There’s only been a single cross-channel trained winner of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in almost quarter of a century but a powerful raiding party is still shaping up to tackle Aidan O’Brien’s odds-on Saxon Warrior for Saturday’s €1.5 million highlight.
As expected the Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee and the King Edward VII Stakes winner Old Persian were added to Irish racing’s most valuable prize by the Maktoum family at Tuesday’s entry stage.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team supplied Jack Hobbs to win the Derby in 2015 and Balanchine’s victory in the 1994 Irish Derby victory was a signature success for the then emerging Dubai operation.
But they remain the only winners trained in Britain in the last 25 years. Four French-based horses won the race between 1995 and 2005.
Frankie Dettori famously rode Balanchine to beat the colts – his sole victory in Ireland’s premier classic – and the Italian jockey is likely to add more star quality to the race by teaming up the Harry Dunlop trained Knight To Behold.
Dunlop is seeking a first classic 40 years after his father, John, won the Irish Derby with Shirley Heights. Dunlop Snr also won it with Salsabil in 1990 at a time when the Curragh highlight was dominated by cross-channel trainers.
Now it’s a very different story with O’Brien odds-on to win the Derby for a 13th time through Saxon Warrior. He is one of half a dozen Ballydoyle entries among the 14 horses left in the classic on Tuesday.
Saxon Warrior was three lengths behind Dee Ex Bee at Epsom when finishing only fourth as an odds-on shot behind Masar.
However bookmakers expect him to reverse that form on home ground with Saxon Warrior rated a general 4-7 favourite. It’s 31 years since Sir Harry Lewis finished fourth at Epsom behind Reference Point before winning at the Curragh.
It is Dee Ex Bee who is the form horse going into Saturday’s big race though. Both he and Old Persian were supplemented into the Derby at a cost of €100,000 each but under the Curragh’s ‘Win and You Are In’ scheme that money is refunded if a horse lines up.
“He’s absolutely fine since Epsom, no issues at all. It’s always a nervous time when you are making a significant supplementary entry,” said Mark Johnston, trainer of Dee Ex Bee who races in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Sheikh Hamdan.
“Epsom was certainly not a surprise. But realistically if someone had said before the race you could finish in the first three I’d probably have settled for that.
“Coming into the final furlong I thought he might finish fourth so we were delighted with second. He’s a really big horse and physically he should enjoy the Curragh a lot more.
“I’ve the utmost respect for Aidan O’Brien and he wouldn’t be running Saxon Warrior if he didn’t think he could reverse the form. But we are the one guaranteed to stay so we are going there more than hopeful he can’t reverse the form,” Johnston added.
Dee Ex Bee is a general 7-2 second favourite for Saturday’s classic where Saxon Warrior could have substantial Ballydoyle back-up from last week’s Queen’s Vase winner Kew Gardens and Rostropvich who was runner up to Old Persian in the King Edward.
The Hampton Court winner Hunting Horn doesn’t figure among the 14 left in.
O’Brien’s sons, Joseph and Donnacha, are set to team up for the Derby outsider Latrobe while the Gallinule winner Platinum Warrior will represent local trainer Michael Halford.
Ground conditions will be quick for the Derby festival which begins on Friday and watering will continue at the Curragh.