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Curragh to launch 150th Irish Derby Book in 2015

December 10, 2014

2015 sees the 150th running of the Irish Derby, Ireland’s oldest classic race. English raiders – Selim and Golden Plover won the first two runnings, in 1866 and 1867. The Irish Oaks came into being in 1895, followed by the Irish St Leger, inaugurated in 1915. Only after World War One was the full classic hand completed, with the Irish 2000 Guineas coming into being from 1921 and the fillies’ equivalent twelve months later.
To mark this Irish Derby milestone the Curragh Racecourse is producing an updated history of Ireland’s greatest flat race. The first such history, published back in 1980, was borne out of a desire to record Irish racing history. Realising that was simply too broad a canvas, the authors employed the Irish Derby as the vehicle best calculated to include just about everyone who had played a significant role in Irish racing since 1866. Fortuitously, that formula proved successful, virtually the only notable omissions being Arkle and his connections.
In the effort to ensure this forthcoming history of the Irish Derby makes the widest possible appeal, the compilers are in search of as much Irish Derby-related memorabilia as survives. Prompt and secure return of any items is assured, together with acknowledgement of those kind enough to make material available. Evan Arkwright, Curragh Commercial Manager, is driving this project. He can be reached at 045 – 441205 or eark@curragh.ie
An example already to hand is the Irish Derby racecard, 26 June 1907. The fourth race on a six-race card, timed for 3.30pm., the feature race carried a prize fund of 1,000 sovereigns, of which the second received 150 sovs and the third 50 sovs out of the fund. As overnight declarations lay some twenty years down the road, the card listed 24 possible starters. In the event only seven faced the starter. For a very good reason – Orby.
Richard ‘Boss’ Croker’s flashy chestnut had recently created history when becoming the first Irish-trained horse to succeed in the Epsom Derby, first run in 1780. By a curious twist of fate ‘Boss’ Croker had got cold feet about that Epsom challenge, ordering his racing manager Colonel FF MacCabe to scratch Orby from the Derby. MacCabe had argued vehemently against such a move, insistent that half of Ireland had backed Orby, forcing his odds down from 66-to-1 to 100-to-9. Fortunately, MacCabe had carried the day, scoring a momentous breakthrough for Irish racing.
Now the positions were reversed. Always plagued by weak joints, Orby was likely to suffer lasting damage if asked to fulfil his Irish Derby engagement on the prevailing firm ground. It was MacCabe’s turn to plead with Croker to save Orby for a tilt at the St Leger, which no Irish-trained horse had ever won outright. Moreover, MacCabe was adamant that Georgetown would prove a perfectly adequate substitute. But Croker was determined the Irish racing public be given the opportunity to see their newly-crowned national icon in action on home ground. Georgetown should act as Orby’s pacemaker.
The Irish Field recorded the scene. ‘Orby’s presence quite paralysed speculation and although it was really 100-to-1 on him few cared to lay the 10-to-1 asked by the bookmakers.’ The ‘race’ itself was equally well portrayed. ‘The crack simply lobbed along in third place until making the line for home. Here he shot to the front and practically ambled past the post four lengths ahead of Georgetown, who easily beat Gleg. Apart from when St Brendan beat Port Blair [in 1902] no Irish Derby winner ever received such an ovation.’
Even though Orby pulled up lame, Croker considered himself vindicated and ordered MacCabe to prepare him for the St Leger. In July Orby finished last of four at Liverpool and a month later the Irish Field reported sadly: ‘Orby has sprained the sub-carpal ligament of his off-fore leg, which practically amounts to a breakdown and so all question of his running in the St Leger is set at rest.’ Orby was duly retired to his owner’s Glencairn Stud, dying there in 1918, his grave marked by a simple headstone in the grounds.
The search is on for like mementos – racing plates, photographs, racecards, badges, cigarette cards, posters, those illustrated brochures published each year during the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes’ sponsorship (1962-1983), in fact anything and everything related to Ireland’s greatest flat race. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And if it’s true that an image is worth one thousand words, then, the more the merrier.

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