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In the months and years to come there will be many a good reason to look back with fondness on this year’s running of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, which took place at The Curragh in Ireland’s County Kildare on Sunday.
First, there’ll be the great sporting memories. Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien is a serial winner of the big race here, but a clean sweep this year of places one, two and three, with Cape Blanco (pictured above), Midas Touch and Jan Vermeer, added another touch of lustre to his shining reputation.
Then there was Johnny Murtagh, Cape Blanco’s jockey, who picked himself up off the floor after a sickening fall from favourite Petronius Maximus in the first race to capture the big one. Those of us who saw him fly head over heels at 60 km per hour a short way down the track weren’t sure he would be getting up at all after that, never mind rising off the turf to finish the festival as its leading jockey.
There was plenty more. The ebullient Frankie Dettori showcased his riding skills with a terrific, hard fought win aboard Sea Lord in the Dubai Duty Free Double Millionaire Handicap, and his famous flying dismount brought cheers from his many backers as he arrived back in the parade ring.
Even for these toughest of athletes – and for their bravery and fortitude every day of the week, the likes of Dettori and Murtagh easily qualify – there’s real and raw emotion when they capture the key prizes on the biggest Classic race days. There was a lovely moment when the diminutive Dettori leapt into the arms of Dubai Duty Free Managing Director Colm McLoughlin after his victory. Dettori’s smile, as wide as the home straight at The Curragh, told you all you needed to know about the significance of the achievement.
There was another equally warm moment when Colm McLoughlin was presented with Honorary Membership of the Irish Turf Club, the governing body of horse racing in the country [Colm is pictured below with wife Breeda and Turf Club Senior Steward John McStay, left]. It was a fitting accolade, given Dubai Duty Free’s many years of support for racing not only in Ireland, but also in the UAE and the UK.
Colm’s sense of pride in the award was palpable too, particularly when asked if receiving the accolade on home soil meant something extra to him. “I often see awards such as the Freeman of Dublin being made to people, but they’re hardly ever from the place,” he quipped. “So it’s nice to be recognised in your own home. It’s not something that happens very often. But this is not an award for me; it’s one I’m accepting on behalf of our great team.”
The award capped off a day of top-class racing, fine hospitality and the chance to meet old friends in the Dubai Duty Free Pavilion. Roll on Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby day in 2011.