Racing: The Silver lining

Sue Montgomery says today's Irish Derby can make up for Epsom let-down

A long-standing love affair will take the owner Catherine Corbett to The Curragh today in search of her second Irish Classic. Grey horses are her particular delight, and this afternoon her smoky-jacketed The Fly will line up with nine others for the 132nd Irish Derby.

"It goes back a long way," she said, "to a time when I backed a point- to-pointer called Gipsy Grey at 33-1, and everyone laughed. They stopped, however, when he won." Coming into ownership in 1982, she asked Barry Hills to find her a cheap grey filly. He obliged with the 10,000 guineas purchase subsequently known as Desirable, who won the Cheveley Park Stakes, finished third in her 1,000 Guineas, was traded back for a cool million, and later became dam of Hamdan Al Maktoum's 1,000 Guineas heroine Shadayid.

Next in line was Negligent, who cost 38,000 guineas, took the Rockfel Stakes at two and also ran third in a 1,000. She later joined Sheikh Mohammed's broodmare band, for an undisclosed but presumably profitable sum. Then came Nicer, a 27,000 guineas yearling. Her three wins included the 1993 Irish 1,000 Guineas, and she was sold on for 270,000 guineas.

The Fly, a close relative of Hills's beloved veteran Further Flight, was another in the bargain basement at only 11,000 guineas and with Mrs Corbett's luck will probably win doing backflips.

He is certainly entitled to put up a bold show, is likely to progress on his fifth in the Derby, and has sound place claims. But it is, ironically, another of the silver-coated tribe, Silver Patriarch, who is likely to make the winner's circle a grey area for the first time since Nathoo in 1948.

Silver Patriarch went down on the nod to Benny The Dip at Epsom, having had only one behind him at Tattenham Corner. He should find it easier to go with the pace round The Curragh's flatter gradients, will appreciate every yard of the stiff 12 furlongs and should cope with the rain-softened ground.

The Irish have won their premier Classic only six times in the last 20 years and this year Aiden O'Brien, who has already won both his local Guineas, provides the most formidable defence, with Strawberry Roan, Johan Cruyff and Desert King.

The last two fillies to contest the Irish Derby, Balanchine three years ago and Salsabil in 1990, both won. Strawberry Roan, a half-sister to the 1991 winner Generous, has always been highly regarded and ran a fine race in adversity in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, having been bashed in the face with a whip en route to her strongly finishing second. Her two stablemates are decent colts - Desert King won the Irish 2,000 and Johan Cruyff the Gallinule Stakes - but the filly, a daughter of Sadler's Wells, looks potentially the stoutest stayer.

The Irish Derby often provides the showdown between the Epsom and Chantilly winners, but Benny The Dip and Peintre Celebre are engaged elsewhere, and the only one to come on from the Jockey-Club is 11th-placed Casey Tibbs, from last year's winning stable of Dermot Weld. The sole French representative is the Longchamp 2,000 Guineas runner-up Loup Sauvage, a win for whom would surely be the only consolation for Olivier Peslier, who had to abandon his association with the four-year-old star Helissio (favourite for today's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud) to take the ride.

Silver Patriarch can give John Dunlop his third Irish Derby, Pat Eddery his fifth and the owner-breeder Peter Winfield his first Classic of any sort. The Fly, Loup Sauvage and Strawberry Roan can follow him in.

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