PAT KEANE: This year’s three-year-old crop is undoubtedly a moderate lot

Cracksman may in time prove to be the best of the classic generation.

Are we right in thinking that this season’s crop of staying three-year-olds are of the rather moderate variety, asks Pat Keane.

The two big tests so far have been the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby and they have raised real question marks as to the quality that was on offer.

They were both great races to watch but, arguably, a long way removed from being great races! Aidan O’Brien’s scattergun approach reaped a rich dividend at Epsom, with his Wings Of Eagles beating stable companion, Cliffs Of Moher.

The over-riding feeling afterwards, however, was it almost certainly would not pay to rely on the bare form of the race and that proved entirely accurate when it came to the Irish Derby at the Curragh last Sunday.

The well-exposed Capri, sixth at Epsom, benefitted from an easier surface to squeeze home ahead of Cracksman, third at Epsom, and Wings Of Eagles, subsequently discovered to have suffered a career-ending injury.

What Epsom and the Curragh told us was that basically there is little or nothing between so many, but these are still relatively young horses and, as the campaign progresses, it is more than possible at least one of them may make giant strides and leave the rest behind.

If you had to make a choice right now then I would go with John Gosden’s Cracksman. He was the most inexperienced horse in the Irish Derby, this was only his fourth run and, you might conclude, was a somewhat unlucky loser.

Aidan O’Brien ran five and they filled the first five places heading to the home turn. But it was what happened next, either by accident or design, that made all of the difference to the outcome of this contest.

On straightening for home, the five fanned across the track and any other horse attempting to mount a challenge had to do so at least six-wide.

It was the French invader, Waldgeist, who tried to motor down the six-wide berth and Cracksman had to actually head seven-wide.

It was soon all too much for Waldgeist, but Cracksman was made of much sterner stuff. He powered home, but was a neck adrift of Capri at the line, the winner having enjoyed a dream run for Seamie Heffernan at all stages.

Only half a length covered the first three, and two lengths the first four, so, until we know better, the suspicion will remain that this was a poor renewal.

And now we move onto the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown this afternoon, the first clash this season of the generations, which promises to give us an even better idea of these three-year-olds.

Epsom Derby form is going to be represented by Cliffs Of Moher (second) and Eminent (fourth) and should be very informative.

Following Epsom this ten-furlongs test was quickly nominated by Aidan O’Brien for Cliffs Of Moher and, perhaps, connections are anticipating the son of Galileo will show a lot of improvement, dropping down in trip.

He will need to mind you, on what has been achieved thus far, against some useful, if not exactly top-class, older horses.

I WOULDN’T be much for making a note of horses trained in England with a view to the future, but was greatly impressed by the Roger Varian-trained Nezwaah in winning last Sunday’s Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh.

Now this was not the hottest Group 1 ever run and because Nezwaah didn’t exactly bring a lofty rating to proceedings was allowed to go off at 13-2.

She arrived on the back of winning a Listed event at Ayr in May, so the Curragh race was essentially a big step-up.

Anyway, Nezwaah didn’t half find for pressure up the straight and was doing some strong running at the end of the ten furlongs to score going away by three and a quarter lengths.

Whether, she will ever carry a few quid from this quarter going forward remains to be seen, but I will certainly be looking out for her.

GORDON Elliott seems adamant the flat lark is just for fun, but you’d wonder if he might have at least momentary second thoughts when afforded a quiet moment.

His classy juvenile Beckford has seen Elliott off to a flying start and the amount of money the son of Bated Breath won, when landing last Saturday’s Group 2 Railway Stakes at the Curragh, was surely not lost on the trainer.

All Beckford had to do was canter down the track for six furlongs and then come back, at speed, for a first prize of €67,850.

Not a hurdle or a fence to be seen for miles and a virtual guarantee the horse would pull out as fresh as someone after ten hours sleep next morning.

This did shape as a smart race. The Royal Ascot Coventry Stakes hero, Murillo, could only finish third, although we probably shouldn’t read too much into that, on the basis the surface was softer than ideal for the son of Scat Daddy.

But it was a contest that had a fair degree of depth and there was plenty to like as well about the display of runner-up Verbal Dexterity, who made a good impression when running away with a seven furlongs maiden on his debut at the Curragh and hardly favoured by only six furlongs on this occasion.

IN early May, Aidan O’Brien’s Fleet Review finished an innocuous seventh of 12 behind Jessica Harrington’s Brother Bear at Leopardstown. Truth to tell, it was no more than a mildly promising start.

At the Curragh a week ago, Fleet Review reappeared, one of three horses running for O’Brien in a six-furlongs maiden. Outpaced in the middle of the heat, he was noted doing his best work in the closing stages to be third behind another of O’Brien’s, US Navy Flag, and Jim Bolger’s Dawn Delivers.

I’ll be mighty surprised should Fleet Review fail to score when stepped up in trip and, indeed, a trifle poorer to boot.


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