Brendan Duke: A look back at the Irish Derby and ahead to the Eclipse

Brendan Duke reviews what was an excellent weekend for the O'Brien clan before setting his sights on this weekend's racing...


A chastening weekend for your intrepid correspondent. Three consecutive days at the races and not a solitary winner. Quite the triumph of underachievement.

The Derby itself was an unsatisfactory affair. A surprising lack of pace resulted in the first four places going to horses who were positioned in the first five throughout the race.

Donnacha O’Brien is not long for the weigh room.

He’s taller than Joseph after all. When he does hang up his paper-thin boots this race will likely be the one that gives him most satisfaction. His self-deprecating quip after the Oaks that his greatest asset as a jockey was “being Aidan O’Brien’s son” showed great self awareness but this ride displayed acute tactical awareness. Anticipating a strong early gallop the brothers O’Brien had planned to drop in.

But there’s no point having a dog and barking yourself. Evidently Joseph trusts his brother to improvise. Donnacha almost immediately sensed the soft early fractions and moved up and gradually across from his wide draw. That move ultimately proved the difference between winning and losing.

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Much was made of the evident post-race joy Aidan took in this success for his sons. Nobody was surprised but you would want to be pretty jaded not to find it life-affirming. The goodness he gives to and gets from the world is a sight to behold. One only has to see the way he interacts with the people who man the gates at the track to understand that if, by Kipling’s gauge, the ability to “walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch” is the measure of a man, then Aidan surely has life by the gonads.

The other big takeout from the race is that the 3 year old colts aren’t much use. Saxon Warrior ran OK but had few excuses. He got quite edgy before the race so it’s possible the rigours of top flight competition are getting the better of him. More likely though he’s just a horse of limited ability.

Dee Ex Bee got a shocking ride. The ground was probably too quick for him but he wasn’t placed to best effect and this run can be forgiven. Delano Roosevelt was again undone by a lack of pace. What he needs is a fast run race on quick ground. Perhaps the St Leger will give him an opportunity to show what he’s capable of.

The most eyecatching effort arguably came from The Pentagon.

A horse who has puzzled me more than any other this season. He put in a big effort from an impossible position. Having gone from thinking he was the next big thing at the start of the season to thinking he was gone at the game before Saturday, I’m reluctant to make any big predictions.

However he is bred to eat up the Leger trip and if he builds on his Irish Derby run must go close. The 12/1 offered by Paddy is an appealing price.

This Saturday sees the return of Derby hero Masar in the Eclipse. As detailed above his competitors this season wouldn’t excite me and he can be opposed at a short price. Happily looks the one to chance. She has been building towards a peak effort all season. The Ballydoyle horses were flying at the weekend lending credence to the theory that the unusually long winter we endured has left that stable a bit behind their normal schedule.

She should have won the French Oaks last time. Ryan Moore lost a favourable position by falling asleep mid race. She could never get a real run at things after that and did well in the end to be beaten a 1/2 length. With just 10 entries at the 5 day stage this is another race that could turn tactical. However Masar wouldn’t want that and could make it. Also Happily has 2 stablemates in Yucatan and Rostropovich who could be used as pacemakers.

Both have been busy of late but I’d expect one or the other to show up. Granted a reasonable gallop Happily should go very close here. Paddy evidently respects her chance too and are keeping her onside at 9/2. She won’t be any shorter on Saturday morning so wait until then to back her. Anything in and around that price would be acceptable.

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