Legendary jockey Mick Kinane, winner of many of the World's top races, was at Down Royal yesterday to check out the prospects for next month's Magners Ulster Derby, Northern Ireland's richest race.
For the second year in succession a mega prize pot of the €100,000 will add sparkle to a race which is the jewel in the crown of Down Royal's Summer Festival, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, June 20 and 21.
Kinane, whose career spanned 34 years and included winning the Ulster Derby at Down Royal on Munif back in 1995, said: "It should be a very competitive race.
"Down Royal is a very fair track where the best horse tends to win.
"It will be a good test for three year olds at that time of the year and you will need a horse that stays well to win," added Kinane, best known for his association with the great Sea The Stars.
"I have no doubt that the winner will go on to better things and develop into a good class middle distance performer."
The most famous Ulster Derby winner is Media Puzzle, triumphant in the Down Royal showpiece in 2000 before going on to victory in the 2002 Melbourne Cup, one of the world's greatest races.
As the richest race in Northern Ireland, the Magners Derby is guaranteed to attract many of this year's top runners and riders with more than 6,000 fans expected to cheer them on in the big Saturday showdown.
This will be the fourth year that Magners has backed what has become one of Ulster's most stylish and popular meetings.
Fiona Creedon, Magners Brand Manager at Tennent's NI, said: "We're proud to be behind the Magners Derby, one of Northern Ireland's top sporting occasions, and delighted to work with Down Royal who share our commitment to great quality, excellent service – and, of course, lots of hospitality!
"Magners is perfectly at home at the heart of any major social and sporting occasion and we're all looking forward to the annual Magners Derby when sport meets style in the iconic setting of Down Royal racecourse.
"The Magners Derby day always has a special air of excitement and glamour."
Down Royal General Manager Mike Todd is delighted by the quality of runners that the race attracts.
"We substantially increased the prize pot for this race last year and that investment in the big feature race of our summer season was handsomely repaid with fantastic high quality runners," he said.
"The €100,000 prize reflects the high esteem in which we hold the Magners Derby.
"Our facilities have never been better, racing here has never been richer and the experience both on and off the track has never been more exciting.
"Given that combination, the Magners Derby Day is a surefire winner for all concerned and we're looking forward to enjoying the electric atmosphere that marks the big day."
And this is one of the busiest times of the year at Down Royal with the popular Barclay Communications Race Evening taking place on Friday.
The fixture will be a fundraiser for seriously injured jockey Jonjo Bright, hurt in a fall last year in a Tyrella point-to-point when just 19 years old.
Meanwhile, Aidan O'Brien has left Sunday's impressive Gallinule Stakes winner Adelaide – as well as Johann Strauss and Geoffrey Chaucer – in this weekend's French Derby at Chantilly.
Kevin Ryan looks set to be represented in the mile-and-a-quarter contest by The Grey Gatsby, winner of the Dante Stakes at York.
The other British-trained contender is Roger Varian's promising Ayrad, who would be taking a huge step up in class following a bloodless victory in a Hamilton maiden.