O’Brien’s High Definition facing strong foreign opposition in Irish Derby

Mojo Star and Godolphin’s Hurricane Lane among 17 entries left in €1m classic

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby has been exported just twice in the last two decades but there is at least a chance that statistic could improve in this Saturday's €1 million renewal of Ireland's premier classic.

Richard Hannon's high-class maiden Mojo Star and Godolphin's Hurricane Lane, second and third to Adayar at Epsom earlier this month, were joined by the Martyn Meade-trained Lone Eagle among 17 entries left in the Derby at Tuesday's acceptance stage.

Aidan O'Brien's High Definition tops an eight-strong Ballydoyle entry while the home team is also likely to include Jim Bolger's Irish Guineas winner Mac Swiney who ran fourth at Epsom.

On the back of the pandemic, last year’s Irish Derby was an all-local affair with Santiago leading home an O’Brien clean-sweep of the first four places.


There was no overseas challenge either in 2019 when Serpentine was a surprise winner for O’Brien.

That race was worth €1.5 million, a prize-fund halved last year but now boosted to €1 million for this Saturday’s race.

The Godolphin colours were carried by the last cross-channel based winner of the Irish Derby, Jack Hobbs in 2015. The only other raider to score in the last 20 years was the French star Hurricane Run in 2005.

Otherwise there has been overwhelming local dominance mostly due to the bulk of Aidan O’Brien’s record 14 victories.

Hurricane Lane's trainer Charlie Appleby last tried to win the race with Old Persian who was sixth to Latrobe in 2018.

Hurricane Lane was third to his stable companion Adayar at Epsom but didn’t look always happy around Epsom’s unique gradients and also lost both front shoes during the race.

He has over three lengths to make up on Mojo Star, who belied 50-1 odds at Epsom to finish second, but previously Hurricane Lane landed the Dante at York where High Definition was two lengths behind him.

Nevertheless, bookmaker reaction on Tuesday was to make High Definition, who had an interrupted preparation going into the Dante, and skipped Epsom, a general 5-4 favourite.

Free supplementary

“Everything has been good since he ran at York and the plan is for him to run at the moment. We’re happy with him at the moment,” O’Brien reported on Tuesday.

Local Curragh trainer Willie McCreery made two supplementary entries into the Pretty Polly on Tuesday for Epona Plays and Insinuendo

“Some of the Ascot horses will be left in like The Mediterranean and Sir Lamorak. Van Gogh is another we’ve been thinking of and obviously as it gets closer we’ll narrow it down a bit more,” he added of other running plans.

Ryan Moore is set to take the mount on High Definition and try to finally land the only Irish and English classic that has eluded him.

The English jockey has had eight previous Irish Derby rides and came closest to success when runner-up on Idaho (2016) and Anthony Van Dyck (2019.) He has also finished third on three occasions.

Both Mojo Star and the Johnny Murtagh-trained Earlswood were added to the Derby on Tuesday under the Curragh’s free supplementary programme to encourage greater competition.

The brothers Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien memorably combined to score with Latrobe in 2018.

Both could saddle runners this weekend with Joseph leaving in the Epsom also-ran Southern Lights and Donnacha relying on the Nijinsky Stakes winner, Fernando Vichi.

English trainer Martyn Meade is set to saddle Lone Eagle, fourth in the Sandown Derby Trial before winning impressively at Goodwood last month.

Saturday’s big race will be shown live on RTÉ and ITV.

Group One

The Derby Festival’s other Group One is Sunday’s €250,000 Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes which has 13 entries left in.

They include both Aidan O’Brien’s Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Empress Josephine and Santa Barbara, the beaten favourite in both the English Guineas and Oaks.

Local Curragh trainer Willie McCreery made two supplementary entries into the Pretty Polly on Tuesday for Epona Plays and Insinuendo.

The Norfolk Stakes runner-up Go Bears Go was also supplemented into Saturday’s Group Two Railway Stakes where he could take on the impressive local juvenile Castle Star.

Naas hosts the Listed Irish Stallion Farms Oaks Trial on Wednesday evening, a race won last year by the subsequent Curragh Oaks heroine, Even So.

A total of 13 fillies line up this time including a quartet from Ballydoyle apparently topped by the 99-rated High Heels.

The Aga Khan has two hopefuls that both hold Irish Oaks entries next month.

Alazenya won her sole start to date at Leopardstown in April while Shandra was less than half a dozen lengths behind no less than Joan Of Arc in a Guineas trial at the same track.

As a daughter of Sea The Stars and the dual-Blandford Stakes winner Shamreen, the step up to a mile and a quarter should prove advantageous to Shandra who should also have no trouble with quick going.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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