Montjeu won the Irish Derby at the Curragh in the form of a rather smart creature indeed and the fact that Oath, the victor in the Epsom equivalent, was absent seemed to be a considerable blessing. This was a serious performance. It is to be hoped that Oath, who was withdrawn in midweek following a lacklustre gallop, did not watch this intimidating display.
If Britain cannot beat Montjeu this season, they can take credit in his make-up. The Sadler's Wells colt is the property of Michael Tabor, the bookmaker turned owning celebrity, and trained by John Hammond, who was born in England and brought up here and in Ireland, before he realised France was both the land of horse opportunity and where the best suppers were produced. While Montjeu may now be considered the best fruit from the crop of Chantilly and considerably beyond we can, at least, take credit for his purchase and upbringing.
"It's a big, big thrill to win here," Hammond said. "The horse was in great shape and Cash [Asmussen] gave him a lovely ride. He is a very good horse. My gut feeling would be that he will have a break and then go for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The horse really behaved like a pro and I'm very proud of that. He is a very good horse, he has got a great engine and I was very pleased with how relaxed he was."
The Irish Derby had formerly been the showdown to establish the best Classic colt in Europe. No more. By the time the 134th running arrived yesterday one great yardstick had, once again, been removed, though the Epsom form remained in the shape of Daliapour and Beat All.
As both had done the distance before they were ridden close to the pace. Montjeu, as is Asmussen's wont, was taken to the rear of the traffic jam. Urban Ocean led early on with Asmussen, and Montjeu nowhere to be seen. It was the way Cash likes to ride his races. The man from South Dakota can no longer bully, cajole or lift a horse, but one decisive quality remains. Cash may be waning but at least his nerve has not vanished. Like Lester Piggott, in his admittedly later twilight, the American has the icy skills to steer a good horse.
There the comparison ends because Cash grew an enormous smile on his face just after the winning post. He had cleverly threaded his mount through the detritus of tiring rivals. Cash, who won this race 12 months ago on Dream Well, is going grey and Ireland has contributed. He endured some bad times in the land when contracted jockey at the sleepy end of Vincent O'Brien's Ballydoyle years. So he rather enjoyed this vindication.
"I guess it was wise to ride him to quicken because he can really quicken," the jockey said. "The one concern John Hammond and I had is that he is a home-raised horse who has never been through any sales. How would he travel? How would he handle it? He handled it like a gentleman. When I rolled besides Frankie [Dettori, who rode fifth-placed Mutafaweq] he said "oh no". My heart grew another size then and it was already pretty big. I had five kilos in hand."
Another French-based jockey, Gerald Mosse, on Daliapour, once again had to retrieve a bouquet from the air as the runner-up, as he has been in the Derby. "The horse couldn't have run a better race. He gave the winner a fight and he has improved from Epsom," Luca Cumani, the trainer, said. "I hope he carries on improving and I think we are going to go for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next."
Daliapour was a length and three-quarters behind Oath at Epsom but yesterday the margin was five lengths. No professor is therefore needed to establish which is Europe's pre-eminent colt. Montjeu is named after a chateau in Burgundy. His reputation will now take some storming.
4.00: (1m 4f 3yo colts & fillies Irish Derby)
1. MONTJEU C Asmussen 13-8 fav
2. Daliapour G Mosse 4-1
3. Tchaikovsky M J Kinane 16-1
Also ran: 4-1 Beat All (4th), 9-2 Mutafaweq (5th), 20-1 Genghis Khan (9th), 22-1 Port Bayou (8th), 25-1 Urban Ocean (6th), 66-1 Mudaa-Eb (7th), 100-1 Festival Hall (last).
10 ran. 5, 51/2, 11/2, 31/2, 11. (J Hammond, France). Tote: pounds 2.60; pounds 1.40, pounds 1.90, pounds 2.50. Reverse forecast: pounds 4.70. CSF: pounds 7.11. Trio: pounds 40.60. Trifecta: pounds 122.20.
n Frankie Dettori was suspended for 12 days (7-11 July) by the Curragh stewards for improper riding and using an improper back protector.