Racing: Boscobel to tough it again at the Curragh

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The Independent Online

The Irish Derby that will be run at the Curragh on Sunday is the 142nd edition, but really only the 46th that will count in the greater scheme of the sport. For much of its history the premier Classic in the land synonymous with high-class thoroughbreds was regarded as not so much second fiddle as third triangle to the original at Epsom. Then, in 1962, came the sponsorship breakthrough that put not only the race, but ultimately Ireland itself, on the international racing map.

The late Joe McGrath, owner, breeder and Turf legislator and the man behind the globally respected Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes charity, hit on the notion of transferring the fundraising operation from its traditional generator, the English Derby, to the Curragh race, and taking a cut towards its prize-money. Once the logistics involved in the revamp and upgrade were dealt with (things like grazing rights on the racetrack, voluntarily surrendered by the likes of the Aga Khan and Paddy Prendergast, and the erection of six miles of fencing, which had to be sanctioned in Dáil Éireann) the venture proved an outstanding success.

That first Irish Sweeps Derby, won by Tambourine for France after a nose-to-nose battle with locally trained Arctic Storm, was the greatest sports extravaganza ever to take place in Ireland and the richest race ever run in Europe. The previous year the Irish Derby winner had earned £7,921; Tambourine took home £50,027, which dwarfed Larkspur's £34,786 prize on the Surrey Downs.

The Epsom race still remains the standard-setter, but the rise of the Irish Derby as a genuine rival in terms of purse and prestige, has made it put its house in order.

This year, though, is the third in succession that the Derby winner has declined the opportunity to test his mettle against his contemporaries. Authorized takes the same step back to 10 furlongs (seemingly a must-have on the Group One CV of the modern potential stallion) in the Eclipse Stakes as Motivator (unsuccessfully) two years ago. Sir Percy, last year, was ruled out of summer competition by injury.

The Irish Derby offers several opportunities. The absence of Authorized means no lap of honour or rematch, and without him and the French Derby winner, Lawman, this is no decider. But although this year's manifestation - a consolation prize - may be the least attractive in PR terms, it is not necessarily so in terms of the winner's quality.

Eagle Mountain, five lengths adrift at Epsom, will start favourite to become the 12th Derby runner-up to gain compensation in Ireland, after Zionist (1925), Dastur (1932), Turkhan (1940), Panaslipper (1955), Ballymoss (1957), Fidalgo (1959), Meadow Court (1965), Ribocco (1967), El Gran Senor (1984). Law Society (1985) and St Jovite (1992).

But since the last-named turned the tables on Dr Devious, nine Derby seconds have failed to do better in Ireland. Three occupied the same place: King's Theatre, who found Balanchine too good; City Honours, who could not cope with Dream Well; and Daliapour, who was humbled by Montjeu. But Golan slumped to third, Dushyantor and Rule Of Law and, last year, Dragon Dancer, to fourth, and Silver Patriarch, The Great Gatsby and Walk In The Park were out of the frame.

Eagle Mountain has another statistic to deal with. As the perceived No 1 hope from Ballydoyle he will be charged with trying to complete an unprecedented Irish Derby hat-trick for Kieren Fallon, successful last year on Dylan Thomas and in 2005 on Hurricane Run.

At today's penultimate declaration stage, the Rock Of Gibraltar colt is likely to be joined in the field at the Curragh, where the ground is good to yielding, by stablemates Soldier Of Fortune, fifth in the Derby, and the Gallinule Stakes first and second Alexander Of Hales and Spanish Harlem.

It is only 11 years since O'Brien saddled his first Derby runners, His Excellence, who came in third to Zagreb at 50-1, and another outsider, Rainbow Blues. The Ballydoyle maestro won it the following season with Desert King, and has since added three more, with Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002, leading home Sholokhov and Ballingarry for a clean sweep) and Dylan Thomas.

The last winner to travel from Britain was the Godolphin filly Balanchine in 1994. On Sunday there are likely to be just two: Mark Johnston-trained Boscobel, due to be supplemented today at a cost of €150,000 (£105,000), and Authorized's stablemate at Peter Chapple-Hyam's yard Striving Storm.

Boscobel won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot only on Friday, but has emerged in good fettle from his length defeat of Lucarno (who was three lengths behind Eagle Mountain when fourth in the Derby). "He was full of himself out on the moor this morning," said Johnston's wife, Deirdre, yesterday, "and he'll love the ground. He's tough; he's our wee terrier."

Striving Storm, runner-up in the Sandown Classic Trial, missed Royal Ascot after a setback but worked well in Newmarket on Sunday. The French challenge is likely to be led by Listed winner Royal And Regal, from André Fabre's yard, and Alain de Royer-Dupré's Shamdinan, a staying-on third in the French Derby.

* Ron Hodges has won his appeal to the Horseracing Regulatory Authority over the running of Chemise at Bath. The Somerton trainer has had his £3,000 fine quashed and the 40-day suspension on the horse lifted.

* Yesterday's card at Chepstow and today's meetings at Beverley and Newton Abbot have been abandoned due to waterlogging.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Blessed Place (Newbury 9.10)

NB: Charmatic (Newbury 6.30)

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