Tony Keenan looks ahead to the Irish Derby on Saturday and addresses the five big questions about the race...
"The one that really stands out from Ascot however is Hunting Horn. He looked quite exposed going into the Hampton Court but significantly it was the first time he got fast ground and duly put up a much improved performance."
It's the Irish Derby this Saturday so let's kick-start the week with five questions ahead of the big race.
How will the ground ride?
Very fast. It has barely rained in Ireland for the past six weeks and watering commenced on the course over the weekend with the going currently described as good-firm, firm in places on the round track. Per the Irish meteorological service, the peak temperatures over the next five days are 23, 27, 26, 25 and 25 degrees respectively so it is going to need a lot of a water even to maintain the current surface.
Who is going to run?
Saxon Warrior and Dee Ex Bee anyway and the Gallinule one-two Platinum Warrior and Latrobe as well, The Pentagon too; after that, there is confusion. Dermot Weld seemed intent on going the 1o-furlong route with Hazapour after that horse travelled best of all at Epsom and isn't known for changing his mind. Young Rascal too seems an unlikely runner given the ground; William Haggas commented pre-Epsom that 'he's got quite a pronounced knee action' and was worried about running him on firm.
Charlie Appleby suggested on Monday morning that King Edward VII winner Old Persian could take his chance but the main imponderable is over how many, if any, of the Ballydoyle Royal Ascot runners will run. Kew Gardens, Hunting Horn, Nelson, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Rostropovich and Delano Roosevelt are all possibles but it is worth pointing out how few horses Aidan O'Brien has run in this race off the back of the Royal meeting. Going back to 2004, there have been seven such horses with their finishing positions at the Curragh a disappointing:7890556.
One thing to keep in mind is that some of these uncertain runners have a 'free entry' into the race. That is achieved by winning or placing in certain races - the full list, which is quite extensive, is available here on the Curragh website - and some of the horses this applies to are Dee Ex Bee, Old Persian, Hunting Horn, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Platinum Warrior.
What happened to Saxon Warrior at Epsom?
I don't know. Lots of little things went wrong for the favourite last time: he would have preferred faster ground, he was badly-drawn and stumbled leaving the stalls, he met some trouble in the straight, the track seemed not to suit. One thing that was surprising is that he didn't travel like a Group 1-winning miler against staying types so may not have been in the same form as Newmarket but on the clock there was not a huge difference between the two performances, just two pounds on the Timeform scale. All of those seem like quite flaky excuses for a horse that could be sent off around 1.68/13 for Saturday's race and the true champions tend to overcome those minor difficulties.
Another thing to consider with Saxon Warrior is how many his yard will want to run against when they already have the odds-on favourite in the field; it is one thing to go completely mob-handed in an open year but this doesn't seem one of those. Furthermore, he may not want a real slog and the emphasis on stamina may play more into the hands of Dee Ex Bee.
Will Dee Ex Bee run to form?
There is always a worry with the Mark Johnston horses and whether or not they will back up a good recent run; sometimes you have the play the man a bit and his runners often have yo-yo form cycles that are hard to read. Fast ground has to be another concern with Dee Ex Bee. He is yet to run on faster than good in eight starts and has quite a high knee action. I also wonder how much this race with emphasise stamina with Ballydoyle perhaps believing Saxon Warrior will prove best over 10 furlongs whereas Dee Ex Bee would prefer a more attritional race.
Are there any interesting outsiders?
The Gallinule form tends not to work out from year to year - the race over Irish Guineas weekend is too close to Epsom for the top middle-distance horses to run there - though both Platinum Warrior and Latrobe should be well-suited by twelve furlongs on fast ground. They at least are not facing a quick turnaround after a recent run at Royal Ascot.
Old Persian won the King Edward well but he looked to sit close to a soft pace, something that he has done before, and Delano Roosevelt was not seen to best effect there, finishing with a bit to give. The concern with him is two-fold: a quick surface may not suit and his attitude isn't great.
The one that really stands out from Ascot however is Hunting Horn. He looked quite exposed going into the Hampton Court but significantly it was the first time he got fast ground and duly put up a much improved performance. Timeform rate the performance second only to Time Test in that race's history and it was backed up by the clock. It was interesting that he was the sole Ballydoyle runner in that race whereas they went triple-handed in the Queen's Vase and the King Edward. The trainer seemed more inclined to go for the Eclipse afterwards or even to France but he would be near the top of my shortlist if taking part and they do have a free entry now, not that that matters with the connections concerned!