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Irish Derby Tips – Epsom Form in the Balance as O’Brien Seeks Win No.16

Classic season continues in Ireland this weekend, with the 2024 Irish Derby taking place at the Curragh. Just over four weeks on from its Epsom equivalent, some familiar names are set to take centre stage. Joe Napier gives his verdict on the race below.

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Securing the Anglo-Irish double a year ago, Auguste Rodin outbattled stablemate Adelaide River in 2023.


AMBIENTE FRIENDLY

(James Fanshawe/Robert Havlin)

Those without flexible eyes would have struggled to see any horse other than Ambiente Friendly winning the Epsom Derby between two and three furlongs out. Rab Havlin appeared to have his hands full of reign, but out of eyeshot, City Of Troy was only just warming up himself. Within the final furlong, the victory was lost, but James Fanshawe’s charge was still a clear second.

It had nothing to do with stamina, and likely little to do with class, as he was more than three lengths clear of the third. The big issue for him here could well prove to be a lack of support. Whereas his chief market rival has three stablemates to potentially help set the race up for him, Havlin will have to keep his wits about him to ensure a smooth passage and ride the race he wants. Regardless of that, he is a worthy favourite to go one better than at Epsom here.


LOS ANGELES

(Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore)

Through the prevailing mist of whether City Of Troy would deliver in the Derby, Los Angeles was very well supported to usurp his stablemate, being a more reliable, hardy type who had yet to face defeat to that point. O’Brien and his staff kept the faith to seal glory with the favourite instead, but Los Angeles plugged on for third in spite of some previously unseen pre-race antics from the son of Camelot.

His sire’s progeny can sometimes be highly strung, but it was noteworthy how frantically he behaved beforehand. This manifested itself in a big gleam of sweat, followed by him racing up with a very strong gallop. That he stayed on suggested he is very talented himself, if not quite as much as the winner, but he may prove just as able as the runner-up and favourite here. He also has a trio of stablemates to set things up for him.


MATSURI

(Roger Varian/James Doyle)

The potential up-and-comer in the field, Matsuri had been entered in the Derby before Roger Varian decided the race would come too soon for his son of Sea The Stars. Five days prior to the race, he may have been regretting it slightly as Matsuri won by eight lengths in novice company.

That was a very impressive performance, and he is a half-brother to a Group 3-winning mare over this distance, so he has the abilities for this test on paper. As a track though, Leicester does have a tendency to throw up wide-margin winners, so his winning distance should be taken with a pinch of salt. He may one day be up to this level, but this is still a watching brief for one so unproven.


GROSVENOR SQUARE

(Aidan O’Brien/Wayne Lordan)

The first member of Los Angeles’ support band is Grosvenor Square, though he may be in it to win it just as much. His half-brother by Authorized, Santiago, won this race in 2020 and Wayne Lordan’s mount should be up to significantly better than his reappearance third in the Chester Vase, in which he was beaten more than ten lengths.

As a juvenile, he had won comfortably at Group 3 level over 1m1f on heavy ground, but therein may lie the key to him. All three of his starts at two came on a soft surface, and it may be no coincidence that he disappointed on good ground on return. Perhaps it will prove no issue, but Santiago was also better with softer underfoot conditions.

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THE FIELD

As well as Los Angeles and Grosvenor Square, Ballydoyle can count on Euphoric and The Euphrates. The former’s run at Epsom can also be upgraded for having set the pace, and pacemakers have upset greater fancies in this before, albeit he still has a yawning gap to make up with the two favourites here.

The Euphrates ran well enough in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, but that form also leaves him with something to find. There is a chance he will be on pace setting duties too.

Sunway may have had the best form of all of these at two, winning at Group 1 level over 1m. However, he has mostly struggled this term, suffering odds-on turnovers in a pair of Group 3sl then finishing seventh in the French Derby. Soft ground may also be keen to him.

Last in is Keeper’s Heart, who has greater range to shock than most. He was under two lengths behind Los Angeles in the Leopardstown Derby Trial when not getting a clear run on multiple occasions in May. He disappointed over 1m4f at that venue next time out, but may have raced too close to the pace and could be interesting as a closer here. He can be forgiven at his price.


VERDICT

The absence of City Of Troy sets up a rematch between Epsom second and third Ambiente Friendly and LOS ANGELES, with Aidan O’Brien’s charge given the vote to overturn placings and secure his trainer an astonishing 16th win in the race. The selection will not get a better chance to do so with three stablemates in the field to set up as strong a gallop as possible, while he also overachieved at Epsom anyway given how close he sat to a searching pace. The pair are well clear on form though and it should be a good battle. A sporting word is given to Keeper’s Heart as an each-way possible given two of the O’Brien runners may be pacemakers, there are ground doubts surrounding two others, and Matsuri may find this arrives too soon in his career.

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Ambiente Friendly
  3. Keeper’s Heart
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