Australia’s brilliance can’t disguise the fact that the Irish Derby is in decline

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh on Saturday could hardly have got off to a worse start.

Australia’s brilliance can’t disguise the fact that the Irish Derby is in decline

Roger Varian, after walking the track with his jockey, Andrea Atzeni, finally arrived at a decision that his Kingston Hill would miss the race.

Varian had warned all week that if the word firm appeared in the going description that his Epsom Derby runner-up would swerve the engagement.

The Curragh had no appreciable rain and the surface was always destined to be on the fast side.

Varian was never going to see the Derby, he left the Curragh in the morning to fly to France for his sister’s wedding.

Kingston Hill was then taken out an hour before the first race, with Varian hit with a fine of €12,500. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Aidan O’Brien’s Geoffrey Chaucer was later declared a non-runner, reportedly coughing.

Things could only get better and they did, but hardly dramatically. Australia, going off at odds of 1-8, enjoyed a leisurely stroll in the evening sun to add to his Epsom gains.

As a spectacle, and a betting medium, this was a Derby was that was essentially a non-event.

It would be ridiculous, obviously, to attempt to take anything away from Australia, he could only deal with what was put in front of him.

And he did it with a style and swagger that was deeply impressive, as he continued to justify so much of the hype that has been launched in his direction.

His two stable companions, Kingfisher and Orchestra, set what Aidan O’Brien described as “a good even gallop.”

Joseph O’Brien allowed the pair to hold a healthy advantage early in the straight and, just for a stride or two, you wondered if he had given them too much rope.

But Australia, basically doing half speed, reduced the deficit in effortless fashion and then cruised ahead inside the furlong pole to win in a canter. He probably would have done more on the Ballydoyle gallops!

It was wonderful to see a potentially great horse strutting his stuff, but the race as a contest left so much to be desired.

John Magnier noticed that too. “Now that the French Derby has literally been done away with, it has taken from this race”, he said.

The French, of course, have reduced their Chantilly showpiece from a mile and a half to a mile to a mile, two and a half furlongs. They haven’t quite done away with it, but we knew what he meant.

Continuing, Magnier said: “They (French Derby winner) would come here, it is a pity the French Derby isn’t run over a mile and a half.

“We are so lucky to have him (Australia), days don’t get much better than this. Joseph (O’Brien) sitting there, it was like watching Lester, like the old days.”

The son of Gaileo has now won both his races over 12 furlongs and it would be no surprise should he never tackle that distance again.

The Arc would be a fitting end to his three-year-old career, but Aidan quickly pointed out that Australia would not want soft ground, more than a possibility in Paris.

No, there is little doubt that the horse’s future lies over shorter distances. “He will have no problem going back to a mile or a mile and a quarter”, said Aidan.

“You saw what he did in the 2000 Guineas (Newmarket), Joseph is adamant he would have loved if the field had stayed together that day.

“This horse has a great mind, he is so relaxed. No matter what you ask him to do at home, he has the same relaxed nature, all he wants to do is eat and sleep.

“I would love to go back to a mile and a quarter now. I would love to run in the Champion Stakes (Leopardstown), or the Juddmonte (York), all those kind of races are open to him.

“From an early age, he was very special. He has a lot of speed and class and it is unusual that he gets a mile and a half.

“He has a lot of natural pace and an incredible temperament. It was lovely today to get real proper flat ground. He will probably have a little break now.”

Commented Joseph: “I’d love to ride him over a mile and a quarter on fast ground, I think that would really be his thing.

“He has got such a massive engine and is so relaxed, he’s just a good one. Everything went to plan and he would have done more in a good piece of work.”

For Aidan it was a quite extraordinary 11th success in Ireland’s premier classic and the fifth occasion has saddled the first three home. Joseph was riding his second Irish Derby winner, to go with Camelot two years ago.

Sadly this was classic that will not linger for very long in the memory. It was further evidence that the Irish Derby, a race with a rich history, is in decline.

When Camelot won, he was a 1-5 shot and beat four moderate rivals in what was a dreadful heat. Saturday’s, in front of almost 24,000 spectators, was no better.

We learned nothing knew about Australia and will only find out his true worth when he runs in a real race and takes on the older horses.

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