Pre-race expectation that team Ballydoyle might dominate the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes proved off the mark when Moonlight Magic, carrying the colours of Godolphin, gave trainer Jim Bolger a fourth victory in the race, and jockey Kevin Manning his second.
Saafarr set off in front with Beacon Rock in close pursuit, and the eventual winner happy to sit a few lengths further off the pace, in third.
The race began in earnest before the field turned in but the front two didn’t fold in the manner which may have been expected.
Rather, Moonlight Magic had to be hard ridden to hit the front a furlong out, and the patiently ridden runners struggled to summon the speed to launch a meaningful challenge.
Bouncing back after a disappointing return, Moonlight Magic stayed on well and was well on top at the line, winning by a length and a quarter from Shogun, with Idaho half a length away.
Perhaps indicative of a gallop that wasn’t end-to-end, Beacon Rock was beaten less than two lengths, and long-time leader Saafarr just three parts of a length further back.
Asked about a possible tilt at the Epsom Derby with the winner, Bolger gave favourable comparison with a former stable star: “I have to discuss it with the mentors, and arrive at a decision, but I would love to go.
"I haven’t taken very many – I’m a very young trainer – but he’s certainly as good today as St Jovite was when he won the Derrinstown.
“He didn’t manage to win at Epsom (runner-up to Dr Devious), but put it right afterwards in the Irish Derby … and I think he went back and won the King George, if memory serves,” the Coolcullen trainer added, in his own inimitable way.
“He’s a very versatile horse, he could operate from a mile to a mile and a half, and is a very classic horse - the dam is a half-sister to Galileo and Sea The Stars. I’ll respect the opposition, but I won’t fear them … as usual.”
Moonlight Magic has been cut to 16-1 for the Epsom Derby, for which Midterm is 3-1 favourite.
The day provided a welcome return to top form for the Bolger stable, as Steip Amach (14-1) earned a long overdue return to winning ways when digging in deep to fend off a strong challenge from Cougar Mountain in the Group 3 Amethyst Stakes.
“I’m very happy with that,” said Bolger. “We might be a bit more careful with her now she has won a Group 3.
“She ran well in the Matron Stakes last year and has improved this year, so that might be the race for her this season. She might take in a trip to the July Course (Newmarket, Falmouth Stakes) in the meantime.”
The undercard was dominated by two young trainers going places: Michael O’Callaghan and Joseph O’Brien.
Kerry native O’Callaghan saddled Now Or Never in the Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial, and the well-backed favourite posted a tremendously authoritative performance.
Sent to challenge on the turn, by Kieren Fallon, she quickly went clear, and won, heavily eased down, by a length and three quarters from Radiantly.
“I was a bit taken aback by that,” admitted O’Callaghan. “I thought she should go and win, but the manner in which Kieren eased her down going to the line was great.
“The step up to a mile and the better ground has seen more improvement in her. She has got pigeon-holed a bit as a filly who wanted cut in the ground, but it’s proper good ground out there and we’ve seen her at her best.
“She got the mile well today and we’ll take our chance at the Curragh now (1000 Guineas).”
Joseph O’Brien today begins his training course which, in three weeks’ time, will result in the young maestro becoming a fully-fledged trainer. In Lundy, winner of yesterday’s opener, he has another fine prospect for what could be a remarkable rookie season.
Second behind Caravaggio on debut, the Fastnet Rock colt showed the benefit of experience when popping out of stalls, settling just behind the lead, and then proving far too good for rivals for whom there was plenty of pre-race positivity.
“He has always shown plenty at home, and has plenty of pace,” said O’Brien. “He won nicely, and there was plenty of word for many of the runners, so it mightn’t have been too bad a maiden.
“He could go to Royal Ascot, but we’ll probably get another run into him between now and then. He could go for the Marble Hill, or there’s a six-furlong listed race at Naas.”
Of his impending course, he added: “I start tomorrow, and it’s three days for three weeks so I imagine I’ll have the licence in a few weeks.”
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