Irish Derby Preview: Go safe with Santiago

Santiago tops the market for the Irish Derby following his Royal Ascot success.
Santiago tops the market for the Irish Derby following his Royal Ascot success.

Joe Tuffin takes a look at Saturday's Irish Derby, a tricky puzzle filled with unexposed sorts, and picks out his best bet...

After a delayed start to the Flat season, we now have a wealth of riches when it comes to high class Group 1 races. The need to fit two months' worth of racing into a condensed calendar means we have the enjoyment of a Group 1 race virtually every weekend, and this week it’s the turn of the highly prestigious Irish Derby.

The €1.5 million jewel in the Irish classic crown has been won by the likes of Camelot, Galileo, Sindar and Nijinksy in its long and illustrious life, and there is a whole host of exciting colts bidding to etch their name into the history books, and unsurprisingly, Aidan O’Brien is responsible for the vast majority of the entrants - with 10 of the 19-strong field coming from his yard at the time of writing.

Since the turn of the millennium, the master of Ballydoyle has saddled 12 winners in the race, including an unprecedented streak of seven consecutive winners between 2006 and 2012. His ten-pronged assault on the Curragh is spearheaded by Royal Ascot winner Santiago, with the son of Authorized bidding to complete a quick turn-around after last week's success.

He showed versatility to be a real quality of his when taking the step up from a mile to a mile and three quarters in the Group 2 Queen's Vase, duly waltzing away with a two-and-three-quarter length success. Admittedly, it is unusual to see horses drop down in trip for the Derby, but the manner of his victory at Ascot suggested that a mile and a half is well within his remit, as he showcased a perfect blend of speed and stamina at Ascot.

The St Leger may prove to be his ultimate target this term - having already proved himself over the distance - but for now there aren't too many question marks over his raw speed dropped back in trip here, and he looks a nice price at around the 11/4 mark to bag a classic success.

O’Brien's second fancy, and also the second favourite in the market at the time of writing, is Arthur's Kingdom, a horse with a serious case of 'seconditis'. He has left the racecourse on four out of his five outings to date with a silver medal - recording only one win in a Gowran maiden over a mile last October - but is clearly not short on ability. He finished his two-year-old season with a second in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud, a race which historically produces some fine horses such as last season's Arc hero (or villain depending on your admiration of Enable), Waldgeist.

Admittedly, the form of last year's renewal hasn't worked out brilliantly well, with the winner disappointing subsequently, but Arthur's Kingdom's effort to finish second behind Pyledriver in last week's King Edward VII Stakes was admirable. However, he was ultimately beaten by a relatively unfancied 20/1 chance for the Epsom Derby next weekend, and for that reason, it’s fairly difficult to side with the O’Brien second string.

Being his father's son, Joseph O’Brien isn’t short of a strong hand or two, either, sending both the unbeaten Crossfirehurricane and the interesting Galileo Chrome, who is a double-figure price at the time of writing. 

The former is yet to taste defeat in four career starts, recording wins at both Listed level and most recently at Group 3 level over 10 furlongs here earlier this month, when defeating each of Gold Maze, Sherpa and Mythical - who all reoppose here. There was plenty to like about that latest success, most notably how he picked up from the back to win under hands and heels, suggesting the extra two-furlongs will be no issue to overcome. He should confirm the form with the aforementioned trio as a consequence, but he has something to prove now stepped up into Group 1 company. 

Meanwhile, Joseph O’Brien’s other challenger, Galileo Chrome, has two career starts under his belt and made a winning reappearance in a modest-looking maiden at the Curragh earlier this month. This is a big hike in class and looks to be too much of an ask at this stage of his career for him to seriously make an impact.

You have to go down to the fourth horse in the market to find a runner which isn't trained by an O’Brien, but the Jim Bolger-trained Fiscal Rules makes some each-way appeal at the time of writing. The twice-raced maiden was last seen finishing a commendable fifth in the Irish 2000 Guineas, picking up nicely and running through the line as opposed to hitting it. He was caught for speed once the chips went down that day, but he shaped as though this step up in trip will suit, and he could well slip under the radar against some more exposed rivals. 

Ger Lyons is looking to record a second classic success on the bounce (and indeed ever) following Siskin’s Irish 2000 Guineas success, and he sends an outsider in Chiricahua, another twice-raced maiden who's finished second on both of his starts to date. It could be argued that the son of Camelot was slightly unlucky not have tasted victory last time out, too, having endured a troubled passage, but that form has since been knocked - with the winner Nobel Prize finishing fifth behind Santiago at Royal Ascot earlier this month, and he's passed over.

In summary, there are several lurking in here that are open to improvement, but it is difficult to knock Santiago, who has proven speed and stamina, as well as pattern success already to his name, and he's fancied to take the drop back to a mile and a half in his stride. 

Selection

Irish Derby - 19:15 Curragh, Saturday 27th June - back Santiago at 3/1

Irish Derby
Santiago silk

Santiago

won

He was an impressive winner of the Group 2 Queens Vase at Royal Ascot and showed the perfect blend of speed and stamina. Although it's unsual to see a horse drop back for the Derby, he doesn't look like he'd be caught for speed and could well make it two Group wins in quick succession with a win in this race.

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