Irish Derby Preview: Highland Reel to lead rivals a merry dance

Tony Keenan thinks Highland Reel can win the Irish Derby
Tony Keenan thinks Highland Reel can win the Irish Derby

Tony Keenan believes that the Ballydoyle challenge for this year's Irish Derby has been underrated and has one to beat the favourite Jack Hobbs...

"Brooch is very solid. Everything that was wrong last time is now right – she has had a run and steps up to her best trip – and Dermot Weld tends to improve his older horses."

Back Brooch @ 6.05/1 for the Pretty Polly Stakes

I've spent most Irish Derbies in the past either ignoring the race or taking Aidan O'Brien so, with the trainer having won eight of the last nine renewals, safe to say the first approach has proved the best for my wallet!

With the Scurry, Ireland's premier handicap sprint, having been moved from the undercard, I am left with the Derby as a punting medium and find myself in an unusual position: hoping for a Ballydoyle winner.

This is a rare occasion where the O'Brien horses offer value in this race. The perception is that the trainer hasn't got any notable three-year-old middle-distance colts but that seems based on the spring flops of winter Derby favourites John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River.

There has, in fact, been promise among the likes of Giovanni Canaletto and Highland Reel lately. Furthermore, it appears that the yard is only hitting peak form now; of the 18 Ballydoyle runners at Royal Ascot last week, only two were below form - the temperamental Cape Clear Island and Due Diligence who was returning from injury. Most of the rest produced career bests and it's fair to expect the same here.

Jack Hobbs sets a good standard for the Ballydoyle runners to beat but there are negatives with him. Firstly, his price of circa 1.84/5 is tight. Fast going is another issue; the Curragh ground is currently good to firm with little meaningful rain forecast and John Gosden actually wanted to walk the track before confirmed Jack Hobbs for Epsom. Finally, there is his hanging; one could forgive it once but he has now failed to keep a straight line in both the Dante and the Derby, tending to cock his jaw too.

With those issues in mind, it is hard to advise Giovanni Canaletto against him as he's another with a high head carriage. His form is good, the Gallinule working out well through Curvy, and he posted an impressive sectional that day. He could well improve past Storm The Stars for all that the Haggas horse ran an inefficient race in the Derby but I don't like how he holds his head.

Highland Reel looks the bet at 8.07/1. His poor run in the Poulains when sent off a heavily-backed favourite is being held against him still but he was entitled to need that outing more than most; it was his first since the previous June. Second to New Bay in the Prix du Jockey Club was much better when he shaped like twelve furlongs would suit and he's bred for it too. Fast ground is another big plus - both his impressive two-year-old wins came on good-firm - and it is hard to see him not getting involved.

There are three-year-old fillies engaged in the Irish Derby - Qualify and Pleascach - but for all the strength of that current crop it would be tough for them to defeat the colts.


***


Looking for a three-year-old in the weekend's other Group 1, the Pretty Polly Stakes on Sunday, makes sense though I do wonder about how well the favourite Legatissimo will take her fifth race in two and half months. She had hard races in both the Guineas and the Oaks, the former strongly-run and the latter perhaps stretching her stamina, and at odds of 3.02/1 I can leave her alone.

Brooch is very solid. I opposed her over Guineas Weekend where she won a race that looks stronger now than it did at the time. Everything that was wrong last time is now right - she has had a run and steps up to her best trip - and Dermot Weld tends to improve his older horses. Unlike the three-year-olds who were aimed at the classics, this race has been the plan for her all year and she looks a fair price at 6.05/1.


Recommended Bets
Back Highland Reel @ 8.07/1 for the Irish Derby
Back Brooch @ 6.05/1 for the Pretty Polly Stakes

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