The 2020 Irish Derby was unusual for many reasons, not least the fact that it was held behind closed doors as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
However, it will be business as usual at the Curragh Racecourse this year, with a capacity crowd expected to cheer on the runners and riders as they compete for the 155th Irish Derby crown.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll cast our eyes back over the history of this stellar event, while asking who’s expected to compete for first place this time around?
A Brief History of the Irish Derby
The Irish Derby is categorised as a Group 1 race, which is run under Set Weight conditions for three-year old colts and fillies.
However, this basic description does not do justice to the event, which was first run in 1866 and a mere 80 years after the classic derby race first held at Epsom (although there was an earlier iteration of the derby called the ‘O’Darby Stakes’ that ran between 1817 and 1824 before being discontinued).
There’s certainly an inherent link between the Irish and Epsom Derbies, and it was Orby who became the first runner to complete the English / Irish Derby double in 1907. A further 17 horses have achieved this feat since, with the most recent being the Dermot Weld-trained Harzand in 2016.
Some notable runners, riders and trainers have also dominated the Irish Derby down the years, including jockey Morny Wing. Incredibly, he earned six wins at the Derby throughout his career; namely Ballyheron (1921), Waygood (1923), Rock Star (1930), Rosewell (1938), Windsor Slipper (1942) and Bright News (1946).
Since the turn of the century, both Johnny Murtagh and Seamie Heffernan have claimed four wins each, with the latter having the distinction of riding Santiago to success in last year’s race.
However, if there’s one name that’s truly synonymous with the Irish Derby, it belongs to legendary trainer Aiden O’Brien.
Incredibly, O’Brien has trained a staggering 14 Irish Derby winners, starting with ‘Desert King’ back in 1997. This magnificent haul includes seven consecutive wins between 2006 and 2012, while he won again with ‘Australia’ in 2014.
O’Brien-trained runners ‘Sovreign’ and ‘Santiago’ also prevailed in 2019 and 2020 respectively, although we’ll touch a little more on the latter’s most recent success below.
Many of these triumphs have also been shared with trainer Michael Tabor, who can boast 15 wins at the Irish Derby. These include notable winners such as Desert King and Dylan Thomas (2006), who won 10 of his 19 career flat races and earned more than £3.3 million for his owner overall.
What Happened in 2020?
Of course, we’ve already spoken briefly about the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby of 2020, which was run against an eerie backdrop that was bereft of spectators and interested punters.
While it may have been a surreal and unprecedented Derby Day, however, the race produced a fairly typical outcome, with Aidan O’Brien’s Santiago romping home at the Curragh to complete his trainer’s 14th triumph at the event.
Santiago was also the ante-post favourite with most bookmakers, with odds of 2/1 on offer across the board.
However, Santiago also led home an Aidan O’Brien clean sweep in 2020, with his stable companions Tiger Moth, Dawn Patrol and 33/1 outsider Order of Australia trailing in second, third and fourth place respectively.
In fact, the first non-Ballydoyle horse home was Jim Bolger’s ‘Fiscal Rules’, who claimed fifth-place in a domestic-only race that will live long in the memory.
While this may be the seventh time that O’Brien has filled the frame in Ireland’s premier classic, it’s still a remarkable achievement that one that dramatically improved a spectacle that sorely missed the energy and enthusiasm of the spectators.
What About This Year’s Derby – Who are the Favourites?
The return of spectators will create a much more familiar Derby Day atmosphere at the Curragh this time around, regardless of which horses are eventually confirmed as the runners on June 26th.
The www.betinireland.ie/sports-betting/horse-racing/irish-derby/ page on the Betinireland.ie site features a really insightful guide to this year’s race and schedule, and will be able to provide some of the best prices on the market closer to race day.
However, the early news suggests that Aidan O’Brien is once again looking to dominate the Irish Derby, particularly given that just one of his talented stable competed at the 242nd Epsom Classic on June 5th.
This was Bolshoi Ballet, although the talented three-year old only managed to trail home in seventh despite starting the race as the 11/8 ante post favourite.
However, this runner is also set to star at the Curragh, having won three of his six flat outings to date and claimed two consecutive victories at Leopardstown in April and May. He’s also tentatively priced at 8/1 at present, so offers genuine value even in a competitive field.
It’s O’Brien’s ‘High Definition’ that will most likely start the Irish Derby as favourite, with this runner having been withdrawn from the Epsom Classic specifically to lead the charge at the Curragh.
This represented a major switch to O’Brien’s pre-race strategy, so it’s little surprise that High Definition (who has won two of his three entries in a fledgling career so far) is currently priced as low as 9/4 to prevail.
Other noticeable O’Brien entries include St. Mark’s Basilica (10/1) and relative outside Van Gogh (20/1), the former of which recently won impressively at Chantilly over the one-mile, 2-½ furlong course.
However, Van Gogh did perform relatively well at his last outing at the Curragh on May 22nd, finishing third in a competitive field of 11 behind the eventual winner Mac Swiney.
Interestingly, the Jim Bolger-trained Mac Swiney may provide the main threat to an O’Brien win this time around, while he’s certainly well-placed to claim a fifth place in 10 outings and prevent the Ballydoyle stables from completing another clean sweep.
The bookies certainly seem to agree, with Mac Swiney priced at 11/2 and currently considered to be fourth favourite behind High Definition, Hurricane Lane (3/1) and Mojo Star (9/2).