Rain's a pain
Alex Hammond says the weather will have serious implications for the racing at the Irish Derby.
Last Updated: 29/06/12 5:58pm
Welcome to the great British summer! It seems unbelievable that parts of the UK are suffering terrible flooding just weeks after the hosepipe ban was lifted.
I was at Hickstead for the show jumping Derby last week and there was plenty of rain, but not as much as they have had at Newcastle racecourse where a storm of biblical proportions hit the track on Thursday forcing them to abandon racing.
They also lost Friday's meeting and their Northumberland Plate card on Saturday is subject to an 8am inspection on raceday following 30mm of rain inside 20 minutes.
If they manage to race conditions will be extreme and finding winners won't be easy. However, Ile de Re is Sky Bet's 5/1 favourite following his magnificent win in the Chester Cup last month for new trainer Donald McCain (who also had Overturn in second on the Roodee). He's a winner on soft and very soft in France in his younger days, but this sort of ground will be an unknown for most of the runners.
Gulf of Naples (13/2) was third at Chester and Mark Johnston's horse has since run excellently in defeat when third at York but perhaps more significantly fourth in the Ascot Gold Cup. Next best at 15/2 is Motivado who poses an obvious threat for Sir Mark Prescott despite this being his first run of the season. This one time Derby entry ended up finishing second in the Tradesman's Derby as a three year-old and is the type to progress at four for his trainer who comes into form at this time of year. He was 4th on his debut on heavy ground at Newcastle but it's hard to assess his ability to act on it in a race like this.
William Haggas is another trainer who is incredibly skilled at placing his horses and he runs Figaro, an 8/1 shot. A horse who has won on heavy ground (and over hurdles at that) is The Betchworth Kid (11/1) but he could be high enough in the handicap at the moment. However, in these conditions he isn't to be written off.
Palazzo Bianco (9/1) has a light weight for John Gosden who is always to be feared in these big handicaps. However, he hasn't convinced on a testing surface in the past and that isn't going to help him here. 14/1 shot Crackentorp comes here in good form for Tim Easterby after winning the ultra-competitive Queen Mother's Cup at York on their charity day recently. The ground looks against him though and that's enough to put me off.
A horse worth considering on his return to handicap company is 25/1 shot Blue Bajan. Now in the care of David O'Meara the 10 year-old won a Group 2 for this trainer last season and although he has yet to recapture that sort of form, he runs off the same mark that saw him finish a close up sixth in the 2011 Chester Cup, which was his last run in a handicap. However, Motivado is unexposed over this trip and he wasn't disgraced on heavy ground on his debut so I'm going to take a chance he can run well in an impossible race.
Irish eyes on the Derby
There has been a deluge in Ireland too and the going for the Irish Derby on Saturday night will be testing. They are conditions that won't be ideal for hot favourite Camelot. Sky Bet's 2/7 favourite is bidding to do the Derby double and add yet another classic to his impressive CV. This is a colt that won the Guineas and could land the elusive Triple Crown if he is targeted at the St Leger in September, but why not add a few Group 1s along the way?
His opposition on Saturday includes a colt I like, Born to Sea, who will always be known as the three parts brother to Sea The Stars. Whilst not as good as him (not many are) he has ability, but also some temperament it seems, as latterly his trainer John Oxx has fitted a hood to help this colt relax in his races. At 14/1 I may risk siding with him again and hope he can finish in the frame (there are only seven runners so he will have to finish in the first two). He will be fitted with blinkers for the first time in this race and hopefully they will have the desired effect. He also tries this 1m4f trip for the first time having been campaigned over a mile so far as a three year-old and as many of his siblings stayed well it shouldn't be a problem.
Camelot aside, Aidan O'Brien has Imperial Monarch and Astrology declared. The former is the 13/2 second favourite and comes here after an unlucky run in the French Derby. His trainer issued a word of warning about his participation earlier in the week as they found a slight pulse in his foot while shoeing him. All being well it will turn out to be nothing to worry about and he will take his place in the line up.
Dermot Weld has declared Speaking of Which (14/1) who won a Group 3 impressively at the Curragh over 10 furlongs last time out but should any more rain fall he won't take his chance. William Buick has been given the ride on Akeed Mofeed by John Oxx. Buick had an outstanding Royal Ascot and it's a huge boost to be offered the ride on this colt. The horse hasn't run yet this season after a series of setbacks but he's back on track now and remains a serious prospect.
Aidan O'Brien has an excellent record in this race having won it for the past 6 years and 9 times in total and I expect he will win it again should the Camelot we know and love turn up. Despite the ground conditions, he's a class act. I will be going for Born to Sea each way at the prices.
Aside from the Irish Derby there is some other decent racing to look forward to this weekend. Sunday's card at the Curragh features the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes which sees Oaks winner Was take on six fillies in this 1m2f race. Seamie Heffernan keeps the ride after his Epsom triumph with Joseph O'Brien riding stablemate Maybe. O'Brien also saddles Up in the race which means all three three year-olds hail from the Ballydoyle stable. There is an 11lb weight allowance for the three year-olds and at this time of year the gap between the classic generation and older horses narrows so it looks enough to give the younger horses a great chance.
Maybe was third in the 1000 Guineas and fifth in the Oaks and it could be that the middle trip of a mile and a quarter is just what she wants. She missed Royal Ascot due to a bruised foot, but that shouldn't have held her up much. Of the older horses Dermot Weld's Sapphire won't mind the rain softened ground at all. Although she has weight to give away I think she could be the one to beat. She's hacked up in a Group 3 at Cork earlier this month on her seasonal debut and she has apparently been working very well. She looks like the type of filly who will thrive for Weld as an older horse and we could be seeing plenty of her on the International stage as the season continues.
Although she is dropping back in distance from 12 furlongs she has plenty of speed and may have the edge over Aidan O'Brien's classic generation.
I must give a mention to Royal Ascot before I sign off this week. Frankel was quite breathtaking and it was great to see Black Cavair retain her unbeaten record, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances. Luckily for her jockey Luke Nolan, she has the heart of a champion and managed to hang on in the Diamond Jubilee. It has since transpired she suffered muscle tears in the race and that won't have helped and I hope we get to see her race again before she is retired. Quite often superstar racemares don't make into brilliant broodmares although there are exceptions to that rule.
Born to Sea in the Irish Derby @ 14/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Motivado in the Northumberland Plate @ 15/2 with Sky Bet
Sapphire in the Pretty Polly Stakes on Sunday