lines up as the stable No 1. There was plenty of use made of him at Epsom where Pat Smullen used Idaho as a target to aim at. Prior to that Idaho had been ridden from off the pace.
With a strong pace looking assured through the presence of three stable companions, not to mention Harzand’s stablemate, Ebediyin, it will be fascinating to see how Moore tries to bridge the Epsom deficit.
The sole overseas raider is the supplemented Red Verdon and if it’s hard to make a case for him on bare form, it’s even harder to do so for Moonlight Magic who finished last at Epsom. If there’s to be a surprise it could still be the Godolphin runner who beat Idaho in the Derrinstown.
The odds however favour another head-to-head between Harzand and Idaho. The score is already 2-0 to Harzand. The unknown element is what impact, if any, his Epsom heroics have had on him, in the knowledge that any chink will be exposed around his Curragh backyard.
But if classics are designed to test resolve as well as ability, Harzand can prove the old point about the tough getting going when the going gets tough.
Calendar vagaries also mean tomorrow’s Group 1 Curragh card has to compete with Ireland’s Euro 2016 clash with France, although the feature event, the Sea The Stars Pretty Polly Stakes, takes place after the game is scheduled to finish.
“We are turning the garden here into a fanzone, we have big screens and ticket offers such as only €5 admission for anyone turning up in a green Irish shirt. And the Curragh is as good a place as any to watch football!” said track spokesman Paul Hensey.
Tomorrow, the Curragh also gives sports fans a chance to watch an exceptional performer in Minding who will be long odds-on to win her fifth Group 1 prize in the Pretty Polly.
Minding displayed a perfect combination of class and courage to overcome desperate trouble in the Oaks at Epsom. In between that and her brilliant Newmarket Guineas victory, she was beaten by Jet Setting in the Irish 1,000 but soft ground wasn’t a help then, nor was bloodying her head in the stalls.
Minding faces four older fillies this time but is the sole proven top-flight winner and it will be a major surprise if she doesn’t win.
Ryan Moore looks a significant Curragh Cup booking for Landofhopeandglory who bids to reverse Royal Ascot form with his stable companion Sword Fighter. Moore can also score on the Royal Ascot winner, Sir Isaac Newton.