By Tommy Lyons at The Curragh
After another successful Royal Ascot, jockey Frankie Dettori took time off this week to enjoy the sunshine in Sardinia with his family, but it will be back to business this weekend as the big-race jockey is to be tasked with helping Knight To Behold bounce back from his Epsom disappointment when he contests the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby this Saturday at The Curragh.
Speaking at yesterday morning’s Derby launch at headquarters, the colt’s trainer, Harry Dunlop, said he was pleased with the horse’s well-being, and confident his charge can leave that form behind.
“Things at Epsom didn’t really go his way, but he is in very good form and we are much looking forward to Saturday,” said Dunlop, whose father, John, won the race twice, with Shirley Heights in 1978, and with brilliant filly Salsabil in 1990.
“Richard Kingscote got off him last time and said that Epsom didn’t really suit. I feel that a mile and a half at The Curragh, a galloping track, will be much more his scene.
The Lingfield Derby Trial winner tends to race keenly, but Dunlop is hoping Dettori can curb his enthusiasm with a change of tactics but is under no illusion regarding scale of the task facing his runner.
“We might just ride him a little bit differently than last time and you just have to be aware of what goes on,” added Dunlop. “We have to take on the maestro (Aidan O’Brien) and wherever you go he’ll be there.
“We feel on the back of our horse’s win at Lingfield he deserves to be there, obviously he does have to improve, but with the amount of prizemoney on offer it is a race we ought to be targeting and the plan is that Frankie Dettori will ride him.”
Dettori’s only previous success in the race was also aboard a filly, Balanchine, in 1994. Her owners, Godolphin, will not be represented by Epsom hero Masar, but Royal Ascot winner Old Persian is an intended runner.
Michael Halford also has a long history with the race, having had his first runner in the feature in 1986, and the local trainer is hoping Platinum Warrior can serve him well on Saturday.
“I’ve been training since I was 21 and I’m 56 now, so it’s been a long apprenticeship,” said Halford. “My first runner in the race was Fighting Hard, 32 years ago, so it’s the distant past. “It wasn’t necessarily a plan, but it was a horse I had belonging to Seamus Purcell, who owned Buck House. He won his maiden first time out for us in Roscommon. I wasn’t aware he was in the Derby, but he was entered as a yearling – Mouse Morris had him at that stage. But we figured out he was in the Derby and Seamus rang me and said: ‘why not have a day out?’
Platinum Warrior, runaway winner of a Dundalk maiden, fourth in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and winner of a Group 3, has the profile of a rapid improver and if the step up to a mile and a half brings out a little more he could be pushing to get into the frame, at least. “He’s been really well, and we’re delighted with him (since his win in the Gallinule),” added Halford. “He’s a Galileo colt, is improving with racing, getting stronger and tougher with each run. He’s on an upward curve and hopefully he’ll keep going.”
Thus far, it has been a season to remember for Classic maidens and Halford is bidding to emulate Ken Condon and Jessica Harrington, who both claimed a first success at the level when winning the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas respectively.
“There are lots and lots of very capable trainers in Ireland and it’s not about having the ability to train these horses, it’s getting them,” insisted Halford. “As Jessie and Ken showed this year, there are lots of trainers capable of training good horses if they get those good horses.
“It’s always been an ambition to have a decent runner in the race, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Everybody knows by the numbers that turn up every year, and they’re trained by so few people and owned by such a small, elite bunch of people, it’s a very difficult thing to do. “You could turn up and make up the numbers if you wished to, but that’s not what it’s about. We want to be competitive and having owners like Mr Zhang and getting support from these people is what it’s all about for the like of myself.
“It’s a big achievement for the whole team to have a horse good enough to run in the Irish Derby and we certainly wouldn’t take it for granted.”
Along with Platinum Warrior and Old Persian, Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee was also supplemented for Saturday’s €1.5m race, which has attracted a total of 14 entries.
His trainer, Mark Johnston, issued an upbeat bulletin about his charge: “He’s absolutely fine, no issues at all and we are looking forward to running at the Curragh on Saturday. Epsom certainly wasn’t a surprise but I think realistically before the race if somebody had said to me we would finish in the first three I’d have probably settled for that.
“We are all hopeful the Curragh will suit him better than Epsom and we will see the best of him on Saturday. He is a horse that has won at Epsom but physically he is a big horse and I’m sure he will enjoy the Curragh a lot more.
“I’ve got the utmost respect, as everybody has, for Aidan O’Brien and his team and he wouldn’t be running Saxon Warrior if he didn’t think he could reverse the form. But, we are the one that is guaranteed to stay so we are going there more than hopeful that he (Saxon Warrior) can’t reverse the form.”
O’Brien is responsible for six of the 14 entries, headed by odds-on favourite Saxon Warrior. The Pentagon looks sure to join him in the line-up, while Delano Roosevelt, Royal Ascot winner Kew Gardens, Nelson and Rostropovich are all possible contenders.
Aidan’s sons, Joseph and Donnacha, will be bidding to thwart their father’s bid for a remarkable 13th victory in the race by claiming their first with recent maiden winner Latrobe. Dermot Weld’s unbeaten Bandua, Fozzy Stack’s Carla Biraghi and Jim Bolger’s Theobald complete the entries.
Odds: 4-7 Saxon Warrior, 4 Dee Ex Bee, 12 Kew Gardens, Old Persian, 20 Knight To Behold, Platinum Warrior, Delano Roosevelt, 28 bar.