Third in last year’s Irish Derby, French Claim made an impressive return to action when landing the Navan Racecourse Race at the Meath venue.
Sent off at 4-9 (in the absence of Okita Soushi), Billy Lee’s mount tracked front-running Oriental Eagle until taking over a half-mile from home and, with his rivals toiling early in the straight, he galloped on resolutely to beat Taipan by seven and a half lengths.
French Claim was a first runner of the season for trainer Paddy Twomey, who enjoyed a 30% strike-rate with his runners in 2022.
He said: “Last year was great, but this is a new year and a new start.”
He added: “He’s a smart horse and staying isn’t a problem. He travelled well and got a nice lead, which helped Billy. He has form in that ground. It was good race to start him off — the track, trip, and ground were right.
“The end of last season was a bit of a mess for him — I rushed things a bit. Hopefully, he’ll make up for it. He’s best fresh and, although he was third in the Irish Derby, he still hasn’t won a stakes race yet. He’ll come back here for the Vintage Crop (April 22) and we’ll make a plan after that.”
Early-season maidens in Navan are always fascinating. And both the mile and 10-furlong events yesterday went to Ballydoyle, at the expense of Dermot Weld-trained rivals.
Once-raced Australia colt Gooloogong (Ryan Moore) made most of the running to take the mile-and-a-quarter maiden, beating Nation’s Call by two and a quarter lengths, the pair finishing 14 lengths clear of the rest.
“He learned from his run in Dundalk, progressed nicely, and has come on a lot,” said Aidan O’Brien’s representative Chris Armstrong. “Ryan spoke favourably about him. He’s a typical Australia, with a lovely attitude. I’d say he’ll fit into one of the Derby trials now.”
A number of big reputations were carried into the concluding mile maiden. And, in a three-way battle, Ballydoyle second string Drumroll, a debutant full-brother to Saxon Warrior, prevailed under Seamus Heffernan, beating Weld’s Time Tells All, a half-brother to Homeless Songs, by a half-length with the Johnny Murtagh-trained Save Your Love a similar distance away in third.
Armstrong said: “There wasn’t much between the two horses. Seamus said the winner was very green early, that the penny dropped gradually and he was doing his best work towards the end. He’s a colt with a lovely pedigree and we’ll see how he progresses. He could go for a conditions race or step into a trial.”
Mick Mulvany and Gary Carroll completed a double with favourites Seeingisbelieving and Duke Of Leggagh, both making a quick reappearance after weekend runs and resultant hikes in the ratings.
Narrowly beaten by Queens Pardon at the Curragh on Saturday and raised 4lb for future handicaps, Seeingisbelieving (9-2) took the five-furlong 47-65 handicap, prompting his trainer to comment: “He had a few little problems last year and I think we have them solved. He’s back on song and handles that ground.”
Runner-up to Ballydoyle colt Paddington at Naas on Sunday and up a whopping 12lb for future handicaps, Duke Of Leggagh showed a good attitude to see off Tea Olive by seven lengths in the Bective Restaurant 3-Y-0 Handicap.
“I had to run him,” admitted Mulvany. “He’s a lovely horse in the making. He’s tough and loves that ground. He’s growing and progressing all the time and he’ll make a lovely juvenile hurdler later in the year. I’m not sure where he’ll go next — we’ll wait and see what the handicapper thinks.”
Colin Keane brought Noel Meade’s Black Hawk Eagle (9-2) from well off the pace to take the Enjoy Hospitality At Navan Racecourse Handicap, beating Kalmira and Al Peder.
“He’s a huge big horse, but was disappointing last year — he fell apart,” said Meade. “He’s only filling into his frame. He stays, likes soft ground, and will probably mix it, hurdles and Flat.