Racing: French challengers dominate Irish Derby

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The Independent Online

Ten colts remain in Sunday's 140th Irish Derby after yesterday's penultimate declarations, including the runners-up at both Epsom and Chantilly, the French-trained pair Walk In The Park and Hurricane Run, and the dark horse from Britain, Bahar Shumaal, who was supplemented to the €1.3m (£865,00) contest at a cost of €95,000.

But six days before the identity of the final of the season's Derby winners is revealed, the retirement of one of last year's Classic heroes was announced. North Light, victor at Epsom for Sir Michael Stoute and Ballymacoll Stud and runner-up at the Curragh, has succumbed to a hip injury and a stud career now beckons. Seven French-based horses have taken Ireland's greatest prize; appropriately the latest was 1999 winner Montjeu, sire of the two Gallic raiders who top Sunday's betting lists.

Andre Fabre's charge Hurricane Run, who certainly would have beaten Shamardal in the recently-shortened Prix du Jockey-Club at its proper distance of 12 furlongs, is a best-priced 4-6 shot. Walk In The Park - trained, as was Montjeu, by John Hammond - is 3-1 second choice to become the ninth Derby runner-up to gain consolation in Ireland.

The Epsom form behind Motivator will also be represented by fourth-placed Fracas, from David Wachman's yard, and fifth-placed Gypsy King, who, with Yehudi and Scorpion, is one of three Aiden O'Brien candidates still engaged. The home defence is completed by Helvetio (Dermot Weld) and Shalapour (John Oxx).

Just two entries remain from this side of the Irish Sea. Bahar Shumaal, from Clive Brittain's stable, will be joined by Mark Johnston-trained King Edward VII Stakes second Brahminy Kite.

The last British success in the Irish Derby came in 1994, when the filly Balanchine scored for Godolphin. And although Bahar Shumaal carries the colours of Saeed Manana he represents much the same ownership interests. Manana is one of the Maktoum cousins and the colt is one of the sole crop of Sheikh Mohammed's ill-starred favourite Dubai Millennium.

Bahar Shumaal, whose name translates as north wind, goes to Sunday's fray having raced just twice, firstly when second over a mile at Newbury in May, and then when impressively breaking his maiden over two furlongs further 22 days ago. But his rate of physical and mental improvement since then has been considerable and his work on Newmarket Heath yesterday morning under Sunday's rider Ted Durcan was thoroughly satisfactory.

"It is a real thrill to see a horse come along like this," said Brittain, "and justifies the time we've taken to put him together. After his second run we gave him a racecourse gallop at Newmarket, which worked out very well. And in his spin this morning, for the first time he properly changed gear. The penny has absolutely dropped."

Brittain feels that Bahar Shumaal will be perfectly suited by the step up to a mile and a half. The colt is bred along the same lines as Dubawi, the one son of Dubai Millennium already confirmed as a Group 1 performer but whose stamina deficiencies were exposed by his Derby third place. Both are from the In The Wings family but whereas Dubawi is short-coupled, Bahar Shumaal is a much rangier individual. And he is a half-brother to Amfortas, sent out to win the 12-furlong King Edward VII Stakes by Brittain on only his fourth outing at 66-1. "Knowing the family is a big help in assessing an unexposed horse," added Brittain.

Perhaps it is tactless to mention that, after Ascot, Amfortas finished a jarred-up last of 13 behind Zagreb in the Irish Derby. It is unlikely that Bahar Shumaal would relish over-fast conditions either, but, with a dry week forecast, watering has started in Co Kildare.

It was firm ground that probably did for North Light. After his half-length defeat by Grey Swallow at the Curragh, he ran fifth to Bago in the Arc and then suffered a shock defeat on his seasonal debut at Sandown last month. "He was so brave at Epsom," said Ballymacoll manager Peter Reynolds, "and I feel that possibly that was even then his undoing. He hit fast ground again in the Irish Derby, and in the Arc, and I suppose Sandown was the final straw." The son of Danehill was the first of Stoute's four Derby winners to stay up at four, and his hip-bone stress fracture a sad end to the venture. "He has been a joy to train and we shall long remember his victory at Epsom," added the trainer in tribute.