On the Web 29 June 2003
By Sue Montgomery at the Curragh
30 June 2003
Irish Derby: Aga Khan's runners leave Ballydoyle contingent toiling but it is his locally trained colt who outguns the favourite from France
It was not quite in the Lazarus league, but Alamshar's stirring and historic success in yesterday's 138th Irish Derby was something of a veterinary miracle. This was a horse who could barely walk out of his box three days ago, but there was nothing to fault in his powerful, ground-raking gallop as he and the crack from France, Dalakhani, slogged it out down the straight. Both are owned by the Aga Khan, but there was no doubt about the sympathies of the huge, partisan crowd. Alamshar is trained a few hundred yards from the winning post by John Oxx, and the colt's heart, Johnny Murtagh's strength and the willpower from the stands got him home by half a length.
In the aftermath, Oxx's first praise was for the man who laid his hands on Alamshar. On Friday, after a recurring back problem reduced the three-year-old to a cripple, his participation was judged only 50-50. But the chiropractor Marc Baudoux - ironically, a Frenchman - swung the odds. "On Friday he couldn't walk straight, went up the yard crooked with no lateral flexion," Oxx said, "but a chiropractor can remedy it instantly, like clicking a switch."
The Curragh showpiece had a lopsided look on the racecard: of the nine contestants, six trained by Aidan O'Brien took on the Aga's pair, with one sole interloper. Two of the Ballydoyle hares, High Country and then Handel, blitzed off in front, with Dalakhani travelling easily in pursuit, but in a no man's land between the leaders and pursuing pack. When the field concertinaed at the head of the straight Christophe Soumillon had hardly moved on the hitherto unbeaten grey, but he was the one to be shot at. The only other on the bridle was the winner and to Dalakhani's credit the issue was not resolved until the final furlong. The best from Ballydoyle was Roosevelt, third.
On his previous run, Alamshar had finished a closing third in the Derby, a race which was, apparently, the crucible that applied the final tempering. "It was just wonderful to see the two fight it out," added Oxx, "with the best one to win. I'm just glad it was ours. Dalakhani was a worthy favourite, but our fella ran today like I expected him to at Epsom. When Johnny got off him there, he said that the experience had been the making of him and that we could expect improvement."
The inaugural rendering of "The Curragh of Kildare" by a singer as the runners went to post, in a pastiche of Churchill Downs' "My Old Kentucky Home" before the Derby there, fell somewhat flat, but the faithful made up for it with their approbation as Murtagh milked the moment from Alamshar's back as they were led in a victory parade past the stands.
It was the Irishman's second local Derby, after Sinndar three years ago. "Christophe may be the king of France," he said, "but he was on our turf today. I was a bit disappointed with Alamshar at Epsom, where he ran a bit flat, but it may have been the track. He is all heart. His will to win is second to none."
It was a risk by the Aga Khan to run both his stars, but reputations remained intact for both. They will take different routes now; Alamshar, who operates best on fast ground, has next month's King George as his target and is Ladbrokes' 3-1 joint-favourite with Nayef, while Dalakhani, trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre in Chantilly, will have a typical French summer holiday before the Arc.
The older generations are now waiting, but of that number Sulamani will have to improve on yesterday's effort in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. The Godolphin four-year-old fluffed his lines, running freely and trailing in fifth behind old rival Ange Gabriel.
Alamshar's victory gave the Aga his fifth Irish Derby, after Shergar, Shahrastani, Kahyasi and Sinndar, enabling him to equal the tally of his grandfather. It was appropriate that Alamshar carried the chocolate and green hoops, the old Aga's colours, with Dalakhani sporting the modern green and red.
Eleven Classics have now been run without A P O'Brien's name beside the winner, but as far as the youngest generation at Ballydoyle is concerned, it is business as usual. A glimpse of the future was provided when Antonius Pius became the trainer's sixth winner of the Railway Stakes in seven years. He is 20-1 for next year's 2,000 Guineas with Ladbrokes.
* Dane O'Neill picked up a seven-day ban for careless riding at Goodwood yesterday that will cost him the ride on Airwave in the July Cup next week.