Talks will bid to make Irish Derby ‘great race’

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh expects to meet with his counterparts from England and France to discuss the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the end of July.

Brian Kavanagh

The race at the Curragh on Saturday was rendered relatively uncompetitive in the absence of Kingston Hill, with Aidan O’Brien’s Australia cruising to victory unchallenged as the 1-8 favourite from just four rivals, including two from his own yard.

Epsom runner-up Kingston Hill was a late withdrawal due to fast ground, and there have been similar defections in recent years from big names such as New Approach and Sea The Stars.

One key factor appears to be the lack of French challengers since the distance of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) was changed to a mile and a quarter 10 years ago.

It was often the case that the Curragh staged a Derby decider between the winners from Epsom and Chantilly.

“The reduction in distance of the French Derby is just one of a number of factors,” said Kavanagh.

“The Irish Derby has been unlucky in recent years that the likes of Sea The Stars, New Approach and now Kingston Hill were all late absentees, although that being said the lack of French Derby winners is an issue.

“Racegoers at the Curragh on Saturday saw a great horse, but we want them to see a great race.

“It’s been 10 years now since the French Derby changed in distance, but in recent years the King George has also had a lack of three-year-old contenders. I think the Irish Derby suffers because there are so many alternatives for the three-year-olds at this time.

“Sea The Stars ran in the Eclipse, it looks like Kingston Hill is going for the Grand Prix de Paris.

“In the past the Irish Derby was always the title decider, but that is not the case anymore and it’s worth looking at.

“Not all in France are happy with the change in distance, I’ve spoke to owner/breeders myself about it and they felt it should have stayed at 12 furlongs because the ground at Longchamp can get very fast in July for the Grand Prix.

“Everything needs looking at.

“I’ve been racecourse manager at the Curragh and the ground never gets really fast there, it’s like a Links golf course, it’s spongy grass, I just think there are too many alternative options.

“So while the crowd saw a great horse in Australia, it wasn’t a great race and we need to get the opposition to turn up, it’s not Aidan O’Brien’s fault.

“We need to look back at them all and see what can be done because there’s a knock-on effect on the King George.

“I’ll be meeting with my European counterparts at the end of July and that would seem a good time to discuss it.”

O’Brien himself felt this year’s renewal was up to scratch.

“If there was 30 horses behind him, the pace would have been the same so there was no difference – it was a proper-run race,” he said.

“The quality of the race was a lot higher than anybody thinks.”

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