Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Derby revamp on cards

Well done: Joseph O'Brien gives his horse Australia a pat after winning Saturday's Irish Derby at The Curragh
Well done: Joseph O'Brien gives his horse Australia a pat after winning Saturday's Irish Derby at The Curragh

The possibility of shortening the distance or changing the date of the Irish Derby is to be explored following the disappointing turn-out for this year's race.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh is to meet with counterparts from England and France to discuss the Derby's future this month.

Saturday's race at the Curragh was rendered relatively uncompetitive in the absence of Kingston Hill, with Aidan O'Brien's Australia cruising to victory as the 1/8 favourite.

Epsom runner-up Kingston Hill was a late withdrawal from the race due to fast ground and there have been similar defections in recent years from big names such as New Approach and Sea The Stars.

One key factor appears to be the lack of French challengers since the distance of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) was changed to a mile and a quarter 10 years ago.

It was often the case that the Curragh staged a Derby decider between the winners from Epsom and Chantilly.

"The reduction in distance of the French Derby is just one of a number of factors," said Kavanagh.

"Racegoers at the Curragh on Saturday saw a great horse, but we want them to see a great race.

"It's been 10 years now since the French Derby changed in distance, but in recent years the King George has also had a lack of three-year-old contenders.

"I think the Irish Derby suffers because there are so many alternatives for the three-year-olds at this time – Sea The Stars ran in the Eclipse, it looks like Kingston Hill is going for the Grand Prix de Paris.

"In the past, the Irish Derby was always the title decider, but that is not the case anymore and it's worth looking at. Everything needs looking at.

"So while the crowd saw a great horse in Australia, it wasn't a great race and we need to get the opposition to turn up."

Meanwhile Night of Thunder has been given the go-ahead for Saturday's Coral-Eclipse at Sandown after impressing trainer Richard Hannon with his well-being.

It will be the Saeed Manana-owned colt's first attempt over the mile and a quarter run after his three battles with Kingman over shorter distances.

After a heavy defeat in the Greenham Stakes, Night Of Thunder turned the tables when galloping to a 40/1 success in the 2,000 Guineas before losing out to the Roger Charlton-trained colt at Royal Ascot.

Hannon's Classic hero and Kingston Hill are two of five three-year-olds left in among the remaining 12 possibles. Last season's Dewhurst winner War Command, Godolphin's True Story and Mark Johnston's Somewhat make up the quintet.

Along with War Command, Aidan O'Brien has left in Queen Anne Stakes runner-up Verrazano while adding to the Irish challenge is Jim Bolger's Trading Leather, winner of last year's Irish Derby.

John Gosden's The Fugue is the only remaining filly in the field.

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