Saxon Warrior gets second chance to prove himself real Derby deal
Ryan Moore aims to complete classic collection with first Irish Derby
Donnacha O’Brien riding Saxon Warrior celebrates as they win the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Saxon Warrior gets a chance to prove himself something of a “second coming” by lining up for Saturday’s €1.5 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.
Victory will mean his jockey Ryan Moore captures the one Irish and British classic to have eluded him so far in his illustrious career, and provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a remarkable 13th success in Ireland’s most valuable race.
A win for Saxon Warrior will also help rehabilitate the reputation of a colt who just four weeks ago seemed destined for Triple Crown greatness. A brilliant 2,000 Guineas success helped make the unbeaten Japanese bred colt an odds on favourite for Derby glory at Epsom, only for the dream to deflate as Saxon Warrior struggled home fourth.
That it was Godolphin’s Masar who won surely made it sting even more for Ballydoyle, while also bemusing them since Saxon Warrior had beaten Masar so authoritatively in the Guineas.
A third clash between the two big classic charges from racing’s two big superpowers would have been the ideal Curragh Derby scenario come 5.15pm on Saturday. However, with Masar waiting instead for next week’s Eclipse so much of the focus in this 153rd renewal of Ireland’s most prestigious classic invariably switches to Saxon Warrior.
In form terms that’s a major liberty. The fact is the likely odds-on favourite has three lengths to find with the Epsom runner-up Dee Ex Bee. That stark reality has been pointed to by no less than Frankie Dettori, who will team up with another of the triple-pronged cross-channel challenge Knight To Behold.
The Italian superstar has said he cannot understand the betting, and not unreasonably pointed out that Epsom form usually works out best in the long term. Since Dettori rode the last Irish Derby winner prepared in Britain – Balanchine all the way back in 1994 – the breadth of his experience and judgement has to be respected.
Dee Ex Bee is the clear form pick from Epsom. Whether he will relish heat-wave fast ground conditions is not as clear. And the reality is that expectations in him have never come close to the scale of his big rival.
The same can be said for all 11 of Saxon Warrior’s rivals which also includes Godolphin’s Royal Ascot winner Old Persian and a number of unexposed home-trained colts. They include the outsider Latrobe, who will represent O’Brien’s sons Joseph and Donnacha.
Padraig Beggy’s capacity to upset the odds is forever etched in history after Wings Of Eagles’ 40-1 Epsom shock last year, and that jockey is on one of Ballydoyle’s other three runners Rostropovich.
If it’s true that Derby form usually does work out best, evidence is also strewn throughout O’Brien’s previous dozen winners of horses who left Epsom well behind them once back on home ground at the Curragh.
There’s never a drought of excuses after any big race defeat, but O’Brien’s immediate reaction at Epsom was that both the occasion and the track found out a still relatively naive colt.
The Curragh is a more straightforward test, and an on-site attendance limit of just 6,000 people will mean a very different atmosphere; an rambunctiousness may be confined to the later Kildare-Mayo GAA match in nearby Newbridge!
It looks a perfect scenario for Saxon Warrior to indicate he might yet actually be the sort of rare talent so many rather prematurely claimed him to be after the Guineas. That’s hardly his fault. But this looks like a second chance that needs taking.
Jockey arrangements between Moore and Donnacha O’Brien could prove crucial to the rest of Saturday’s card.
The 19-year-old who won the Guineas on Saxon Warrior looks to hold solid claims on All The Kings Men in the opener and the Norfolk third Land Force in the Gain Railway Stakes.
Both jockeys also ride in the €100,000 Rockingham, and Moore could be on the right one in Battle Of Jericho, beaten less than a dozen lengths in a furiously run King’s Stand at Ascot recently.