Kevin Blake: Irish Derby looking to capitalise on unusual circumstances

Curragh race finish
The Irish Derby at the Curragh looks set to be a very informative race on Saturday

The first Derby of the season is the Irish version from the Curragh on Saturday, and Kevin Blake believes a Jim Bolger maiden is set to run a big race from a kind draw...

"All told, Fiscal Rules looks a very interesting contender in a wide-open Irish Derby and it wouldn't at all surprise to see him run very well."

The Irish Derby has been in a tricky spot for quite some time.

Due to its usual place in the calendar leaving it three or four weeks after the Derby at Epsom and the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, it was often the case that Epsom and Chantilly were where the pecking orders amongst middle-distance three-year-olds were established and the Curragh was where they would bid to affirm them.

For a time, this resulted in some great clashes in the Irish Derby between the main protagonists from the Derby and the French equivalent, but alas that hasn't been the case in more recent times.

Unfortunately for the Curragh, the combination of the Prix du Jockey Club being reduced to an extended mile-and-a-quarter and the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown becoming an ever more popular destination for Derby winners, the Irish Derby has often struggled to fight its corner.

First derby of the year promises to be very informative

Ballydoyle have always tried to bring their Derby winners to the Curragh for their next start, completing the Derby double with Galileo, High Chaparral, Camelot and Australia, with Ruler Of The World, Wings Of Eagles and Anthony Van Dyck failing in their bids to double up at the Curragh.

Other than them, the only Derby winners in the last 25 years to attempt to the follow up in the Irish Derby were the locally-trained pair of Sinndar and Harzand, as well as the Sir Michael Stoute-trained North Light.

French support of the race has also been minimal in recent years, with the victories of the Prix du Jockey Club winners Dream Well and Montjeu at the Curragh in the late-90s seeming like an awful long time ago.

Thus, within this bigger picture of a struggle to maintain its status, the Covid-19 crisis has led to an unprecedented situation where the Irish Derby will now take place ahead of the Derby at Epsom for the first time in history.

The result is that the race has attracted 15 runners, the biggest field in an Irish Derby since 1977. While it may lack a stand-out contender with top-class form in the book, many of the runners still fit into the "could be anything" bracket and the race promises to be very informative.

Important to factor in draw and pace

Despite the big field and the strong numerical representation from Ballydoyle, when one goes through the runners and their likely run style, it might be ill-advised to assume that the pace will be above average.

The size of the field also brings the draw into the equation as a potentially significant factor. One feature of the Derby track at the Curragh is that there is a lot of steady turning to be done and those that get caught out wide tend to have to cover quite a bit more ground than those that are going the shortest way around towards the inside.

With those factors in mind, a well-drawn runner that is suited by racing prominently could well be a winning combination to seek out amongst the field.

Fiscal meets the Rules and looks an interesting contender

One that may well fit that bill is the Jim Bolger-trained Fiscal Rules. While he is still a maiden after two starts, both runs have been notably promising. He made his debut in a seven-furlong maiden at the Curragh last August and looked set to prevail when picking up well to hit the front, but he got a bit lonely in the lead and was nailed close home by none other than Wichita.

It is a testament to the regard that he is held in that Bolger opted to ask him to make his seasonal reappearance in the Irish 2,000 Guineas earlier this month.

Having been a bit slow to start, the son of Make Believe was settled in rear and had to wait until the two-furlong pole before getting open air in front of him. Once in the clear his response was to make steady rather than spectacular gains, but considering the circumstances it was a fine run to be beaten just four lengths in a Classic on his seasonal return on just his second career start.

Being a half-brother to the smart stayer Cimeara, he seems likely to relish the stronger test of stamina that this race will present. He can also be expected to be sharper away from his good draw and to travel more prominently. While Jim Bolger hasn't exactly been firing in the winners, his horses do seem to be improving from their first runs back after their lockdown breaks.

All told, Fiscal Rules looks a very interesting contender in a wide-open Irish Derby and it wouldn't at all surprise to see him run very well.

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