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As always on this late June weekend, I’m looking forward to the running of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh racecourse near Dublin.
Usually I fly in from London on the morning of the big race, enjoy Dubai Duty Free’s trademark wonderful hospitality, and cap it all off with an evening of Irish music and a gentle libation (or nine) with Colm and Breeda McLoughlin, the retailer’s senior management and friends at the wonderful K Club. The next day I wake a little (sometimes a lot) worse for the wear and make my way back to Dublin Airport, from whence I head home to put myself in the recovery position (horizontal) while reflecting on the lovely experience of the previous 24 hours.
This year the format, and my schedule, are a little different. In fact, a lot different. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is still being run but I won’t be there. Nor, apart from the trainers, jockeys, horses (helpful that) and key officials, will many be. You see, under Ireland’s prudent, sensible and thus far successful lockdown provisions, the whole three-day Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby weekend (26-28 June) is taking place behind closed doors. The usually packed grandstands will be eerily empty, while millions of racing fans, myself included, watch the big race on television from the comfort of their homes.
A Virtual Travel Retail Expo, now a virtual Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby – COVID-19 has a lot to answer for, and I and many others will miss the thrill of being on-course for this grand occasion. But through any normal non-Trumpian lens, mass gatherings of any sort are simply a bad idea right now and watching the race on TV will do just fine. Typically, Dubai Duty Free has not cut back on its commitment to the event and the retailer (and Dubai itself) will benefit from fantastic global exposure when the race is broadcast later today.
Regular readers of this Blog, of whom I am lucky enough to say there are many, will recall that I usually hire the services of a rather dodgy looking racing expert, known as The Moodie Tipster, to help readers select the winner of the big race. The Moodie Tipster’s track record, as it were, is about as patchy as one of those colourful quilts my grandma used to make, but he has landed a few winners too down the years.
I talked to the Tipster (by Zoom, of course) yesterday to get his predictions for this year’s race. He’s currently in An Loch Domhain (Lough Down), a pretty little lake in County Galway. Well he’s not actually in the lake, but self-isolating in a remote farmhouse surrounded by a moat designed to keep the virus away as everyone knows, he claims, that COVID-19 can’t swim.
So, who does he think will win this year’s race? Through his COVID-19-protected lens, can he still sort out the wheat from the horse’s chaff? Why, of course I can, he told me. So here, courtesy of our new podcast series In Virus – Travel Retail Horses, are The Moodie Tipster’s predictions, made virtually of course.
CHIRCAHUA: With a name that reads worryingly like Chihuahua, you do wonder if this colt has the legs to match the best of them here. Was narrowly denied by the talented Nobel Prize in his last outing but given that the latter subsequently disappointed in the Queen’s Vase next time out – and I can tell you that the Queen was none too pleased about that – you’d be better off popping into your local pet shop rather than betting shop and putting your money on that funny little pooch with short legs and a Mexican-sounding name. Odds: 20-1
CROSSFIREHURRICANE: Unbeaten in four starts and won easily over the testing Curragh course last time out. With a name like his, this classy colt won’t be deterred by the chilly blast of a pandemic and expect him to be storming home at the finish. Odds: 6-1
ARTHUR’S KINGDOM: Trained by Aidan O’Brien, but don’t go getting over excited about that as 95% of the horses in this race usually are. He’s apparently wearing cheekpieces for the first time today, part of the PPE that all horses must wear together with face masks and specially fitted rubber gloves on their hooves. So while he won’t catch anything nasty, nor will he catch the front-runners and Arthur’s Kingdom won’t rule at the Curragh. Odds: 11-2
DAWN PATROL: A half-brother to 2011 English Derby winner Pour Moi but for me this Aidan O’Brien contender would need to begin the race at dawn to be patrolling the winner’s circle. Runner-up to Tiger Moth last time, which sums up the lack of speed he will flying at down the home strait. Odds: 14-1
FISCAL RULES: If an Aidan O’Brien-trained horse doesn’t win the Derby then the chances are a Jim Bolger one will. While Fiscal Rules’ dad was called Make Believe and his Mum Gold Mirage, don’t dismiss their equine offspring’s chances here as pure fantasy. Bolger said recently that Fiscal Rules was “definitely better than my last Derby winner” – Trading Leather in 2013. Like that great John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis comedy, look out for a Fiscal Wonder today. Odds: 8-1
GALILEO CHROME: Trained by Aidan O’Brien’s son Joseph but you’d have to be seeing stars to think this Galileo has any chance today, hence the astronomical odds. As Freddie Mercury once (almost) sang: “Galileo, (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo not so magnifico; I’m just a poor horse, nobody loves me.” And at odds of 33-1 I don’t either.
GOLD MAZE: Trained by Jessica Harrington but it may as well be ace Irish golfer Pádraig Harrington training and riding him for all the chance he’s got. Gold Maze’s dad was 2015 Investec Derby winner Golden Horn but take your cue from his mum’s name – Astonishing. For it would truly be astonishing if her offspring figured in the finish here despite a decent second to Crossfirehurricane last time out. He’ll finish behind Crossfirehurricane again today. The only difference is that there will a lot more horses between them. Odds: 16-1
IBERIA: Complete this sentence. Trained by Aidan…
Yes, you got it right. Another contender from Mr O’Brien senior’s stable and word has it that a few Euros are quietly being placed on this improving 3 year old. None of mine are however and there will be a gap as long as the Iberian Peninsula between him and the winner today. As hot a prospect as Siberia in mid-winter. Odds: 12-1
KING OF THE THRONE: Don’t expect any kind of coronation here alas. Has failed to get his head in front in five starts, let alone the rest of his body, and the choice of top jumps jockey Rachael Blackmore to ride him probably sums up his chances. Unless she can get him to leap over all the other horses, his odds of 66-1 probably look generous.
ORDER OF AUSTRALIA: Jockey Padraig Beggy guided Sovereign to a shock victory at odds of 33-1 in last year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby but this year’s Order is a very tall one indeed. Frankly a COVID-ravaged Kangaroo let loose at the Curragh while playing a didgeridoo would have a better chance here than its equine Ocker counterpart. Odds: 40-1
SANTIAGO: With rain forecast today at the Curragh, things are bound to get a little chilly but the horse named after a certain South America city is among the hottest of prospects today. Won a big race at Royal Ascot eight days ago and the softening ground will suit him here. The message is clear: put plenty of your capital on Santiago. Odds: 3-1
SHERPA: Third last time out behind the uber-talented Crossfirehurricane, despite meeting trouble during the running. Looked as though he needed more distance and he’ll get that today. Sherpas are known to be good mountain guides and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that this fine four-legged version will be at his peak today. Odds: 14-1
SUNCHART: Looked a useful performer in the making when winning at Tipperary last year but that’s 137.6 kilometres from the Curragh (yes, it’s a long way to Tipperary) and his recent flop in the Derby Trial at Leopardstown suggests he will struggle here as a Leopardstown rarely changes its finishing spots. However, despite his name, Sunchart loves rain-softened ground. And this is Ireland, after all. Odds: 40-1
TIGER MOTH: Given his name, it’s no surprise that he flew home to win at Leopardstown last month. But at 12 furlongs this is a much longer race and I suspect that Tiger Moth is only a short-haul carrier. Odds: 16-1
NEW YORK GIRL: The only filly in today’s line-up is one of three runners for Joseph O’Brien and has a decent chance of beating her male rivals home today. Won a big Group Three race here in September and recently finished fourth in the prestigious Qipco 1000 Guineas on her seasonal debut and is clearly talented. Now, to be Frank, it’s up to you New York. Odds 14-1
The Moodie Tipster’s selections:
Winner: Fiscal Rules