Racing: O'Brien king of the Classics

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The Independent Online
Silver Patriarch finished a well-beaten fifth in the 132nd Irish Derby here yesterday as Desert King gave Aidan O'Brien a clean sweep of his country's Classics so far this season. The hot favourite's trainer, John Dunlop, admitted after the race that the riding tactics employed were a disaster, and it later emerged that the colt finished not only lame but also with an incipient head cold.

As the stalls opened, it was somewhat surprising to see The Fly, the other British raider, buzz straight into the lead, but even more so to watch Pat Eddery drive Silver Patriarch vigorously up alongside, in stark contrast to his last-to-almost-first progress at Epsom. The two greys matched strides as they towed their eight rivals towards the straight; The Fly was the first to concede, but Silver Patriarch, changing his legs as he began to labour, was not long in following him as Dr Johnson, with Desert King poised in his wake, swept past.

Dunlop, as disappointed for owner-breeder Peter Winfield as for himself, held his hands up: "We did the wrong thing. We were frightened that we would be vulnerable to a horse with speed in the finish. It was a bad race to experiment in, but we had to try to make it a test of stamina."

A post-race veterinary examination showed Silver Patriarch to be slightly lame on his off-foreleg but, in Dunlop's opinion, the presence of mucus in his upper respiratory tract was probably more significant in explaining a below-par run. The colt will now have a rest before a build-up to the St Leger.

His flop, however, should not detract from the top-class performance from both Desert King and his trainer. O'Brien's mild-mannered self-effacement may make Clark Kent look like Chris Evans, but behind his wire-rimmed specs there clearly lies a talent worthy of a red cape and underpants over trousers. The previous man to achieve his three-in-a-row feat was Paddy Prendergast 34 years ago.

Desert King, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, could finish only fourth over a mile at Royal Ascot between his two Classic triumphs, a reverse which O'Brien considered his fault. "We let him get a little sloppy," he said, "and he's a horse who needs to be sharp." As a son of the sprinter Danehill the colt's stamina had been suspect, but the step up to 12 furlongs proved no problem as he took over from Dr Johnson approaching the final furlong and held on well by a length, with the French challenger Loup Sauvage a short-head third. It was seven lengths back to Johan Cruyff and another five to Silver Patriarch.

The winning rider, 47-year-old Christy Roche, had had the option of partnering the progressive Dr Johnson but, on a day of admissions of fallibility, said: "I wasn't brave enough to get off the horse who won me a Guineas. I won the Irish Derby because I'm a coward."

A decision as to whether Desert King will take on the middle-distance cracks (including Helissio, who had an exercise canter to win yesterday's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud by five lengths) in the King George at Ascot next month has yet to be made.

Yesterday's triumph provided Desert King's owner, Michael Tabor, and his partners with some compensation for another Derby hotshot, Entrepreneur at Epsom. And part of the team's youth squad, King Of Kings, duly took another step up the ladder in the Railway Stakes, although anyone expecting fireworks from the two-year-old must have been disappointed with his winning distance of only a length. But for the youngster's connections everything went entirely to plan.

King Of Kings may have looked a man among boys yesterday but he is still very much a baby and, judging by his pre-race demeanour -there was much tail-swishing, back-humping and stamping - all the talent undoubtedly contained in his enormous frame could so easily be squandered if his mental blue touch paper was lit prematurely.

Roche settled the son of Sadler's Wells in third as his stablemate Danyross disputed the lead with Dixie Dynamo, and although Roche had to ask for a definite effort a furlong out, with Seamus Heffernan's head seemingly on a swivel on Danyross, the big bay did find an answer and was back on the bridle at the line. King Of Kings, already installed favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas, will return to the Curragh in 13 days time for the Anglesey Stakes.

There was some compensation for Dunlop and Eddery when Orchestra Stall took the closing Curragh Cup. Earlier, Alhaarth paid a compliment to his Ascot conqueror, Bosra Sham, with a battling beating of Gothenberg in the International Stakes.

IRISH DERBY

4.00: 1. DESERT KING (C Roche) 11-2; 2. Dr Johnson 12-1; 3. Loup Sauvage 8-1. 10 ran. 5-4 fav Silver Patriarch (5th). 1, sht-hd. (A P O'Brien). Tote: pounds 7.00; pounds 3.00, pounds 2.20, pounds 2.20. RF: pounds 35.90. CSF: pounds 66.88. British Tote: pounds 9.30; pounds 3.10, pounds 2.90, pounds 3.00. DF: pounds 52.40. Trio: pounds 243.10.

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