Irish Derby marks racegoers’ return to tracks for first time since pandemic

Aidan O’Brien eyes 15th victory as Ryan Moore rides favourite High Definition

Seamie Heffernan on High Definition wins the Alan Smurfit Memorial Beresford Stakes at the Curragh in August 2020. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Seamie Heffernan on High Definition wins the Alan Smurfit Memorial Beresford Stakes at the Curragh in August 2020. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Ireland’s premier classic, the €1 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, will be watched by 1,000 spectators at the Curragh on Saturday. The carefully selected attendees will be the first spectators allowed on a racecourse in the Republic of Ireland for almost 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is a fraction of the crowd size that would normally be at Irish racing’s most valuable prize which is part of the Government’s series of pilot sporting events to test easing of restrictions. However, as a signal of some sign of a return to some kind of normal it adds an extra layer of significance to the 156th renewal of the race.

A total of 50 complimentary tickets have been given to local frontline workers while 200 were reserved for local Co Kildare residents. Up to 300 were kept for Curragh members while 450 were put on general release at a reduced rate of €25 each. Tickets were sold out within 10 minutes of being released, with €10 of each ticket donated to charity.

Down Royal saw 500 spectators go through the gates last weekend but the confluence of elite action on the track and a return of some members of the public makes it a noteworthy date.

Reassuringly familiar

For those on-site, the faces of most of the big players might feel almost reassuringly familiar. Aidan O’Brien is chasing a 15th victory, has the warm favourite in High Definition, and can call on four other runners in the 11-strong field.

Ryan Moore will be on board High Definition, the English jockey’s ninth attempt to win the one English and Irish classic to elude him so far. O’Brien was memorably beaten by his son Joseph who trained Latrobe to win in 2018. That colt was ridden by another son, Donnacha, who this time saddles a contender in Fernando Vichi.

Johnny Murtagh won the Derby four times as a jockey and will try to win as a trainer through Earlswood while Jim Bolger is in pursuit of a third victory through Mac Swiney. Perhaps the most significant element to this Derby tough is a three-pronged cross-channel raid that includes another familiar face in Frankie Dettori. The Italian rides Lone Eagle.

Last year’s Curragh classic wound up being the first major European Derby of 2020 and was an all-domestic affair due to Covid-19. However, it was domestic – only too for Sovereign’s surprise success in 2019 and there have been just two overseas-trained winners of the Irish Derby in the last two decades.

Bolshoi Ballet was considered good enough to fly solo at Epsom only to fluff his lines, so maybe it’s little surprise to see a significant raiding party on Saturday.

Dettori, whose sole Irish Derby was on Balanchine in 1994, is an eye-catching booking for Lone Eagle who, like High Definition, skipped Epsom. The winner there, Adayar, was Godolphin’s third string and thrived on the easy ground conditions to beat the 50-1 maiden Mojo Star and the apparent Godolphin number one Hurricane Lane.

The latter was over three lengths behind Mojo Star on that occasion but never looked entirely convincing on the track and lost both front shoes in the race. Previously Hurricane Lane had won the Dante where he had High Definition, who was making his first start of the season off an interrupted preparation, two lengths behind him.

Strong pace

Significant improvement is widely anticipated from High Definition whose grinding style could be ideally suited by a strong pace set by some of his stable companions. However, the Curragh’s more conventional terrain looks like it could prove a big plus to Hurricane Lane as well. His jockey William Buick rode Jack Hobbs to win in 2015.

In contrast, Mojo Star is a rare opportunity for 21-year-old rider Rossa Ryan. The Co Galway native missed Epsom through a broken collarbone and was ruled out of Royal Ascot last week due to an operation for appendicitis.

Mojo Star has been runner-up in all three starts to date but Chicquita was also a maiden prior to her winning the Irish Oaks in 2013. Jockeys Gavin Ryan (Fernando Vichi) and Ben Coen (Earlswood) are also competing in their first Irish Derby.

Frankie Dettori’s other ride on Saturday is for Aidan O’Brien on The Acropolis in the Group 2 Gain Railway Stakes. Ryan Moore is on the stable first-string Cadamosto who was a beaten favourite in the Norfolk at Royal Ascot last week.

Masseto was a luckless fourth in the Coventry and didn’t enjoy much good fortune either prior to that behind Castle Star in the Marble Hill. Given a clear shot Donnacha O’Brien’s runner could emerge on top.

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