London – Godolphin won the Irish Derby with Balanchine in their very first season in 1994, and, buoyant from what is proving a fantastic 2018 for the boys in blue, they are unlikely to resist the temptation of a free entry for Saturday’s Curragh Classic with last week’s Royal Ascot hero Old Persian.
With Godolphin’s Epsom hero Masar waiting for the Eclipse Stakes on 7 July, Sheikh Mohammed, whose son, Sheikh Hamdan, owns the Mark Johnston-trained secon favouritedin Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee, has added spice to Ireland’s premier classic by throwing his Old Persian hat in the ring.
Winning the King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal meeting secured an automatic place in The Curragh field for Old Persian, so, while 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, though a disappointing fourth at Epsom, remains odds-on favourite to give Aidan O’Brien a 10th success in the race in the last 13 years, it no longer has the look of a “gimme”, as it had done since the defection of Masar.
There are only eight days between Old Persian’s Ascot celebration and his trip to Ireland, but Sheikh Mohammed will need no reminding that his late brother, Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum, gave the green light for Shareef Dancer to chase the same double in 1983 after an identical gap and he duly delivered again when beating Caerleon and Teenoso, the French and English Derby winners.
Charlie Appleby, who trains Old Persian, said: ”Ascot was Old Persian’s first try over 2400m, and he never looked stronger than he did in the final furlong (200m).
“He has a big, long stride and thanks to former jockey Oscar Urbina, who has been riding him out every morning, he has improved so much this season.”
At double-figure odds, Old Persian has excellent prospects of getting in the frame as he did not have too hard a race at Ascot, but in reality he’ll need to take another sizeable leap up the ladder to ruffle the feathers of the front two in the betting.
On form, bookies have the wrong favourite as Chester Vase runner-up Dee Ex Bee finished two places ahead of Saxon Warrior at Epsom, but the Coolmore horse, who had put Masar firmly in his place at Newmarket, looked all at sea on the undulations and will surely be better suited by the plains of Kildare.
It certainly wasn’t the trip that found out SAXON WARRIOR at Epsom – connections had been contemplating a Triple Crown bid, but he just could not cope with the ups and downs of the historic Surrey Downs and the alarm bells were ringing before he had reached the 400m mark.
And, having missed out to Aidan’s son Donnacha on classic victories for both this colt at Newmarket and Forever Together in the Oaks, Ryan Moore, who was in Kentucky on a fruitless mission on Guineas Day, is hoping that “normal service might be resumed”.
Feature race in Britain on Saturday is Newcastle’s 3200m Northumberland Plate, the most valuable handicap on the Tapeta surface, and, though Withhold, who landed a gamble in last year’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket, is a strong favourite, he has been off the track for eight months, so I take him on with David Simcock’s Irish recruit FINANCIAL CONTRACT.
This fellow was a bit of money-spinner on the Polytrack in Ireland last winter for Andy Oliver, but he was switched to Simcock’s yard in Newmarket in May.
Tapeta is a surface not dissimilar to Polytrack, on which the colt trains regularly at home, and this race has been the target for Financial Contract ever since.
So, though the stable have been going through a quiet period, he has been taking the eye of work watchers at HQ and carries plenty of stable confidence.
I also like Roger Varian’s IMPROVISE in the Listed Empress Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday. She was impressive when winning by five lengths on her debut at Goodwood, where she looked a filly with a big future.
Royal Ascot last week produced huge crowds, fabulous weather and some vintage racing, with America’s NBC, who were there on all five days, screening the Saturday action on their main channel, which is a massive boost for the sport.
Doubtless, American viewers were as impressed as I was with Alpha Centauri’s six lengths course record demolition job in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes, and news that Irish trainer Jessie Harrington, who was celebrating her first winner at the Royal meeting, is “working back” from the Breeders Cup Mile in Kentucky in November, won’t be lost on US fans.
Alpha Centauri, who relished the fast ground, will hopefully get similar underfoot conditions at Churchill Downs, and, being owned by the Niarchos family, who have won the Mile six times, including twice with the brilliant Miesque, this filly’s great, great, granddam, it was no surprise to hear that Kentucky is the main target.
The Niarchos family sponsor the prestigious Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville in early August, and that could be the next port of call for Alpha Centauri, who prior to Royal Ascot had hammered the Coolmore battalion in the Irish 1000 Guineas.
Ryan Moore finished top jockey of the meeting for the eighth time in nine years, but, despite riding four winners for Coolmore, Aidan O’Brien’s team never managed a single two-year-old celebration all week.
However, Kew Gardens looked a real St Leger horse when capturing the Queen’s Vase – take the 5-1 now – while his Aussie recruit Merchant Navy as well as Stradivarius, a first Gold Cup triumph for John Gosden, were my personal highlights.
O’Brien is hoping to squeeze in the July Cup at Newmarket on 14 July for Merchant Navy before he returns Down Under to start his stallion career, and, though David Hayes is adamant that Redkirk Warrior, who beat the Coolmore sprinter at Flemington, “had a complete off day”, I’d again be firmly with Merchant Navy, who might find King’s Stand Stakes winner Blue Point his biggest danger.
Gosden’s Calyx (Coventry Stakes) looks the best two-year-old we’ve seen this season, but we are not yet half-way through the season and Coolmore can take heart from the fact that both Sergei Prokofiev and Fairyland had no lucky in running whatsoever.
So what do we make of Cracksman, who fluffed his lines at long odds-on in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
Well, you’ll recall last week I predicted as much in view of the fact that 2000m on fast ground does not play to his strengths, but in the mood he was in last week he would not have won at any distance. The jury is out!