Cape Blanco leads Ballydoyle clean sweep in the Irish Derby

Winner heads for rematch with Workforce at Ascot after extending O'Brien's record in Curragh Classic
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The Independent Online

As we saw at Wimbledon last week, sporting statistics have a certain fascination and at the Curragh yesterday Aidan O'Brien, one of the outstanding trainers of the modern era, added to his already bulging records portfolio. In following in the hoofprints of Dylan Thomas, Soldier Of Fortune, Frozen Fire and Fame And Glory in the Irish Derby, the chestnut colt Cape Blanco gave O'Brien an unprecedented fifth successive success in Ireland's premier Classic. And in leading home Midas Touch and Jan Vermeer, he notched a remarkable third clean sweep in the Group One race for the Ballydoyle team.

O'Brien provided half the field of 10 for his country's most valuable prize, with a purse of a shade over £1m. Such riches in firepower can lead to embarrassment for a stable jockey, but Johnny Murtagh chose the right one. Indeed, after getting up more or less unscathed after a ghastly looking fall in the afternoon's opening race, when his mount Petronius Maximus slipped at full gallop and crashed to the ground, the rider might have decided there and then his luck was in.

And Cape Blanco responded nobly to his judgement and iron man tendencies. Putting an unaccountably bad run in the Prix du Jockey-Club three weeks previously right behind him, the son of Galileo assuaged doubts not only about his talent – which he had overtly demonstrated when trouncing subsequent Epsom Derby winner Workforce at York – but also his stamina.

The Co Tipperary runners dominated yesterday's race; the pacemaker Bright Horizon kept up the true gallop so beloved by O'Brien long enough to tow At First Sight, Midas Touch and Cape Blanco into the straight in that order, with the 3-1 market leader Monterosso tracking the quartet.

Midas Touch, with Colm O'Donoghue in the saddle, went for home early in the straight, with Murtagh starting to wind up the 7-2 second favourite in determined pursuit. And, in going eyeball to eyeball with his rival, a doughty stayer and now St Leger favourite, through the last two furlongs, and then winning that battle by an ultimately cosy half-length, Cape Blanco showed himself a true son of his sire, rather than his "uncle", the sprinter Paris House. And now, an intriguing rematch with Workforce, over yesterday's mile and a half in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next month, beckons.

"The last day in France was the only blip on his card," said O'Brien, "and we just couldn't understand it. Maybe it was the travel; it was his first time away. But something upset him and he wasn't the horse he knew. But he's left that behind today and showed all the courage and class we know he has. And it was always in our mind that if everything did go well today, we'd be looking at the King George."

The bookmakers still prefer Workforce, who since Epsom has been looking the part with Sir Michael Stoute's string on the Newmarket gallops; in a match bet between the pair William Hill have the runaway Derby hero 4-9 and yesterday's winner 13-8.

Cape Blanco was O'Brien's eighth Irish Derby winner in all, the first three being Desert King, Galileo and High Chaparral, and Murtagh's fourth, after Sinndar and Alamshar for John Oxx, and Fame And Glory last year. O'Brien's previous 1-2-3 finishes came courtesy of High Chaparral, Sholokov and Ballingarry in 2002, and Soldier Of Fortune, Alexander Of Hales and Eagle Mountain three years ago. Yesterday, Jan Vermeer came from off the pace to make his challenge, but was never nearer than his length and a half third. Mark Johnson-trained Monterosso, the first of the principals under pressure, finished a one-paced fourth a further length adrift.

Murtagh deflected credit for his victory towards the trainer. "It was a tough choice," he said, "and Aidan suggested Cape Blanco was the one. And the horse travelled very sweetly the whole way and was brave and tenacious over the last quarter of a mile."

Whether or not the 145th running of the Irish Derby was a vintage edition, or just one for the anoraks, remains to be seen. Cape Blanco may go on to prove himself a Dylan Thomas, who subsequently won five top-level contests, including an Arc and a King George, or a Fame And Glory, whose Group One score this year is two from two or merely a Frozen Fire, who won nothing afterwards afterwards. As the axiom beneath the clock on the Curragh grandstand has it: "Time discloses all."

Turf account

Sue Montgomery's nap

Dance East (8.10 Windsor) Ran the subsequent Ribblesdale runner-up to a neck before cruising home in her maiden last month with two subsequent winners behind her.

Next best

Navy List (4.45 Lingfield) Too free over further on his seasonal debut, but the drop back in trip may help him settle and continue his progress of last season.

One to watch

Away from the razzmatazz of Royal Ascot, sprint handicapper Distant Sun (L A Perratt) caught the eye with his third place at Hamilton on Friday.

Where the money's going

Saturday's Golden Jubilee Stakes hero Starspangledbanner is now 3-1 from 7-2 to follow up in next week's July Cup at Newmarket.

Chris Mcgrath's nap

Russian Spirit (2.45 Lingfield)