He describes himself as “hanging in there”, but as a keen golfer, who also enjoys fishing and shooting game, the soon-to-be 87-year-old Kevin Prendergast is doing a little more than that. Indeed, just six days before his birthday, Prendergast will make his way the two miles or thereabouts from his Friarstown base to the Curragh Racecourse, with a very live chance of winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby for the first time.
His legendary father, Paddy ‘Darkie’ Prendergast, is on the roll of honour four times, famously training Meadow Court to triumph for Hollywood star Bing Crosby in 1965. Crosby broke into song in the parade ring, regaling the throngs with When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Prendergast himself has trained the victors of nine classics in Ireland and England, but never managed to take the honours in the Irish Derby.
“Probably the best horse I ran was Ragapan, but he had plenty of problems,” said Prendergast at a press event to promote Saturday’s feature race in the three-day Dubai Duty Free Irish Festival.
“He was second (in 1973) and probably was a bit unlucky. Weaver’s Hall won it. He skipped clear at the top of the hill and got about 15 lengths on them and [Ragapan] got to within a length at the finish and I think that was probably the best chance I had up to this of winning on Irish Derby.”
It would not be his way to be overtly bullish, but the confidence in Madhmoon is obvious. A somewhat unlucky runner-up in the Epsom Derby, having stumbled on the turn for home, the strapping colt showed courage to go with his speed to see off a raft of challengers, before finally giving way to Anthony Van Dyck in the shadow of the post.
[Madhmoon] just stumbled and it put him out of his momentum, and he just grabbed the bridle sooner than I wanted, but unfortunately he got there probably a shade too soon, but maybe he wouldn’t have run any better if he had been hung onto for longer. Who knows?
“He’s a good horse, he’s got a good chance. He’s got a battalion to beat, but hopefully he will act as well as he did at Epsom and we might get a result. He’s in great form. I’m not going to say he’s better than he was at Epsom, but he should run a good race.
“He couldn’t be better and he’s running against the same horses as he ran against at Epsom. If he has a bit of luck on his side, he could get the nod.”
Prendergast took the defeat well, but it is clear there is a sense of what might have been about Epsom. With the Curragh’s renowned orientation, there are unlikely to be any excuses on Saturday evening.
“The Curragh is a very fair track. Every horse seems to have a chance. Epsom, you can be very unlucky. It’s very undulating, turning, twisting, up hill and down dale.
"If you were building the best track in the world, you’d hardly go to Epsom to do it, but that’s the way it is. Apparently, the best horses run at Epsom. If you can handle Epsom, you can handle most places.
“Hopefully, he can arrive late on the scene and get to the winning post [in front]. Aidan [O’Brien] has five or six and they’ll probably dictate the pace, and we’ll go along, as dutiful people do!” Prendergast added, to loud laughter. “Whatever way it’s run won’t affect our horse. If they go steady, it will suit him, if they go fast it will suit him.”