The Curragh, Ireland: Having forged a highly successful alliance, trainer Mark Johnston and jockey Silvestre de Sousa chase one of flat racing’s biggest prizes at The Curragh Racecourse in Ireland on Saturday — the 2018 €1,500,000 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group 1).
Neither of them have won Ireland’s premier Classic but look to have strong claims of making history when they team up with Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee.
Raced by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, a fast emerging owner on the international circuit, Dee Ex Bee is among a strong field of 12 runners who will bid to claim the prize and join an illustrious list of winners of the great race which dates back to 1866.
Shareef Dancer (1983), Salsabil (1990), Balanchine (1994) and Jack Hobbs (2015) are just four winners with a Dubai connection to triumph over the mile-and-four-furlong contest that has been backed by Dubai Duty Free since 2008.
Dee Ex Bee was one of three horses to be supplemented for Saturday’s race at a cost of €100,00 each. The others being Godolphin’s recent Royal Ascot scorer Old Persian and Platinum Warrior, winner of the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh on his most recent start.
The ante-post favourite is English 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior who spearheads a quarter representing trainer Aidan O’Brien in his quest for a 13th victory in the race.
Commenting on Dee Ex Bee’s chances of maintaining his supremacy over Saxon Warrior, who finished three lengths behind him at Epsom, Johnston said: “Epsom certainly wasn’t a surprise but I think realistically before the race if somebody had said to me we would finish in the first three I’d have probably settled for that.
“I have got the utmost respect for Aidan O’Brien and he wouldn’t be running Saxon Warrior if he didn’t think he could reverse the form, but we are the one guaranteed to stay so we are going there more than hopeful that Saxon Warrior can’t reverse the form,” Johnston added.
“We are hopeful the Curragh will suit him better and that we will see the best of him on Saturday. He is a big horse and I’m sure he will enjoy the Curragh a lot more, I’m pretty confident he’ll handle fast ground as well.”
Charlie Appleby, fresh from his success in the Epson Derby and Royal Ascot, also seeks a landmark first Irish Derby with Old Persian.
The trainer said: “The signs are all very positive, you can’t fault the way he’s come out of Ascot. He’s eaten up and exercised well.
“He bounces back from his runs very quickly, and we are confident that the horse is going to be very competitive.”
Mick Halford, who grew up just kilometres from the Curragh Racecourse, is looking forward to running, Platinum Warrior, a song of the great Galileo.
“The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is a wonderful race and we are all very excited to have a runner in it,” Halford said. “Platinum Warrior’s preparation has gone well and he is a straightforward horse so we’ve had no headaches on that front.
“His homework has been very good and we were pleased with him on the Curragh last Tuesday morning so we are looking forward to the race itself now. He seems to be a colt improving with racing.”
Dermot Weld, one of Ireland’s most successful trainers who has won the Derby three times in the past with Zagreb (1996), Grey Swallow (2004) and Harzand (2016), relies on the unbeaten Bandua.
“We’ve been fortunate to win the race three times and I would be more hopeful than confident, but I am very happy with Bandua and if there’s going to be an upset I hope it can be him.
“It looks a good renewal of the race and it has been strengthened by the horses that have been supplemented.
“The reason I am running him is he is working extremely well. I still think he has a realistic chance of running a big race and if you are not in you can’t win.”
Joseph O’Brien, successful in the race as a jockey aboard Camelot and Australia, will have his first runner as a trainer when his brother Donnacha teams up with Latrobe.
At A Glance
Today’s Curragh Racecard
4:40 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Irish EBF Maiden (2yo) 6f
5:15 Tote Rockingham Handicap (Premier Handicap) (3yo+) 5f
5:50 Dubai Duty Free Jumeirah Creekside Dash Stakes (Listed Race) (3yo+) 6f
6:25 Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire Celebration Stakes (Listed Race) (3yo+) 1m
6:00 Dubai Duty Free Full Of Surprises Summer Fillies Handicap (Premier Handicap) (3yo+) 7f
6:35 GAIN Railway Stakes (Group 2) (2yo) 6f
8:15 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group 1) (Entire Colts & Fillies) (3yo) 1m, 4f
8:55 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Irish EBF Handicap (4yo+ 60-100) 2m
(With a Dubai connection)
1983 Shareef Dancer Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
1989 Old Vic Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
1990 Salsabil Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
1994 Balanchine Godolphin
1995 Winged Love Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
2015 Jack Hobbs Godolphin & Partners