Above: Dee Ex Bee (left) just loses out to Young Rascal at Chester in May
(Published 13.45, June 18) – Run at The Curragh, the home of Irish Flat racing, the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is run over a mile-and-a-half on the testing, galloping track that has seen so many great horses and memorable races over the generations. The inaugural running of the race was way back in 1866, and since the Second World War some outstanding horses have etched their name on the roll of honour; Ballymoss, Santa Claus, Nijinsky, Grundy, The Minstrel, Troy, Shergar, El Gran Senor, Salsabil, Generous, Montjeu, Sinndar, Galileo, High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas, Fame And Glory, Camelot, and most recently Capri, in the 2017 renewal.
The race has been utterly dominated over the last 20 years by the remarkable Aidan O’Brien who has trained the winner no less than 12 times since 1997. While it’s fair to say the race hasn’t always attracted the pick of the British three-year-olds during that period, it is still a remarkable achievement by the Ballyodyle-based maestro who again appears to have a particularly strong hand this time around.
Can Warrior Win This Battle?
Saxon Warrior, winner of last year’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster before putting up a tremendous performance on his seasonal reappearance to land the Group Qipco 2000 Guineas in some style at Newmarket last month, is the red-hot favourite to bag himself a second Classic of the campaign, despite failing to justify favouritism when only fourth at Epsom earlier this month in the Group 1 Investec Derby won by the impressive Masar.
At the time of writing, Saxon Warrior is a best priced 8/13 favourite with 888Sport, many firms now going 1/2. The task of redeeming himself after his Epsom disappointment has been made significantly easier by the absence of Masar, who heads instead to the 10 furlong Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown a week later. Third at Epsom was Roaring Lion, who ran Saxon Warrior so close at Doncaster last year before finishing ahead of his old rival in the Derby, but he too will not run, Sandown looking a more likely target for him as well.
Dee Ex Bee, a brave second in the Investec Derby, does seem a likely runner however, despite not having been entered in the race. He is expected to be supplemented and would make a proper race of it if he does get the green light. More of him shortly.
But back to Saxon Warrior, who was sent off at 4/5 at Epsom despite never having run further than a mile. On pedigree he was more than entitled to stay, and having come down the hill in good style and negotiated Tattenham Corner with the minimum of fuss under Ryan Moore, the eyes of the racing world were on the Galileo colt who was expected to pick up and take some catching down the straight. He didn’t pick up in any noticeable fashion though, keeping on at just one pace from the two pole to finish fourth, beaten four-and-a-half lengths.
Maybe the track wasn’t ideal, or maybe the horse that connections had openly spoken of as a serious candidate for the Triple Crown, simply had an ‘off’ day. It happens to us all. There are still questions for Saxon Warrior to answer though, and while this doesn’t look a vintage renewal of the Irish Derby it is till a top grade contest and his odds look skinny given his performance at Epsom.
Bee Looks Up For The Fight
DEE EX BEE, owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed al Maktoum, is trained at Middleham in Yorkshire by Mark Johnston, a top-class handler who invariably gets the very best out of his horses. A son of the smart Farrh, Dee Ex Bee was a decent two-year-old, winning two of his five starts and ending with a runner’s-up spot over the juvenile marathon trip of the extended 10 furlongs in the listed Zetland Stakes at Newmarket last October. That form is good, but way below the level achieved last term by Saxon Warrior.
There’s little doubt though that Johnston’s colt has really progressed this year. After keeping on well into third in the Investec Blue Riband Trial at Epsom over 10 furlongs in April, he stepped up to a mile-and-a-half and finished a close second to Young Rascal in the Group 3 Chester Vase a few weeks later. At Epsom he really took a giant stride forward, racing in fifth on the home turn then battling on tenaciously having been headed for second by Roaring Lion, getting back up for the minor honour behind the unassailable Masar. Saxon Warrior was three lengths further back in fourth.
It’s not hard to imagine Dee Ex Bee racing close to the pace and then doing all he can to expose any potential flaws in Saxon Warrior at this trip. At 5/1 with Totesport he looks value, and no doubt some would view him as an each-way “bet to nothing” in the expectation he will at least reach a place and win you your money back.
Best Of The Rest
So what about the rest? Well, they’re betting 14/1 bar three, and 25/1 bar four at the moment, clearly indicating that there doesn’t, on the face of it, appear to be huge strength in depth in the this year’s renewal of the Irish Derby. Delano Roosevelt (14/1 with Boylesports), like Saxon Warrior trained by O’Brien, is a very likeable, rangy colt. A Group-placed juvenile, he was a promising runner-up to Hazapour in the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown in May but never got into it in the Derby, finishing a distant sixth, beaten nearly 12 lengths.
The son of Galileo didn’t look wholly at ease on the undulations at Epsom, and the Curragh may see him run a better race, but he looks a little short of the required standard. It says something for the race this year that fourth-favourite at 25/1 is Dermot Weld’s once raced Navan maiden winner Broad Street, a beautifully bred son of Sea The Stars who justified 11/8 favouritism in a 10-furlong maiden last month. It’s a huge ask to step up from that to the Irish Derby, but in a year where genuine contenders are few and far between, maybe he has a chance of nicking a place if things go his way.
Lingfield Derby Trial winner Knight To Behold disputed the lead to three out at Epsom before fading. Harry Dunlop’s colt is a decent horse but doesn’t look good enough, but Young Rascal, a likeable winner at Chester on his previous start but never dangerous when seventh at Epsom, would not be without hope if allowed to take his chance. It might be asking too much for him to win, but he is another who could well be in there pitching for a place.
There's been a drift on SAXON WARRIOR in the Investec Derby betting, now 11/10 from 8/13.
Could Chester Vase winner YOUNG RASCAL be the answer?pic.twitter.com/4cTeAJNUvw
— Champions Series (@ChampionsSeries) May 31, 2018
Aidan O’Brien, who often arrives mob-handed for this race, could run the likes of Nelson, The Pentagon and Rostropovich if he chooses to ensure pace for his Saxon Warrior. The three are also entered at Royal Ascot, but a run there wouldn’t totally rule them out of making it to the Curragh. Of the trio, Rostropovich would be the most interesting having bolted up in the Dee Stakes at Chester. He was our Betting.Net each-way selection in the ante-post market for the Derby on that evidence, looking certain to be even better once upped to 12 furlongs. We were disappointed when connections chose instead to send him for the 10-furlong French Derby at Chantilly in which he eventually finished ninth behind Study of Man, outpaced in the final furlong.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 10, 2018
If he runs at the Curragh, Rostropovich would be an interesting each-way alternative once again at current odds of 33/1 with William Hill, but on balance our bet at this stage would be DEE EX BEE to spring a surprise on the odds-on favourite.
ADVICE: DEE EX BEE (5/1 with Totesport)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.