Curragh, Take Me Away

Courtesy of Becky Johnston

In order to remove myself from the problems that are confronting American racing right now, for one weekend, I am intent on going across the pond for my action. 

I dutifully download a copy of The Racing Post dated June 26 to begin my fantasy trip.  Flipping through the pages until something catches my eye.  "Government isn't blameless among racing's big problems."  It doesn't take me long to realize that my theory, British paper - British problems, wasn't going to hold water.  I began to read and suddenly I start to recognize the problems, the names.... Arrrrghh, they are the ones I'm trying to get away from. 

In case you have been living under a rock for the last two months, our American version of this sport has become a nightmare.  It began with the sad breakdown of Eight Belles following the Kentucky Derby and the maelstrom that ensued.  That event was followed by last week's congressional hearings where Jack Van Berg likened our racing to "chemical warfare".  Then, on cue, the embarrassing news sprang forth.  Splashed across newspapers in this country and others came word that the Kentucky Derby winning trainer, Richard Dutrow, had been fingered with a drug positive for a runner on the Oaks Day card.  Then Steve Asmussen, the trainer of the reigning horse of the year, received his gotcha with the same sorry news from his home state of Texas.

Dutrow faces a first-time offender type penalty for his multiple offender resume, two weeks vacation.  Meanwhile deep in the heart of Texas, Steve Asmussen is facing a six to twelve month ban for his violation, which seems more reasonable for a multiple offender.  If he is proven guilty, of course.

Dutrow's Derby winning client, IEAH Stables and Michael Iavarone, are looking a little foolish with the announcement earlier this week that all of their horses will be drug free except for the approved medication Lasix.  Although the horse in mention does not belong to the IEAH group, it still rankled the owners of Big Brown that this news about their main trainer would break right after their statement. 

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Asmussen's client, Jess Jackson, is one of those on Capitol Hill pleading for help.  What do they say about glass houses and throwing heavy objects?

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm ready to leave the drug violations, ADW disputes, inbreeding and men wielding sticks they can't control behind and travel to a greener pasture, a land that author Bill Barich calls A Fine Place to Daydream.  County Kildare and the plains of Curragh, to be more specific.  The Irish racing festival is beckoning.  They will run the annual fixture, the Irish Derby, on Sunday.  The race's history reaches back to 1866.

The Curragh will kick off their weekend of racing with a Friday night card that begins at 6PM (12PM ET) to be followed by barbecues and music.  Saturday will be highlighted by the 10 furlong Grade 1 Audi Pretty Polly Stakes featuring the Jim Bolger trained four-year-old Finsceal Beo who was a champion at two. 

Sunday the fans will see if their fellow countryman, Bolger, can win their Derby for the first time since 1992 with the overwhelming favorite, New Approach.  His last win came with St. Jovite for American Sportswoman, Virginia Kraft Payson. 

The three-year-old colts will take to the horseshoe shaped course for 12 furlongs, a nine furlong jog that will turn into a three furlong uphill sprint to the finish.

UPDATE - Friday, 2:15 pm EDT: Irish Derby favorite, New Approach, is showing discomfort in his stall and trainer Jim Bolger is reporting that the colt may have a bruised foot.  An evaluation will be done Saturday as to his participation in the 12 furlong Group 1 classic.

The Chalk

This year's renewal will feature the six time winner, New Approach.  Bookmakers are placing the colt's odds near 1-2 at post. 

The colt's owner is Her Royal Highness, Princess Haya of Jodan.  The colt is said to have been a gift from her husband, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and a longtime thoroughbred race horse owner. 

Princess Haya is herself an accomplished horsewoman and a 2000 Olympic Equestrian representing Jordan at the Sydney games.  She will bring her three-year-old son of Galileo (IRE) back to the land of his birth after a breathtaking win in the Grade 1 Epsom Derby three weeks ago.  I say breathtaking but I may mean breath holding because he is known for some antics and can be difficult to load into the starting gate.  His run at Epsom was a tug of war with jockey Kevin Manning early in the race, but when the colt was finally given his head, he bobbed and weaved his way to victory. 



This will be New Approach's fifth run over the historic Curragh Racecourse.  He won his first race here in July of 2007 going seven furlongs over a heavy course.  He ventured to Leopardstown for the Group 3 Tyros Stakes where he won again at seven furlongs this time over a yielding course.

His return to the Curragh saw him win back to back seven furlong races in the Group 2 Galileo EBF Futurity and the Group 1 Bank of Scotland National Stakes.  The first over a soft course and the second over a good to firm course.  He made his last appearance of 2007 at Newmarket, again going seven furlongs in the Grade 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes over good to soft ground.

The colt earned the two-year-old Cartier Championship in Europe for 2007.

His first two starts of 2008 were both at a mile, the first at Newmarket in the Group 1 English Classic 2000 Guineas where he ran second to Coolmore's outstanding miler Henrythenavigator over a good course.

Next up was the Irish Group 1 Classic 2000 Guineas where he once again found himself second to the Coolmore colt over firm ground. 

His next stop was at Epsom Racecourse for the 12-furlong classic over good ground.  The colt had been on or near the lead in all his prior efforts.  The connections tried a "new approach" with him and Mr. Manning wrangled the colt well back in the field only to see a furious finish that looked like a bowling bowl mowing down pins for his first Derby victory.


Blue Blood

New Approach's broodmare, Park Express (IRE), won the Grade 1 Irish Champion Stakes at The Curragh in 1986 for trainer Jim Bolger.  Her sire Ahonoora (GB) traces back to Calumet's Bull Lea (USA) through his Kentucky Derby winning son Hill Gail (USA).   

The Derby favorite is sired by Galileo (IRE), himself an Epson and Irish Derby winner  in 2001.  Galileo's sire is the champion sire, Sadler's Wells, and his dam is the blue hen English and French broodmare of the year, Urban Sea.  Her race record is also sound with her greatest victory coming in the 1993 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, France's most prestigious race.


The Competition

As it stands now, he will face a field of 11.

Aidan O'Brien sends out an army with Alessandro Volta (sixth in the Epsom Derby) ridden by Johnny Murtagh, Washington Irving (fifth in the Epsom Derby) Colm O'Donoghue pilots, Frozen Fire (eleventh in the Epsom Derby) with Seamus Heffernan, Bashkirov (fifteenth in the Epsom Derby) will partner with Seanie Leavy, and Hindu Kush (won last out at The Curragh) gets David McCabe. 

The real competition looks to come from the Epsom Derby second and third place finishers.  Sir Michael Stoute's trainee, Tartan Bearer, a son of Spectrum (IRE) out of the Generous (IRE) mare Highland Gift (IRE) owned by Ballymacoll Stud, was second with Ryan Moore up only a half length behind the winner.  The colt has two wins and two seconds from his four starts.

The Moyglare owned and Dermot Weld trained Casual Conquest with Patrick Smullen aboard was third, five lengths back.  The lightly raced colt is a son of Hernando (FR) and the Kris (GB) mare Lady Luck (IRE).  He will be making his fourth lifetime start on Sunday.  He has two wins and a third thus far in his career.

Luca Camani's Curtain Call (tenth in the Epsom Derby) will get a change of jockey as Jamie Spencer is replaced with leading Irish jockey Fran Berry.  A soggy course could move him up.

There will be an American-owned colt in the field when Bertram Firestone's homebred, Winchester, takes to the course for Dermot Weld.  The son of Theatrical comes out of a disappointing eighth placed effort in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes behind Godolphin's Campanologist going 12 furlongs on the firm ground at Royal Ascot.

Winchester's sire, Theatrical (IRE), was a champion older horse in Ireland and the United States in 1987.

John Gosden will run two, the first is Centennial who hasn't run since mid-May where he finished fourth to Tartan Bearer in the Group 2 Totesports Dante Stakes at 10 furlongs.  Centennial's broodmare sire is the two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lure, who was retired early from stud duty due to fertility issues. 

Gosden's second runner is Upton Grey.  He is also owned by Princess Haya.  This one looks to be a pacesetter for his owner's more accomplished runner, New Approach. 

Ground Update:  After rains yesterday and this morning the course is now good to yielding.  More rain expected over the weekend.

Next:  A look at the trainers of this year's entrants and a look at Saturday's Grade 1 Pretty Polly Stakes

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