1971 – 1980

As had become the norm, the Irish Sweeps Derby revolved round Epsom form. In the absence of the Derby winner Mill Reef the outcome appeared likely to concern Linden Tree, Irish Ball (FR) and Lombardo, respectively second, third and fourth at Epsom. The market suggested that this trio would finish in the same order as when they had met at Epsom, the blinkered Linden Tree going off favourite. Drawn number one meant – as matters then stood – that Linden Tree was the last to be loaded and in the outside stall. As the gates flew open the favourite jumped with the rest, took one stride, whipped out to his left, dug in his toes and was out of the race – echoes of Relko’s last-minute withdrawal eight years previously.

In the favourite’s absence the way was clear for Irish Ball (FR) to confirm his Epsom superiority over Lombardo, which he duly did to the tune of three lengths, with Guillemot (USA) a short head further back in third. Owned by theatrical impresario Emile Littler and trained in Chantilly by Philippe Lallie, Irish Ball (FR) had been bred by the Moyglare Stud Farm founded by Walter Haefner. By Baldric II, Irish ball was out of Irish Lass, a daughter of the 1947 Irish Derby winner Sayajirao. Winning rider Alfred Gibert, whose Irish riding debut this was, went on to become champion jockey in his native France.

The stewards’ enquiry into Linden Tree’s mishap concluded that: ‘the stalls had opened perfectly, but that having taken one stride the colt whipped around to the left.’ As Linden Tree never did race subsequently suggested that his progressively temperamental behaviour left his connections with no option but to retire this son of Crepello, to stand as a stallion in France. Irish Ball (FR), well beaten by Mill Reef in both the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, signed off when second to Run the Gantlet in the Washington DC International. Retired to stud in England, Irish Ball (FR) followed his sire to Japan, even before any of his offspring had appeared in public.

Just as they had with Sir Ivor and Nijinsky, Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott had carried off the 1972 Derby, this time with Roberto, lifted home in a desperate finish to foil Rheingold. While many were adamant that nobody but the ‘long fellow’ could have got Roberto home in front, others were incensed by owner John Galbraith’s decision to displace Bill Williamson, recently returned from injury. The reception accorded to ‘Weary Willie’, successful on his only two mounts on Derby Day, made that very plain.

Now the scenario was further complicated by Johnnie Roe exercising his right as Vincent O’Brien’s stable rider in Ireland to take the mount on Roberto, duly sent off favourite to complete the double previously accomplished by Orby (1907), Santa Claus (1964) and the imperious Nijinsky in 1970. Failures in that Derby double endeavour encompassed Larkspur (1962), Relko (withdrawn in 1963), Charlottown (1966) and Sir Ivor in 1968, all of them hot favourites.

Still seeking a first success in either the derby or the Irish Sweeps Derby, Bill Williamson teamed up with Steel Pulse, trained in Epsom by his compatriot ‘Scobie’ Breasley, while Lester Piggott took the mount on second favourite Ballymore, winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas on his racecourse debut and a son of the1963 winner Ragusa. Not for the first time Roberto disappointed, beating only two home as Steel Pulse got home with a length to spare over Scottish Rifle with Ballymore six lengths adrift in third place. Steel Pulse returned to a rousing reception directed principally at Bill Williamson, compensated for his narrow defeat on Arctic Storm in the inaugural Irish Sweeps Derby a decade earlier.

Jubilant owner Ravi Tikkoo, Kashmiri owner of the largest fleet of tankers in the world, revealed at the post-race press conference that in sixteen years of ownership Steel Pulse was the first horse he had bought entirely on his own judgement, securing the yearling son of Diatome for 4,000 guineas. Now his first visit to Ireland saw his judgement rewarded to the tune of almost £60,000. As it transpired Steel Pulse would never win another race prior to his sale to Australia for the then record price of £370,000.

Roberto’s dismal performance persuaded Lester Piggott to switch to Rheingold in the inaugural Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York, whereupon John Galbraith called upon Braulio Baeza, a talented Panamanian jockey based in New York, but simply unknown on this side of the Atlantic. Having beaten Rheingold at Epsom, it was perfectly possible that Roberto could do so again, even if few cared to back him to do so. In any case neither stood a chance against the brilliant Brigadier Gerard, unbeaten in thirteen races including the 2000 Guineas, Champion Stakes, Eclipse stakes and most recently the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Backed to the exclusion of his four upstart opponents, Brigadier Gerard went off 1-to-3 favourite.

But nobody told Braulio Baeza, who popped Roberto out of the stalls, made every yard of the running and smashed the course record, inflicting a three-length defeat upon the ‘Brigadier’, the first and only such reverse in that champion’s eighteen-race career.

If Steel Pulse failed to make his mark as a stallion, Roberto, retired to his owner’s Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky, proved himself a timely saviour for those in search of an outcross for the ubiquitous descendants of Northern Dancer. Named after Roberto Clemente, one of the stars of Galbreath’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, Roberto became leading first season sire in both Britain and North America in 1977, his 507 foals from 15 crops yielded 316 (63%) winners. The best of his get to race in Europe included Lear Fan, Touching Wood, Bob Back and At Talaq. Moreover, his line was secured by the stud success of his sons Robellino, leading first season sire in Britain in 1985, and Silver Hawk Roberto died at Darby Dan Farm in August 1988, two weeks after his 90-year-old owner-breeder John W Galbreath.

For the first time since its inception in 1962 the Irish Sweeps Derby, 1973, lacked either the first or second at Epsom, where Morston had won from Cavo Doro. Instead Derby form was represented by the next three finishers – Freefoot, Ksar and Ragapan. However, the O’Brien-Piggott aura ensured that Hail the Pirates went off favourite, with Ragapan next in demand. The McGrath brothers, still in search of success in their late father’s brainchild, ran Weavers’ Hall, with Park Lawn, blinkered for the first time, as his pacemaker.

So well did Park Lawn fulfil his role only Weavers’ Hall and Buoy were still on the bridle as they turned for home. As George McGrath hit the front on Weavers’ Hall, Buoy began to weaken, allowing Ragapan to get up to be second to the long-awaited McGrath winner of an Irish Sweeps Derby. Despite being returned at 33-to-1 Weavers’ Hall returned to a raucous reception, the crowd all too well aware of what success for the ‘Green, red seams and cap’ meant to the McGraths.

Bred by the McGrath Trust Company, managed by Joe McGrath, Weavers’ Hall descended for an old-established McGrath family. His sire, Busted, had flopped in his Irish Sweeps Derby, only to be crowned European Racehorse of the Year as a four-year-old. Unfortunately, training problems curtailed Weavers’ Hall career after his finishing fourth to the brilliant Dahlia in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was duly retired to the McGraths’ Brownstown Stud. Curiously, the 1973 Irish Sweeps Derby threw up another also-ran destined to emulate Busted as European Horse of the Year. Star Appeal, only seventh behind Weavers’ Hall, went on to win the 1975 Gran Premio di Milano, Eclipse Stakes and ultimately the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Exported to Australia after eleven reasonably successful seasons at the National Stud, Star Appeal died there in September 1987.

A total prize fund of over £100,000 ensured keen overseas interest in the 1974 Irish Sweeps Derby, the field of thirteen including four from England and three from France. The raiders dominated the market, headed by Derby runner-up Imperial Prince, trained by Noel Murless for Roger Hue-Williams. Easier to back but quietly fancied was English Prince, trained by Peter Walwyn for Russian-bornVera Hue-Williams and recent record-breaking winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Lester Piggott, deputising on that occasion for suspended stable jockey Pat Eddery, declined to continue the partnership in the Irish Derby, dismissing English Prince as not good enough. French ace Yves Saint-Martin took the mount instead.

Not even the announcement of a bomb threat could induce the sun-baked masses to evacuate the grandstand and consequently failed in its presumed purpose – to disrupt the feature race. That ultimately resolved itself into a Hue-Williams duel, from which English Prince emerged victorious, beating Imperial Prince by a length and a half. Mississipian’s erratic course to finish third prompted the stewards to demote him in favour of Sir Penfro.

By their unique one-two the Hue-Williamses netted £90,933. Moreover, as breeders of their respective runners at their Rathasker Stud, Naas, they scooped a further 10 per cent breeder’s premium under the recently-instituted Irish Stallion Incentive Scheme. Irish Sweeps Derby success at his third attempt represented another milestone in Lambourn trainer Peter Walwyn’s ascent to the top of his league. Crowned champion trainer in Britain for the first time in 1974, genial ‘Pete’ Walwyn also set s record for prize money won in a single season. The predominance of the Irish Sweeps Derby in Irish racing prize money inevitably enabled Pete Walwyn to head the trainers’ lists in Ireland as well.

Aimed for the St Leger, English Prince finished second to Bustino in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, only to return home lame. Retired to stand at the McCalmonts’ Ballylinch Stud, English Prince failed to replace his prematurely- deceased sire Petingo. He was exported to Japan in 1981.

Peter Walwyn’s purple patch had been sustained by Grundy, champion two-year-old in 1974 and subsequently successful in the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Derby. Now the flaxen-maned chestnut was odds-on to complete the classic treble only ever accomplished by Santa Claus in 1964. Grundy would have been even shorter in the market were it not for the invincible run recently enjoyed by Vincent O’Brien and Lest Piggott, trainer and rider of second favourite King Pellinore. Vincent had taken eight runners to Royal Ascot and won with seven of them. Lester had shared in four of those successes in his tally of nine for the royal meeting. Once again the market proved an accurate guide, Grundy streaking clear to beat King Pellinore by an eased-down two lengths. Incidentally, Pat Eddery thus became the first jockey to complete that Derby double on the same horse.

In the interval between the Derby and its Irish equivalent Milan industrialist Carlo Vittadini had sold three-quarters of his Epsom hero to the English National Stud, valuing the colt at £1m. The conditions of that transaction stipulated that Grundy retire at the end of his three-year-old campaign, which was restricted to just four further races, in Britain. Only by pointing out that he had not had charge of any of those Epsom victors to have failed at the Curragh did Peter Walwyn get consent to Grundy’s Irish Sweeps Derby bid.

Grundy reappeared in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, in which he got the better of a duel with Bustino by half a length in what was immediately acclaimed the ‘race of the century’, with the dual King George VI and Queen Elizabeth heroine five lengths back in third. Such was the winning time even the sixth to finish bettered the previous course and distance record. As ever, Grundy recovered so quickly from his Ascot exertions that he was sent off long odds-on to follow up in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. Only when he trailed in a well-beaten fourth to Dahlia did the after-effects of that Ascot battle become apparent. The dual Derby winner retired to the English National Stud as the winner of £373,563, a record for an English-trained racehorse.

Sold to Japan for £1.6m and exported in 1984, Grundy left such as Bireme (Oaks, 1980), Kirtling (Gran Premio d’Italia, 1981) and Little Wolf (Ascot Gold Cup, 1983). Grundy died in 1992.

Reigning English champion Pat Eddery thus emulated his father Jimmy Eddery, successful on Panaslipper in 1955 and likewise his maternal grandfather Jack Moylan, who had ridden Slide On and Piccadilly to consecutive Irish Derby victories in 1944 and 1945. Pat went on to amass a further eight English titles in addition to an Irish championship in 1982, a flat racing double only previously achieved by Charles ‘Lucky’ Maidment, champion in Ireland in 1866 and 1867 and in England in 1870 and 1871. Initially involved in putting together racing syndicates, Pat commenced training on his Musk Hill farm, Aylesbury in 2005.

Such was Empery’s superiority in the Derby no English-trained runners opposed him in his attempt to complete the Curragh double. Instead, Empery faced four other French-trained challengers, including his pacemaker, Oilfield. The apparent weakness of the home-trained team prompted the racing press to focus on Anne Brewster becoming the first female trainer to saddle a runner, together with Joanna Morgan, the first of her sex to ride in any European classic. Empery and Lester Piggott went off odds-on to beat compatriot Malacate, ridden by Philippe Pacquet. This pair dominated the finish, Malacate getting the better of the favourite by two and a half lengths.

American-bred by Don and Thomas Sturgill at their Beaconsfield Farm in Kentucky, Malacate was bought for $40,000 as a yearling on behalf of Mexican-born film star Maria Felix-Berger (1914-2002). As neither the glamorous lady owner nor her trainer, Francois Boutin could cope with press questioning, it was left to future French champion jockey Philippe Pacquet to declare that connections had always been confident of Malacate beating Empery.

Malacate returned to Ireland to win the inaugural running of the Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes at Leopardstown. In th meatime Tim Rogers acquired a substantial share in Malacate, retiring the colt to his Airlie Stud near Dublin. Unfortunately, Malacate proved to have inherited the fertility problems transmitted through his sire line from Swynford’s son St Germans. His eventual despatch to the Land of the Rising Sun caused few regrets.

In a season of wildly fluctuating fortunes for his Ballydoyle stable Vincent O’Brien had only saddled The Minstrel for the Derby on Lester Piggott’s intuition that the flashy little chestnut would carry him to his eighth Derby triumph. “If you run him, I’ll ride him.” He had, but only after a ferocious battle with Hot Grove. Adamant that they could follow up at the Curragh, Lester once again carried the day. That was sufficient to ensure The Minstrel going off short-priced favourite. His ears once again stuffed with cotton wool The Minstrel looked cooler, calmer and more collected than those who contributed to an Irish Totalisator record of £176,249.

In the event The Minstrel landed the odds with relative ease, albeit having traversed the width of the track in the closing stages, in the process veering across the path of Lucky Sovereign, the runner-up. The stewards promptly announced an enquiry, their action endorsed by Frankie Durr, insistent that his mount had been crossed in the final furlong. In a situation reminiscent of Chamier’s Irish Derby back in 1953, Vincent O’Brien could only wait and worry until, at long, long last, the announcement came – ‘No change in the placings. Winner all right’.

By Northern Dancer out of Fleur and thus a three-parts brother to Nijinsky, whose half-sister Fleur was, The Minstrel had been bred in Canada by Eddie Taylor, Nijinsky’s breeder. Bought as a yearling at Keeneland for $200,000, the colt represented the outset of a plan hatched between Robert Sangster, Alan Clore, David Ackroyd and Simon Fraser to source the best of the American yearling colts and entrust them to the genius of Vincent O’Brien to develop them into immensely valuable stallion prospects.

The Minstrel had smashed the Curragh six-furlong course record for two-year-olds on his debut, concluding his juvenile campaign with a clearcut success in the Dewhurst Stakes. In the interim he had been third in the 2000 Guineas, short-headed in the Irish equivalent and won the Derby. In view of The Minstrel’s arduous season to date Vincent O’Brien hesitated before finally committing the courageous chestnut to taking on his seniors in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Sent off favourite to prove himself an all-aged champion, The Minstrel did just that when getting home by a hard-fought short head from Orange Bay.

Following that Ascot success Robert Sangster and his partners sold a half-share back to breeder EP ‘Eddie’ Taylor for a reputed $4m. A subsequent outbreak of equine metritis prompted The Minstrel’s speedy despatch to take up stud duties at Windfields Farm, Maryland. The very next day America imposed an indefinite ban on any further equine imports from these islands. Successful as a sire, The Minstrel sent back reminders of his class and courage in such as Melodist (dead heated Irish Oaks, 1988) and Musical Bliss (1000 Guineas, 1989). Sadly, The Minstrel succumbed to incurable laminitis, leading to his destruction in 1990.

Eleven starters for the 1978 Irish Sweeps Derby comprised the smallest field since the great race had first been run in 1962. Nonetheless, it posed problems for punters revolving round the Derby in which Shirley Heights had touched off Hawaiian Sound literally on the line. Those who blamed American ace Willie Shoemaker for Hawaiian Sound’s narrow defeat at Epsom were adamant that the diminutive American would be even more at sea on the galloping right-handed Curragh course, duly sending Shirley Heights off favourite to confirm his Epsom superiority. Shirley Heights duly delivered, if only by a head from Exdirectory, having carried that rival across the width of the course. Left to race alone on the far rail, Hawaiian Sound nevertheless finished third, only a neck further back. In the absence of the widely-anticipated stewards’ enquiry Shirley Heights was confirmed as the sixth dual Derby winner, preceded by Orby (1907), Santa Claus (1964), Nijinsky (1970), Grundy (1975) and The Minstrel in 1977.

Bred and raced by Lord Halifax and his son Lord Irwin, Shirley Heights was by Mill Reef out of Hardiemma. His name derived from a military lookout point on the island of Antigua, just as Mill Reef had been named after the Mill Reef Club on that Caribbean island. As Mill Reef had also sired the Prix du Jockey-Club winner Acamas in the same crop, he thus achieved an unique Derby treble in the same year. I the meantime Lord Halifax and his son had sold Hardiemma for 15,000 guineas, the price of getting her back in foal to Mill Reef. Ballyrogan Stud, County Wicklow, her purchasers, enjoyed a windfall when Shirley Heights’ full-sister fetched a world record price of 250,000 guineas when submitted at Goffs Premier Yearling Sales.

Unfortunately, injury during his preparation for the St Leger prevented trainer John Dunlop running Shirley Heights again. Instead, the dual Derby winner retired to the Sandringham Stud in Norfolk. Among the best of his progeny were Darshaan (Prix du Jockey-Club, 1884), Slip Anchor (Derby, 1985), Infamy (Rothmans International), Shady Heights (International Stakes, 1988) and Valley of Gold (Italian Oaks, 1995). Shirley Heights died in 1997.

John Dunlop paid his dual Derby winner this tribute in Decade of Champions. ‘With the best will in the world, you would have to describe Shirley Heights as something of a hooligan. But that apart, he was a real man. He was absolutely fearless. I have never seen such total strength of character in any racehorse. He was not really malicious; he would never do anything mean or spiteful. He was just rough, totally masculine, and completely confident in himself. He always behaved as if he owned the place. And if ever there were any kind of uproar in the yard – any horse banging and crashing about in his box – every last member of my staff knew precisely which horse was the culprit. Shirley Heights, in every sense of the word, was a bloody handful.’

The authority with which Troy had beaten Dickens Hill in the Bicentennial Derby ensured Dick Hern’s charge starting odds-on to confirm that form in the 1979 Irish Sweeps Derby. Ironically, the interminable Irish postal strike had forced the sponsors to abandon their customary sweepstake on the very race they had created. Curragh patrons were greeted instead by a new champagne bar adjacent to the parade ring.

Starter Major Hubie Tyrrell sent the Irish Derby field on its way for his final time as Rivadon set a blistering gallop as Troy’s pacemaker. For a brief moment The Bart threatened to spoil the script, though only until Willie Carson unleashed Troy. His ground-devouring stride soon put the issue beyond doubt, four lengths clear of Dickens Hill at the line, with 66-to-1 shot Bohemian Grove back in third place.

Homebred at Ballymacoll Stud, Dunboyne by Sir Michael Sobell and his son-in-law Lord Weinstock, Troy was from the last full crop of Petingo and likewise the final foal of La Milo, dam of seven winners including Admetus, winner of the Washington DC International, Grand Prix d’Evry, Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Prix Maurice de Neuil. La Milo traced back to the bloodlines founded by Dorothy Paget, from whose executors Sir Michael Sobell had purchased Ballymacoll and its bloodstock strength following her death in 1960.

The merit of yet another dual Derby winner was confirmed when Dickens Hill reappeared just a week later to win the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park. In winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on his reappearance, following up in the benson and Hedges Gold Cup and finishing third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Troy established a European stakes record – £415,537. Within days of his Ascot success it was announced that Troy had been syndicated at £7m., making him the most expensive stallion ever to stand in Britain. Sadly, Troy got little chance to transmit his undoubted ability, found dead in his box at Highclere Stud, Newbury, on 12 May 1983 as the result of a perforated intestine. At the time he had covered 35 of his seasonal complement of 42 mares, but had yet to have a runner from the 29 two-year-olds in training, his first crop. For Ballymacoll Stud the sole surviving link was La Milo’s only filly – Silk Rein.

Trainer Dick Hern’s opportunity to produce a second consecutive dual Derby winner in 1980 was foiled when Henbit was found to have cracked a cannon bone in the course of his courageous Epsom victory. Nonetheless, Epsom held the key to the 1980 Irish Sweeps Derby, attracted as it did the second, third, fourth and fifth, being Master Willie, Rankin, Pelerin and Garrido. Best of the home team appeared to be Nikoli, impressive winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas but a flop at Epsom, thereby denying the recently-deceased PJ Prendergast the coveted success in the one major race that had consistently eluded him.

Master Willie started 7-to-4 favourite to go one better than he had at Epsom, with Nikoli second in demand to keep the richest Irish Sweeps Derby to date at home. As the stalls opened Tyrnavos, least fancied of the English contingent, set off in front under Tony Murray. And there remained, coming home with more than a length to spare from Prince Bee with Ramian back in third. The rain-softened ground yielded the slowest winning time for an Irish Sweeps Derby since Meadow Court in 1965.

Named after a mountain in Greece by owner-breeder George L Cambanis, Tyrnavos was by Blakeney out of champion sprinter, Stilvi. The excited owner told reporters that he had already enjoyed six Derby triumphs in Greece, revealing that he had backed Tyrnavos heavily at Epsom, but not on this occasion. “We simply had the right horse on the wrong day!” Tyrnavos ran only once more, down the field in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes behind Ela-Mana-Mou. Retired to the Gazeley Stud, Newmarket, Tyrnavos made little impact as a sire.