Sunday Supplement: Irish Famine

Just five runners for the Irish Derby

Just five runners for the Irish Derby

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Transport complications meant I never made it to the Irish Derby. There can be no such excuses for connections of all the decent mile and a half three-year-old colts trained in England declining to take on Australia at The Curragh. That criticism does not apply to owner Paul Smith and trainer Roger Varian, who at least had Kingston Hill on hand should the ground have been deemed suitable.

You’d wonder what would have happened had the type of thunderstorm that assailed Newmarket’s July Course at the precise moment that Varian finally drew stumps on the re-match with their Epsom conqueror instead have been situated a few hundred miles to the North-West.

I’d have fancied Kingston Hill to turn around the form in really soft ground and I’m sure Smith’s father Derrick, in whose colours Australia runs, was relieved – as no doubt were Messrs Magnier, Tabor and T Ah Khing, who wore a rather funny hat in the winner’s circle afterwards.

In a way it was reminiscent of the 1982 Derbys (Epsom and Irish) when Secreto, trained by David O’Brien, beat El Gran Senor, trained by his father Vincent. When it came to The Curragh, injury for Secreto left the way clear for El Gran Senor to collect his Derby and justify the big stud deal that had long awaited him.

In the early 1960’s the Irish Derby was supported by the Irish Hospitals’ Trust lottery and the funds generated produced not only hitherto unheard of prizemoney, but a vastly enhanced foreign challenge. I remember as a youngster of 17, going back to the club room at Eton Manor sports ground between the innings of our cricket match.

The interval coincided with the running of the 1963 Irish Derby which was to feature the re-match of Relko, the six-length Epsom winner, and Ragusa, a late-developing colt trained by P J Prendergast for the Mullions.

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Relko’s Derby win in a field of 26 had already been the subject of controversy in that he’d failed a drug test. This was in the era of far-ranging doping in English racing and it was not until October of that year that his Classic win was finally confirmed by the Jockey Club.

But it was under those circumstances that when Relko was found to be lame at the start before the Irish Classic and withdrawn, the controversy surrounding him deepened. In the race itself, Ragusa, a June 15 foal so weak he needed to be supplemented with milk and eggs in his early days, won with authority and later won the St Leger in a canter by six lengths.

These were two great horses, Relko losing only once more after three successive defeats at the end of his juvenile year, in a nine wins from 13 career tally.

The bare record of the 2014 Irish Derby – blimey, that’s 51 years since Relko – shows that sons of Galileo were one, two and three; all trained by Aidan O’Brien and owned by the same triumvirate, apart from the man with the hat on the Australia team.

Yet in allowing Kingfisher (10th at Epsom) and Orchestra, 12th there, to collect prizes of respectively £197,000 and £93,000, those parties responsible for the third to seventh at Epsom were oblivious to the potential benefits of a re-match.

Romsdal, Arod, Red Galileo (by Dubawi and not the Great One), Western Hymn and True Story all ignored the gig. Hope their trainers have a good story to explain why to their owners. Funnily enough Fascinating Rock, eighth at Epsom, never got into the race behind Australia’s pace-setters, both decent Pattern-class winners in their own right. He finished last behind Ponfeigh, John Oxx’s improving colt and the only one in the field not to run at Epsom.

Oxx’s relatively quiet time since the days of Sea the Stars temporarily brought a reduction in the proportion of Aga Khan horses that he had in the yard, Dermot Weld, Fascinating Rock’s handler, also enjoying the great breeder’s support.

So it was with some surprise that I noted that in the latest issue of Horses in Training, (my regular desk-side standby ) that Oxx is now back as the undisputed caretaker for the Aga Khan’s Irish youngsters, 27 two-year-olds listed as against none for Dermot. Oxx also has the added benefit of 13 Sea the Stars juveniles, all bar two for Christopher Tsui. Happily, Dermot still has 60 choice candidates in that category for some pretty smart owners.

Eton Manor, down the road from me, opened last week in its latest guise as part of the 2012 Olympics legacy as the pristine Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre with its four indoor and six outdoor tennis courts, all in a bright blue hue, and two full-size hockey pitches.

It was in its 27-acre site back in World Cup year 1966 that I recall another cricket match. While the final was being played, with Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick and all that, I played for Eton Manor against my dad’s old club Eton Mission, the reason for the two neighbouring clubs’ formation in 1909 by four Old Etonian benefactors.

Eton Mission had a proud history of producing athletes, notably two Olympic boxing champions, Harry and Fred Mallin, who taught my dad to box before the war. Shortly after he came back from the Middle East, I was born and later christened in Eton Mission church (Our Lady of Eton to give it its full title) which has just had a nice money-making transformation with two blocks of new apartments – wish I could afford one – either side of the Church.

Harry Mallin was one of the umpires on that World Cup day and I’m sure that the Eton Manor team would have included Terry Peters, if not his mate Tom Ford, who by then had probably gone on to slightly higher-class cricket with Gidea Park. They had a horse together, years later with Jacqui Doyle, mother of James, called Petersford Girl.

City slicker Tom was actually the sponsor of the Doyle yard in the 1990’s and he has had horses ever since, notably the Tim Easterby-trained jumping filly Run Ructions Run, of whom Tim – according to our chat at Carlisle this week – has high hopes that she can add to last season’s four wins.

Terry Peters was married at the time of the 1966 World Cup to Wendy, a very nice lady, but sadly their union went the way of so many. So on opening my computer an hour ago, it was some surprise to see that the first item on the Yahoo menu was not about the World Cup, or perish the thought the Irish Derby, but about Wendi (didn’t know she spelt it that way) Peters.

Anyway on reading further, it seems Wendi Peters was the actress who played the part of that irritating woman Cilla Battersby (wife of Les) in Coronation Street, which started broadcasting at the end of the year Relko and Ragusa were foaled . Since the advent of Sky Sport, Racing UK and At the races, I hadn’t realised it was still on.

It came as a bit of a shock to find that this Ms Peters is only 46 – she looked that age when I last saw the show in my earlier incarnation. What they can do with make-up! Wonder how the real Wendy is now?

Missing Ireland meant I still haven’t congratulated Diane Nagle about Telescope at Ascot. Now I’ve got to wish her and Sue O’Brien all the best in their joint purchase of three three-year-old Yeats stores at Goffs last week. Bet one of them wins the Champion Hurdle, trained by A P O’Brien, who with just three, needs to start catching up with his 11 Irish Derbys.

As for me it’s off to Deauville on the 1.23 a.m. train on Wednesday morning after paying my respects to Patsy O’Neill in St John’s Wood the previous day. Patsy, a nice man and very good judge, was greatly missed at Royal Ascot this month and it’s hard to think that he won’t still be around to dig out those big-priced winners.


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