1931 – 1940

That melancholy export sequence was eventually interrupted in 1931 when Philip Behan became the fourth Behan brother to see his name inscribed on the Irish Derby’s roll of honour, following Nicholas (1882), William (1884) and Jack (1910). Better still, Irish runners filled the first three places, Joe Canty bringing the unbeaten Sea Serpent home clear of Count John McCormack’s Beaudelaire with Holmer Peard’s Sir Walter Raleigh in third, ahead of the solitary English challenger and hot favourite Gallini, which admittedly finished lame.

Sea Serpent was owned by Sir Harold Gray, who bred the son of Golden Myth and Seabloom at his Gog Magog Hills Stud in Cambridgeshire. Winner of the Railway Stakes on his solitary juvenile appearance, Sea Serpent had won the Baldoyle Derby on his only other start. Sir Harold Gray, Phillie Behan and Joe Canty duly headed their respective tables in Ireland for 1931, as did Golden Myth and Sea Serpent. However, just as Golden Myth proved to be a one-horse stallion, so Sea Serpent seemed destined to do, until siring the Irish classic winners Mondragon and Serpent Star, sufficient to see him crowned Irish champion sire in 1939.

Phillie Behan, master of Mountjoy Lodge, had graduated from successful lightweight jockey to portly past master at the art of producing two-year-old fliers. Champion trainer in Ireland five times between 1918 and 1934, he sent out the first two-year-old winner of the season 12 times between 1898 and 1933. Nine Railway Stakes, nine Anglesey Stakes, five Phoenix Stakes, eight National Stakes and six Beresford Stakes pay lasting testament to the talent of the master of Mountjoy Lodge.

Since successful with Zionist seven years previously, HH the Aga Khan had tried only once, with Grand Terrace, fourth to Kopi in 1929. Dastur was different class, second to Orwell in the 2000 Guineas, second to April the Fifth in the Derby and runaway winner of the Ascot Derby, he was deservedly odds-on to maintain the English-trained near-monopoly of Ireland’s premier flat race. For all his superiority on paper, it was only by a head that Michael Beary got the hot pot home from Hill Song. Nonetheless, his time – 2mins 35.6secs – constituted an Irish Derby record.

Successful in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, Dastur went on to attain the dubious distinction of finishing second in all three Triple Crown events when runner-up to his stable companion Firdaussi in the St Leger. Coincidentally, three years later Bahram, Dastur’s half-brother, was to go one better, becoming the last Triple Crown winner until Nijinsky in 1970. Kept in training as a four-year-old, Dastur won the Coronation Cup at Epsom and then dead-heated with Chatelaine in the Champion Stakes. Retired initially to the Egerton Stud, Newmarket, and subsequently to the Old Connell Stud, Newbridge, in 1940, Dastur headed the sires’ list in Ireland in 1943 when his daughter Suntop won both the Irish 1000 Guineas and Irish Oaks.

The Dastur team supplied the favourite once again in 1933 – Shamsuddin, second to Hyperion in both the Chester Vase and the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot. Hopes of keeping the (reduced) prize at home rested on Count John McCormack’s Franz Hals, on the strength of his seventh to Hyperion at Epsom, ahead of the other English pair, Harinero and Myosotis. On this occasion Michael Beary found himself playing mouse to Cecil Ray’s cat. Stalking Shamsuddin until ready to pounce, Ray produced Harinero to snaffle the favourite for a comfortable success.

Owned and bred by Belfast grain importer William R Barnett (1868-1946), Harinero was by Blandford out of the remarkable mare Athasi. Repeated matings produced high-class winners Athford, Trigo, Harinero and Primero, successful in two English classics and five Irish classics. Harinero returned to claim the Irish St Leger, thereby ensuring that William Barnett and expatriate Whatcombe trainer RC ‘Dick’ Dawson headed their respective lists in Ireland. Harinero was subsequently exported to Australia, becoming a successful sire there.

Such was the economic depression in Ireland, the 1934 Irish Derby would have been an all-English affair but for Jim Parkinson fielding a brace of outsiders. In the event the raiders filled the first four places, the judge unable to split Patriot King and Primero, Harinero’s full-brother. Though still a maiden prior to dividing the Irish Derby spoils, Primero went on to win both the Great Northern St Leger and the Irish St Leger, before being exported to Japan, where he became champion sire. Patriot King won just once more, dying in training in 1937.

Whereas the Primero team needed no introduction to Irish racegoers, Pattriot King’s connections were strangers. Owner-breeder James Armand de Rothschild, a member of the fabulous wealthy banking dynasty, maintained a private stable in Lambourn, employing former jockey Fred Pratt (1876-1950) as his trainer. In keeping with the veil of secrecy over what was essentially a gambling enterprise, Patriot King was ridden by stable employee and former apprentice George Henry Bezant.

Whereas the Triple Crown had become an aspiration in England as long ago as 1809 when the Two Thousand Guineas came into being to precede the Derby (1780) and the St Leger (1776), an Irish parallel had only become possible with the inauguration of the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1921. Since that time Baytown had come closest, beaten a length in the Irish St Leger in 1928. Seven years later Bahram had established sound claims to become the first Triple Crown winner in England since Gainsborough had won a wartime equivalent at Newmarket in 1918. Few suspected that Sir Victor Sassoon’s Museum, originally named Papist and shock 100-to-1 winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas, had any such pretensions.

Such was the dominance of JT Rogers’ Curragh stable in 1935, already successful in both Irish Guineas and the Baldoyle Derby, Museum was only the stable’s third string for the Irish Derby, rejected by retained rider Ted Gardner, who elected to ride the brilliant Smokeless. Not, indeed, that Museum would lack assistance from the saddle, ridden by ageing maestro Steve Donoghue, whose arrival on the Curragh by private plane caused almost as much excitement as the race in prospect. Ten times champion jockey in Britain and six times successful in the Derby, Steve Donoghue had already found time to ride three winners of the Irish Derby, starting with Bachelor’s Wedding in 1913. Once again displaying the opportunism that had long made him the darling of British racegoers, the irrepressible Steve got first run on Museum, holding Listoi at bay by a length with hot favourite Smokeless a neck adrift in third. The Curragh crowd applauded the evergreen maestro to the echo.

Steve kept the mount when Museum won the Ebor Handicap at York on his reappearance and again when the colt became the first Irish Triple Crown winner, successful back at headquarters in September. In so doing Museum completed a clean sweep of the 1935 Irish classic races for trainer JT ‘Jack’ Rogers, Smokeless having taken the Irish Oaks in the interim. Jack Rogers’ record was to remain unmatched until 2008 when Aidan O’Brien emulated him, albeit with five different animals, reflecting a stable strength inconceivable in Jack Rogers’ time.

Outnumbered by the English quintet in 1936, the home team nevertheless furnished the favourite – Battle Song. Trained by the all-conquering JT Rogers, Battle Song was strongly fancied to reverse Irish 2000 Guineas form with Hocus Pocus, short head victor on that occasion. In the event Battle Song had to give best to Raeburn, ridden by Tommy ‘Scotchman’ Burns for Manton trainer Joe Lawson.

A first runner in Ireland for owner Sydney Dunbavin Hollingsworth, a Lloyds insurance underwriter, Raeburn thus recouped some of his 5,600 guineas yearling purchase. Sadly, he never won subsequently, breaking down badly in the 1937 Ascot Gold Cup. Raeburn’s stud career was a fiasco. Fortunately, Sydney Hollingsworth’s Arches Hall Stud went on to achieve consistent success for its founder and later for his son and heir RD ‘Dick’ Hollingsworth, notably with the produce of Felucca.

Joe Lawson (1881-1964) began life as a farm labourer in his native County Durham. He later joined Alec Taylor’s famous Manton stable, rising to head lad and then assistant trainer. Taking charge following Taylor’s retirement in 1926, Joe Lawson became champion trainer in Britain in1930 and again in 1936. Moving to Newmarket in 1947, Joe Lawson realised a lifetime ambition when sending out Never Say Die to win the 1954 Derby under a youthful Lester Piggott.

Tommy ‘Scotchman’ Burns (1899-1991) rode twenty-one Irish classic winners in a career that stretched from 1915 to 1953, during which he, Joe Canty and Morny Wing dominated the Irish jockeys’ table. Excelling in staying races, Tommy Burns rode six Irish St Leger winners, adding to that tally when turning out Vimadee to win the 1961 Irish St Leger, ridden by his equally versatile and accomplished son TP Burns.

Leaving nothing to chance, JT ‘Jack’ Rogers saddled four in the 1937 renewal, the remaining duo coming over from England. Phideas, his current stable star, had emulated his half-brother Museum in winning the Irish 2000 Guineas for owner-breeder Sir Victor Sassoon. Sent off odds-on under the ageless Steve Donoghue, Phideas won effortlessly, seemingly set to emulate Museum by completing the Irish Triple Crown. Unfortunately, continuing firm ground ruled that out. Retired to stud without running subsequently, Phideas sired Frieze, winner of the 1952 Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks.

The 1938 Irish Derby represented a training triumph for Colonel Arthur J Blake. Unbeaten as a two-year-old, Dan Sullivan’s Rosewell had begun to develop hock problems that Curragh vet Bob Griffin advised Blake that two pieces of work must suffice to get him to the starting post on 22 June. Thus unraced for nine months, Rosewell turned up for the Irish Derby in such gross condition that extra-long girths were necessary to secure Morny Wing’s saddle. As it turned out, Rosewell proved so superior to his eight rivals that Wing was able to ease him down some way from home, victory by then assured. Those recurring hock problems, compounded by a split pastern saw Rosewell retired to his owner’s Hilltown Stud, Clonsilla, under the management of John Oxx. He was exported to Australia in 1950, only to die from a twisted gut almost on arrival. Rosewell – Morny Wing named his newly-built Curragh training establishment after him - left behind him Do Well (1951 Irish St Leger), Distel (1946 Champion Hurdle) and Linwell (1957 Cheltenham Gold Cup).

Colonel Arthur Blake was a nephew of Charles J Blake, whom he succeeded as master of Heath House. Taking out a trainer’s licence in his own name following the departure of SC ‘Shem’ Jeffrey, Arthur Blake went on to increase that stable’s Irish classic tally by a further sixteen, then an Irish training record. Champion trainer in Ireland in 1930, 1931 and 1938, he retired after Sail Cheoil, Irish Champion Stakes winner, had carried the colours of HE the President of Ireland in the 1961 Washington DC International, ridden by former Heath House apprentice Michael Kennedy.

Prospects of war breaking out in Europe only twenty years after the cessation of the ‘war to end all wars,’ coupled with the introduction of the Offences against the State laws in response to IRA outrages in Britain, cast a pall over proceedings on the Curragh on 21 June 1939. However, the occasion provided timely distraction for beleaguered Minister for Justice PH Ruttledge, represented by Mondragon, trained on the Curragh by James Canty and ridden by his younger brother Joe Canty.

Paddy Ruttledge’s happiness knew no bounds when Mondragon got home by half a length from Crushed Corn with favourite Cornfield back in third place. Mondragon went on to give his delighted owner further cause for celebration when winning the Ulster Derby on his reappearance. Bred by Sir Harold Gray who raced the son of his 1931 Irish Derby winner, Sea Serpent, as a juvenile, Mondragon had changed hands over the winter when his new owner had become the first Minister of State to be elected to the Turf Club. Paddy Ruttlege retired to the back benches in 1941, dying in 1952.

Mondragon’s two Derbies contributed the lion’s share of prize money that saw Paddy Ruttledge top the Irish owners’ list in 1939. Sea Serpent and Mondragon likewise topped their respective tables, as did trainer Jimmy Canty, who turned out twenty-one winners in this the most successful season of his career.

Any real prospect of keeping a third consecutive Irish Derby at home evaporated with the news that New Derby runner-up Turkhan had crossed safely from Frank Butters’ Newmarket stable in his bid to provide HH Aga Khan III with a third Irish Derby in succession to Zionist (1925) and Dastur (1932). Sent off long odds-on to account for six rivals, Charlie Smirke’s mount duly obliged almost at his leisure from compatriots Golden Tiger and Claudius. Homebred in Sheshoon, Turkhan went on to win the Yorkshire St Leger Stakes at Thirsk on the final day of the 1940 flat season, 23 November.

Retired to stand at Old Connell Stud, Newbridge, Turkhan headed the Irish stallions’ table in 1946 when responsible for both Ella Retford (Irish 1000 Guineas) and Linaria (Irish Oaks), Turkhan was exported to France in 1952.