Cape heads stout Irish defence of Curragh showpiece

The Irish Derby, to be run for the 145th time at the Curragh this afternoon, has taken on a variety of guises over the years: a lap of honour, a decider, a consolation prize. Today, following a recent trend, it is once again the lastnamed and, with the best will in the world, does not seem a renewal of Ireland's premier Classic to quicken the pulse unduly. Except down Co Tipperary way, perhaps. Aidan O'Brien will be going for his eighth victory, and fifth in a row, and even though four of the five Ballydoyle contenders have already failed in their Group One endeavours, that does not necessarily write them off at the highest level.

The previous four Irish Derbys provided instant redemption for Dylan Thomas, third in the original at Epsom, Soldier Of Fortune (fifth), Frozen Fire (11th) and Fame And Glory (second), of whom the first on the list went on to prove himself top-notch and the last is in the process of following suit.

O'Brien sends three on from Epsom: runner-up At First Sight, fourth-placed Jan Vermeer and fifth Midas Touch. But stable jockey Johnny Murtagh has gone for Cape Blanco, a flop in the Prix du Jockey-Club after trouncing the Derby hero Workforce at York.

The Irish defend their most valuable prize – today's purse is £1.25 million – stoutly; the last winner from these shores was the Godolphin filly Balanchine 16 years ago. Sheikh Mohammed's hopes this time lie chiefly with the Mark Johnston-trained Monterosso, who was added to the field late after leaving At First Sight in his wake at Royal Ascot.

Yesterday at the Curragh honours went to the five-year-old mare Chinese White, who notched her first Group One success, in the Pretty Polly Stakes, on her final appearance. The Dermot Weld-trained grey, who determinedly saw off the four-year-old Flying Cloud, is in foal to Cape Cross and will in future concentrate on motherhood. Akdarena, a close third, proved the best of the Classic generation, but the Oaks third, Remember When, the 7-4 favourite from Ballydoyle, was never better than her fourth-place finish.

The most valuable race in Britain yesterday, the £175,000 Northumberland Plate, went comfortably to the 14-1 shot Overturn, trained by Donald McCain and better-known as a high-class hurdler, after an inspired ride by Eddie Ahern. Before a furlong of the two miles had been covered, Ahern had tracked smoothly to the inside rail and, exploiting his mount's proven stamina, made every yard of the running thereafter to see off Drunken Sailor (16-1), Desert Sea (14-1) and Stanstill (14-1), with the 3-1 favourite Deauville Flyer only fifth.

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