In defence of the Irish Derby

By: William O’Toole

In the days following Saturday’s Irish Derby, plenty has been said and written about the value of the race. Plenty feel that the race is in danger of becoming obsolete because of diminishing numbers turning up for a crack at the great prize.

The facts are simple, yes only 5 horses turned up and yes not all the prize money was claimed. In fact €50,000 went unclaimed but this could have a lot to do with the fact that in the past two years, there has been two superstars in attendance.

We might not have learned much more about Australia’s facile victory but to call it a ‘farce’ of a race is surely unfair.

The Curragh are in a no win situation.  Do people want to see a superstar on show or do they want to see a big field?.

Aidan O Brien has always supported the race, its a race that has long been close to his heart. He has never been afraid to let one of his good horses take their chance and since 1997 he has landed it an impressive 11 times.

A case in point was last year when he risked Camelot on unsuitable ground. He could easily have left him at home and won it with another one.

The pick he has each year is staggering and realistically in any given year he could have five or six live Derby contenders.

But he chose not to because he has always felt that the very best three year old’s should line up for our top three year old race.

On Saturday,  we saw one of the most visually impressive winners of the famous race that we have seen in recent years.


Plenty has been made about the opposition but lets not forget that the other two O’Brien runners had landed recognized Derby trials and in any other year they would have been worthy winners in their own right.

There is no question that in the past few years we have seen dwindling numbers lining up. It is probable that trainers have been scared off by some of O’Brien’s good horses but should he be expected to leave them in their boxes?

The change in distance of the French Derby has played a big part in this because the French now no longer see the value in travelling to Ireland.

Another problem is that the pool of three-year -old’s bred to run over the distance is also declining. Horses are increasingly being bred to tackle a mile or a mile and five furlongs.

On the subject of diminishing crowds, that’s another subject matter. With the quality of cards on offer during the summer greater attendances should be recorded at race courses.

In an Irish summer, its very hard not to clash with the GAA. It has and always will be our number one summer past-time and will always take people away from our race courses during the summer months.

The Curragh do a great job promoting Derby weekend and they should be commended for it. They ran a great advertising campaign to try and get people to attend the meeting.

For me the Irish Derby is still our best flat race and will continue to be as long as trainers like Aidan O’Brien continue to support it.

Joseph O'Brien after Saturday's race

Joseph O’Brien after Saturday’s race

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