1881 – 1890

Barcaldine, outstandingly the best of his generation in Ireland, had never been entered for the 1881 Irish Derby. Unbeaten as a two-year-old, Barcaldine had won the Baldoyle Derby when only half fit. Whatever should win the fifteenth Irish Derby would be seen as a winner by default. In the champion’s absence Greenfield was backed to odds-on to go one better than his half-brother, Shinglass. Master Ned, winner of the Anglesea Stakes, was required to concede between 7lb and 24lb to his five rivals, which few believed to be in his power. Doubters were made to eat their words, as, in a desperate finish, Master Ned beat Greenfield by a neck.

Bred and owned by Monasterevan distiller James A Cassidy, Master Ned was named after his owner-breeder’s son. While he went on to win numerous races and duly retired to stud in England, advertised as ‘likely to beget good hunter stock,’ Master Ned was totally overshadowed by that Irish Derby absentee. Barcaldine, once transferred to Newmarket owner-trainer Robert Peck, went on to prove himself one of the great racehorses of his era, considered by regular partner Fred Archer as one of the best he ever rode.

Having won the Irish Derby with top weight Master Ned, James Cassidy and Melitta Lodge, Curragh, trainer Pat Doucie promptly followed up with Sortie, from the other end of the weight scale, ridden by lightweight Nicholas Behan. One of seven jockey brothers, Nicholas had opened his account at the Curragh two years previously, at the tender age of ten, weighing barely 5st. Three more of the Behan brethren, William, Jack and ‘Phillie’, were destined to win the Irish Derby, though as trainers.

Already twice successful in the Grand National, Eyrefield Lodge, Curragh, trainer Henry Eyre Linde and his brilliant amateur stable jockey Mr Tommy Beasley aspired to Irish Derby honours with favourite and top weight May Boy. Winner of the Beresford Stakes on his local course, May Boy had gone on to prove himself against English juveniles when successful at Sandown Park. Favourite backers knew their fate as May Boy faded to finish a moderate third behind lightweights Sylph and Captain Arthur. Sylph, carrying the increasingly prominent ‘French grey, scarlet hoop’ of owner-breeder Charles J Blake, was trained for him at his Maryborough Heath stables by James ‘Fairy’ Dunne and ridden by the ‘King of the Curragh’, John Conolly. Successful in her next three races, Sylph was later exported to Germany.

Henry Linde and Tommy Beasley teamed up with the outstanding filly Grecian Bend, a daughter of the 1871 Irish Derby heroine Maid of Athens. They got closer this time, though thwarted by a ‘good length’ by Theologian, cleverly ridden from the front by master tactician John Conolly. Bred, owned and effectively trained by Garrett Moore of Jockey Hall, Curragh, Theologian was officially accredited to William Behan as trainer. The last of four Irish Derby winners sired by Uncas and the first of three Irish Derby winners out of Miss Theo, Theologian never showed comparable ability again.

Already four times Turf Club senior steward, Charles J Blake now presided over the most powerful exclusively flat stable in Ireland. Soon to become leading owner in the land, Charles J Blake repeated his earlier Irish Derby success with the lightly-weighted outsider St Kevin, likewise trained by James Dunne and ridden by Heath House second jockey Henry Saunders, whose first seasonal success this was.

In the process of relocating his training stables to Winchester, Garrett Moore sold the majority of his horses before racing began on Irish Derby day 1886, seven lots sold by Turf Club auctioneer Robert J Goff. In the big race he was represented by Theodemir, a half-brother to his 1884 winner Theologian. The mount was once again entrusted to John Conolly. However, the market indicated that Garrett’s swansong was likely to be spoiled by the Heath House trio, headed by Draco, 5-to-2 favourite.

Once again John Conolly demonstrated his mastery of the Curragh when driving Theodemir home by half a length following a protracted tussle with Michael Dawson on Nightmare. In keeping with his intention to make a fresh start in England, Garrett Moore sold Theodemir immediately after the race, to German owner O Ochlschlaeger, for whom he finished down the field in the Jubilee Prize at Baden Baden.

Ireland had just experienced its hottest day since records began, Monday, 26 June, 1887, when temperatures hit 33.3C in Kilkenny. Two days later the richest prize in the history of Irish racing drew them to the Curragh in their thousands. Once again the weight range of 24lb coloured punters’ thinking. They plumped for William Brophy’s representative Henry George, 3-to-1 to beat ten rivals. Henry Eyre Linde, to whom the Irish Derby was fast becoming a personal bogey, relied upon his own unraced but highly-tried Pet Fox.

The outcome of the 1887 Irish Derby may well have been determined by an incident at half way when Pericles fell, bringing down Holly and badly hampering both Henry George and Kildare. Unaffected by the carnage in his wake, Pet Fox carried Terry Kavanagh to a clear-cut success in what was a most remarkable racecourse debut, even by Linde’s extraordinary standards. Those standards would see Pet Fox prove his versatility by winnings over Punchestown’s formidable banks and ditches before retiring to stud, neglected by breeders.

Just two years after his departure to England, Garrett Moore returned in search of a third Irish Derby with another son of Miss Theo – Theodolite – owned by Captain Llewellyn Heywood Jones, an enthusiastic owner-rider, who had developed his passion for racing while serving in Ireland with the 5th Lancers. John Conolly unavailability – he was committed to William Brophy’s Miss Pitt, the short-priced favourite – saw Garry Moore bring over up-and-coming teenager William ‘Billy’ Warne, who had recently opened his classic account on Briar-root in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Whereas Miss Pitt proved disappointing, Theodolite and Hospodar fought it out, the former prevailing by three-parts of a length, Rosebud finishing a remote third. A record third Irish Derby winner for both Garry Moore and Miss Theo, Theodolite went on to win Kempton Park’s Champion Hurdle, albeit as a gelding. In all, Miss Theo produced ten winners of fifty-two races, a truly remarkable record for this daughter of Leamington and Hebe, foaled as long ago as 1855.

In receipt of massive amounts of weight from his four rivals, the Middleham raider Baillie went off odds-on for the 1889 Irish Derby. Hard as the invader tried, he had no answer to Thomas Gisborne Gordon’s homebred filly, Tragedy, trained by him in Brownstown Lodge, Curragh, and ridden by the gifted Mr Tommy Beasley, twice outright Irish champion jockey. While he returned to a warm welcome, it was polite compared to that accorded him when he became the only man ever to defeat Fred Archer on Irish soil at the Curragh in October 1886. Tragedy carried the colours of a newcomer to Irish racing, Captain J Henry Greer, whose first runner in his ‘White, tartan sleeves, cherry cap’ she was.

The Turf Club’s failure to maintain the value of the Irish Derby saw the 1890 field decline to a mere quintet, headed by TG Gordon’s Delamont, preferred in the betting to Charles J Blake’s Goldminer and MA Maher’s Kentish Fire, named only that morning and unseen in public since his solitary juvenile appearance. Those who dismissed rumours of Kentish Fire’s sizzling homework were left to rue their scepticism as Michael Dawson brought this imposing chestnut home four lengths to the good to credit Curragh View trainer Rice Meredith with his initial Irish Derby success.