A revamped Curragh hosts the 154th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on Saturday, and the occasion could mark a rare fairytale classic outcome if Madhmoon wins for veteran trainer Kevin Prendergast.
The man who trains just a couple of miles from the Curragh winning post turns 87 next Friday, and is looking for a first win in Ireland’s richest race.
Ranged against him, however, is the might of Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle operation. O'Brien saddles five of the eight runners – including the Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck – as he pursues a 13th victory in a €1.5 million feature he has dominated like no other major world classic ever has been.
It was Anthony Van Dyck who prevented a similarly romantic result at Epsom four weeks ago by denying Madhmoon in a thrilling finish.
Prendergast had been hoping to fill in the one English classic race that had eluded his father Paddy. His legendary career included four Irish Derby successes in the 1950s and 1060s. Momentarily it looked on too, only for Madhmoon to ultimately came up half a length short of his rival. Now he faces the task of trying to become the first since St Jovite in 1992 to successfully reverse Epsom form at the Curragh.
“He’s got a battalion to beat, but hopefully he will act as well as he did at Epsom and we might get a result,” said Prendergast, who came closest to Irish Derby glory when Ragapan was runner-up in 1973.
The resonance of a win for such a stalwart figure, whose family history is entwined with the Derby, will be lost on no one as the new Curragh hosts the race for a first time. It will be the first major test of the extensive €81 million facility which was officially opened last month.
Attendances have proved a contentious issue so far, and there are fears the Derby crowd could affected by the All-Ireland senior football qualifier between Kildare and Tyrone in nearby Newbridge. The throw-in to that match is just 20 minutes before the Derby's 5.20pm off time.
The modern day Derby crowd record is 31,144 which was reported in 2004. An attendance of over 25,000 was given in 2015. The new Curragh is designed to cater for up to 30,000.
In recent years Aidan O’Brien’s dominance of the race prompted competition fears, although Capri’s 2017 victory is his only win in the last four years.
Between 2006 and 2012, however, O’Brien saddled an unprecedented seven in a row, and he is 8-1 in some betting lists to saddle a 1-2-3 on Saturday.
The Ballydoyle team also includes Broome, fourth at Epsom, who will be ridden by O’Brien’s 20-year-old son Donnacha. He was on board last year’s winner Latrobe, trained by his brother Joseph.
If Anthony Van Dyck wins he will become the 19th colt to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double. He was ridden by Seamus Heffernan at Epsom, but will team up again with Ryan Moore, who needs the Curragh Derby to complete his collection of Irish and English classics.
For just the fourth time in the last 20 years the Irish Derby has no overseas runners, although Epsom indicates the best middle-distance three-year-olds are based in Ireland.
The bulk of them are in O’Brien’s famous Ballydoyle operation, so Madhmoon faces a major task in trying to overcome them.
However, on a landmark occasion for the new Curragh, even O’Brien might concede there would be no more popular winner than Prendergast.