WHAT to do about a Derby that does not work?
That is the conundrum wheeling around the heads of Irish racing’s authorities and leading Flat racing figures after a blasting from all angles over this year’s five-runner Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, won by 1-8 favourite Australia.
“Definitely, surgery is required,” said Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan and not just because the race should have more depth to justify its title, but also because the race is not doing its job for spectators either. It is supposed to be the showpiece of the summer.
“As a spectacle, apart from seeing Australia in the flesh, it was very poor,” he said “It’s very difficult to attract people to come racing when there’s only five runners in the major race and a favourite like that. It needs a major rethink.”
The viewing figures spoke of Egan’s opinion that it does not inspire anymore with an average of just 86,600 viewers throughout the RTE programme and a 14.5 per cent share of the available audience. It was competing with the all-conquering World Cup though and Egan is sure that this at least is only “a blip”.
Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh was in full agreement with Egan over the need for change elsewhere and went a step further, saying that in fact the entire programme for three-year-old middle distance horses needs an overhaul.
“The Irish Derby used to be the race in which the Derby winners from Epsom and Chantilly met, but we’ve lost that title decider aspect over the past decade or so,” Kavanagh said, adding that the key contributor to this was the French Derby’s reduction in distance from 1m4f to 1m2f.
Royal Ascot’s growing importance is another and a perceived lack of top-flight middle distance horses to fill all those races in June.
As HRI announced a free entry scheme for races at Irish Champions Weekend for winners of specific trials in August, trainers were quick to suggest a similar incentive for trainers to go to the Irish Derby and Egan went a step further.
He said: “There are a lot of people out there that know a lot more about this than I do, but I wouldn’t change the distance and I might not change the date, but I think there should be an Epsom, Curragh, King George triple crown bonus. Or something like that. That’s just an idea that line up.”
The strength of the home team is another frustrating negative for the race, particularly the Aidan O’Brien-trained squad which has won eight of the last nine renewals and five of the seven original declarations for the Irish Derby were owned by one or more of the Coolmore triumvirate – Derek Smith, John Magnier and – or their families.
Egan added: “The thing is at the moment trainers see that they don’t have to come to the Irish Derby and take on a super horse like Australia or Camelot as the Eclipse is on the following week at Sandown without them.
“It’s a testament to Aidan that he has been able to dominate the race like he has and keep producing horses of that quality, the only issue is that they are so good people don’t want to face them.”
Trainer Tom Hogan, of Gordon Lord Byron fame, sympathised with the race, saying that it was “unfortunate” that some of its best supporters like Jim Bolger just do not have the fire-power this year. He was more relaxed than others about the future of the race.
He said: “It’s much ado about nothing. Australia is a wonder horse and nobody wanted to take him on, but he showed us something and he trounced Derby trial winners. He could do no more than that. We didn’t complain about Frankel’s lack of competition and this horse is the closest thing Ireland has to him.”
It was the second time in three years though that the Irish Classic went off with only five runners and most kept returning to the long-running fact that there is a worldwide lack of middle-distance horses due to people’s lack of patience and a general preoccupation with breeding for speed.
Trainer Ger Lyons took to Facebook to express his defence of the race calling for critics to not hit out at those that turned up for the race, but “question those who did not”.
“Where are the big pedigree horses from Tattersalls Book 1 and the Goffs Orby Sale?” he added.
There were few fireworks at the corresponding Goffs Orby Sale in 2012, but at Tattersalls in the same October, the Galileo half-brother to Epsom Derby hero Authorized, Hydrogen, made 2.85million guineas and the first foal out of four-time Group 1 winner Alexander Goldrun, Humphrey Bogart, made 950,000 guineas.
Owned by Qatar Racing and Coolmore, neither ran as two-year-olds and Hydrogen has run once this year, though he does hold an entry in next month’s QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes.
Six of the 11 colts that made 500,000 guineas or more in Tattersalls Book 1 have yet to run and only Hydrogen, Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Altaayil and the Irish Derby winner himself Australia have run at all this year.
Hard to believe Australia only made 525,000 guineas. Harder still to ponder why those that made more have barely managed to begin their careers.
First published in August 2014 edition of Thoroughbred Owner Breeder Magazine