Only six turned out for the 1991 Budweiser Irish Derby, the smallest field since Phideas defeated five opponents in 1937. Fortunately, the sextet included the Derby winner Generous and Suave Dancer, winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club. Star Of Gdansk, beaten twelve lengths when third at Epsom, seemed to have an impossible task, leaving Sportsworld, trained by Vincent O’Brien and ridden by the evergreen Lester Piggott as the only serious home-trained defender.
As the betting suggested, it turned into a match between the two Derby winners, Generous prevailing by three lengths from Suave Dancer with Star Of Gdansk as far behind Generous in third as he had been at Epsom.
Bred in County Wicklow by the Barronstown Stud, Generous, a chestnut son of Caerleon and Doff The Derby, had fetched 80,000 guineas as a foal when ‘pin-hooked’ by Hamish Alexander. He showed a handsome profit as a yearling, knocked down to Anthony Penfold Bloodstock for 200,000 guineas on behalf of Fahd Salman, who put him in training with Paul Cole. From six outings as a two-year-old Generous won three, notably the Dewhurst Stakes, albeit as a 50-to-1 outsider. Now the eleventh dual Derby winner, Generous went on to a facile success in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. No match for Suave Dancer in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Generous was retired to stand at the Banstead Manor Stud. Thereafter his stud career saw him stand in Japan, New Zealand and Plantation Stud, Newmarket, before ending his days as a dual purpose sire in Dorset.
The 1992 Budweiser Irish Derby succeeded in attracting both first and second in the Derby, in which Dr Devious had beaten St Jovite by two lengths. On all known form the race lay between them, notwithstanding Sheikh Mohammed’s eleventh hour supplementation of Landowner, progressive winner of the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot. The saga of jockey Christy Roche’s off-deferred suspension, together with trainer Jim Bolger’s assertion that St Jovite would only take part if Roche were free to partner him, further spiced pre-race drama. Damned if they did, damned if they did not, the Turf Club capitulated. Roche’s appeal hearing was deferred until 6 July, ‘in the best interests of Irish horseracing.’
In the final analysis Curragh punters backed Dr Devious down to marginal odds-on to confirm Epsom form with St Jovite, despite Jim Bolger’s inclusion of not one pacemaker but two. Both Appealing Bubbles and Mining Tycoon played their parts to perfection, so much so that the Bolger-trained trio led the field into the straight. Once straightened out for home St Jovite drew further and further clear, passing the post fully twelve lengths ahead of Dr Devious, with French challenger Contested Bid finishing third, just as he had in the Prix du Jockey-Club. The winning margin equalled Portmarnock’s in 1895 and remains an Irish Derby record winning distance.
While that was beyond dispute, the electronically-recorded winner’s time was not. Announced as being 2m. 25.60s, it constituted the fastest twelve furlongs ever run at the Curragh. Moreover, if correct, it meant that second and third, beaten twelve lengths and three, had also beaten the course record set by Princess Pati in the 1984 Irish Oaks. Even allowing for a margin of error – as suggested by hand timings on the day – the 1992 Budweiser Irish Derby remains the fastest Irish Derby ever run.
Named after a Canadian ski resort, St Jovite was bred by his owner, Virginia Kraft Payson. By Pleasant Colony, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1981, St Jovite was out of Northern Sunset, a modest handicap winner in Ireland, but descended from Blaith Na Greine, half-sister to the unbeaten 1942 Irish Triple Crown winner, Windsor Slipper.
Three times successful as a two-year-old, St Jovite won his Derby Trial at Leopardstown and finished second at Epsom prior to his spectacular Budweiser success. In Christy Roche’s absence – serving his much-delayed suspension – St Jovite nonetheless slammed his field in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes under Stephen Craine, winning by six lengths from Saddlers’ Hall and Opera House. Renewing rivalry with Dr Devious in the ten-furlong Irish Champion Stakes, St Jovite went under by the minimum margin. The duo met for the fourth and final time in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, St Jovite finishing fourth to Subotica with Dr Devious sixth. Timeform rated St Jovite 135; Dr Devious 127.
Plans for St Jovite to contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic were foiled by a sinus infection. On foot of a disagreement between owner and trainer the colt was shipped to America to race as a four-year-old, only to be retired through tendon injury to his owner’s Payson Stud, Lexington, in March 1993. His stock took too long to come to hand for American racing purposes, leading to St Jovite’s return to Ireland as a National Hunt stallion in 2006. Dr Devious stood in Japan in 1993 and in then Coolmore in 1998 before making his mark as champion sire in Italy.
Once again the Budweiser Irish Derby attracted the winners of both the Derby and the Prix du Jockey-Club. Commander In Chief, unraced at two but now unbeaten in four starts, was a worthy and well-backed favourite to become the twelfth Derby winner to complete the double. By contrast, Hernando, successful at Chantilly, stood to become only the first French-trained winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club to double up at the Curragh. Assert in 1982 and Law Society in 1985 had succeeded, but both had been trained in Ballydoyle. Sheer weight of professional backers’ money sent Commander In Chief off marginally odds-on to beat Hernando, the other nine hopefuls virtually ignored in the market.
Suspicions that Regency, fifth at Chantilly and running in Prince Khalid Abdullah’s second colours, was there to ensure a true test of stamina for Commander In Chief, were promptly confirmed. Commander In Chief duly took over in the straight, stalked now by Hernando. Cash Asmussen duly laid down his challenge, only to find that Pat Eddery had merely been waiting in front on the favourite. At the line Commander In Chief was three-parts of a length to the good, with Foresee doing best of the home-trained team three lengths back in third.
Bred by his owner at his Juddmonte Farm, Commander In Chief was by the recently exported Dancing Brave out of Slightly Dangerous, by Roberto. One of only three Derby winners unraced as a two-year-old. Commander In Chief shared that Irish Derby-winning distinction with Golden Plover (1867), Redskin (1877), Theologian (1884), Pet Fox (1887), Wild Bouquet (1908), Tambourine II (1962) and English Prince in 1974.
Only third to Opera House and White Muzzle in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Commander In Chief never ran subsequently. Timeform gave the dual Derby winner a rating of 128, lamenting the alarming exodus of Derby winners to the Land of the Rising Sun. ‘The Yushun Company of Hokkaido reportedly paid around £4,000,000 for Commander In Chief, a valuation which effectively made it uneconomical for him to be retired to stud in Britain or, for that matter, in the United States where mile-and-a-half horses have little appeal nowadays.’ Commander In Chief broke a leg with fatal consequences in June 2007.
Despite the absence of the Derby winner, Erhaab, Epsom form was amply represented in the 1994 Budweiser Irish Derby by King’s Theatre, second, Colonel Collins, third, and Khamaseen, fifth. Alriffa and Tikkanen, third and fourth to Celtic Arms at Chantilly, represented Prix du Jockey-Club form. Balanchine, pipped in the 1000 Guineas and subsequent winner of the Oaks, was well fancied to emulate Salsabil, successful four years previously for the Maktoum family. Just as Salsabil had been, Balanchine was a supplementary entry for the Curragh classic. Indeed, the market was dominated by Arab-owned contenders, headed by King’s Theatre, with Alriffa and Balanchine next in demand. The Irish-trained pair, Cajarian and Concept House, were friendless. Spectators in the infield Budweiser Green were able to follow the action on the big Mitsubishi Diamond screen, in use for the first time on an Irish racecourse.
The race itself ultimately turned into a procession, Balanchine coasting home clear of King’s Theatre, followed home in Indian file by Colonel Collins and Alriffa. On a strict interpretation of Epsom classic form, Balanchine could have become the first filly to win the Derby since Fifinella won a wartime substitute at Newmarket in 1916. Prior to that Signorinetta had completed her fairytale Derby-Oaks double at Epsom in 1908. In rating Balanchine at 131 and Erhaab (USA) at 127, Timeform endorsed that contention.
Robert Sangster, whose Colonel Collins had now finished third in both the Derby and the Irish Derby, had bred and raced Balanchine, winner of both her juvenile starts. In October 1993 Balanchine had been one of four two-year-olds purchased from her owner-breeder for a reported £1.5m by Sheikh Mohammed to form Godolphin Racing. This quartet had then wintered in Al Quoz stables, near Dubai city, under the care of Hilal Ibrahim. On their return to Britain for the 1994 campaign they remained technically in Hilal Ibrahim’s charge, but effectively supervised in Newmarket by Jeremy Noseda, sometime assistant to Vincent O’Brien in Ballydoyle. Balanchine was now jointly owned by Godolphin and Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum, in whose colours she ran. Ironically, Balanchine had been touched off in the 1000 Guineas by Las Meninas in a photo-finish that had taken the judge over fifteen minutes to determine. Las Meninas was bred and owned by Robert Sangster.
Plans for Balanchine to contest the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe were aborted by a life-threatening bout of colic just three weeks after her Curragh triumph. Kept in training as a four-year-old, she failed to win again. Nor did Balanchine make any significant mark as a broodmare. However, she went into the record books as the first British classic winner to have been officially trained outside Europe. Moreover she had provided Italian-born Lanfranco Dettori with both his first British classic success and his first Budweiser Irish Derby triumph. Three times champion jockey in Britain, ‘Frankie’ Dettori rode as first jockey for Godolphin for eighteen years, that association coming to an end in October 2012.
Erhaab’s subsequent failure to uphold Epsom form was offset by King’s Theatre’s success in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, likewise by Tikkanen, successful in both the Turf Classic at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
The 1995 Budweiser Irish Derby – marking a decade of Anheuser-Busch sponsorship – also marked a new era in the administration and financing of Irish racing. The Racing Board, founded in 1945, had given way to a new government body, the Irish Horseracing Authority, which now assumed responsibility for many of the functions traditionally carried out by the Turf Club. This was hailed as a new dawn for Irish racing.
Simultaneously, owner Peter Savill proclaimed his Celtic Swing “potentially the finest racehorse the globe has ever seen.” The official handicapper appeared to share that view in allocating Celtic Swing 130, the highest rating ever accorded a two-year-old. Timeform weighed in with 138, citing Celtic Swing’s twelve-length romp in the Racing Post Trophy as ‘the performance of an outstanding two-year-old, outstanding not only in terms of his contemporaries but comparable with the best we’ve seen.’
Since those words were written Celtic Swing had won the Greenham Stakes, run Pennekamp to a head in the 2000 Guineas and regained his winning ways when successful in the Prix du Jockey-Club.
In the absence of Lammtarra, winner of the Derby in record time, Celtic Swing started a short-priced favourite to confirm Chantilly placings with Winged Love and Classic Cliché, third and fourth on that occasion and supplemented for the Curragh equivalent, as was the unbeaten Definite Article, the main home-trained contender.
A furious early gallop boiled down to a duel in the closing stages, Winged Love and Definite Article going head to head to the line, where the judge gave it to Winged Love by a short head. Annus Mirabilis finished within a length of the battling duo, thereby giving Sheikh Mohammed first and third in the race he had won with Old Vic in 1989. Connections were initially at a loss to explain the below-par performance of Celtic Swing, out of the frame for the first time. However, post-race veterinary examination revealed lameness, which was to prove career-ending.
As he had when Old Vic had carried his colours to Irish Derby triumph, Sheikh Mohammed donated the owner’s winnings to local causes – the RACE apprentice school, St Vincent de Paul and the Drogheda Memorial Fund. While Winged Love had been bred in Ireland by Eric Puerari and Lanes End, he was by Sheikh Mohammed’s very own Kildangan-based stallion In the Wings, bred and raced by him to win the Coronation Cup, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Trained in France by Andre Fabre, as In the Wings had been, Winged Love had won one of his two juvenile starts. He went on finish fourth in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes before being leased to stand in Germany. Subsequently based in Ireland from 2002, Winged Love went on to make his mark as a National Hunt stallion.
Perennial leading trainer in France, Andre Fabre broke into the big time when successful in the 1987 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with Trempolino, repeating that feat with Subotica (1992), Carnegie (1994), Peintre Celebre (1997 and Sagamix in 1998. Indeed, English, French and Irish classics seemed his to win, the only one to elude his grasp being the Derby itself, until 2011 when Pour Moi filled that Epsom void.
Twenty-two-year-old Olivier Peslier had graduated through pony racing to serve his apprenticeship to Patrick Biancone and then Nicolas Clement. A contract to ride for owner Daniel Wildenstein and thus for trainer Andre Fabre was to lead to four French jockeys’ titles, highlighted by a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hat trick between 1996 and 1998.
Definite Article went on to win the Tattersalls Gold Cup as a four-year-old, subsequently siring Vinnie Roe, winner of four consecutive Irish St Legers. Oscar Schindler won the Ormonde Stakes, Hardwicke Stakes and two Irish St Legers. Classic Cliché became Frankie Dettori’s 1,000th winner when giving the Maktoums a clean sweep of the 1995 English classics by carrying off the St Leger. The following year Classic Cliché became the first classic winner in fifty years to win an Ascot Gold Cup. Unbeaten as a four-year-old, Double Eclipse fought out a memorable duel in the 1997 Goodwood Cup, going under by a neck to his full-brother Double Trigger.
Epsom winner Shaamit was to be supplemented for the 1996 Budweiser Irish Derby, only to go lame on the eve of the supplementary entry deadline. While disappointing, the fortuitous timing had at least saved owner Khalifa Dasmal his £60,000 fee. In Shaamit’s enforced absence, Dushyantor, his immediate victim at Epsom, became hot favourite to provide Khalid Abdullah, Henry Cecil and Pat Eddery with a follow-up to Commander In Chief, successful in 1993. Dushyantor’s only serious market rival was the unbeaten Dr Massini, trained by Michael Stoute for Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor. The latter had named the colt in tribute to Bernard Massini, the Nice-based neurosurgeon who had successfully operated on Doreen Tabor less than two years previously. Unfortunately, work commitments prevented Dr Massini’s coming to the Curragh to watch his namesake perform.
Prospects of the home-trained quartet repulsing the nine-strong British invasion force were reflected in their starting prices, from Zagreb 20-to-1 to His Excellence at 50-to-1. Zagreb, representing trainer Dermot Weld, would have ridden by retained stable jockey Michael Kinane. However, Zagreb had worked so dismally that his trainer had promptly released his stable jockey to ride the fancied Dr Massini. Both Weld and Kinane had yet to win Ireland’s premier flat race, which meant so much to each. Kinane’s release saw Pat Shanahan promoted to ride Zagreb, only allowed to take his chance on foot of heavy rain two days previously.
Throughout the first mile of the 1996 Budweiser Irish Derby any one of the fancied runners could have been called the likely winner. Once they turned for home, there was only one winner – Zagreb. At the line Pat Shanahan’s ‘spare’ was six lengths clear of Polaris Flight, with His Excellence a close third for upcoming young trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Television viewers were treated to a range of emotional reactions from the participants. Michael Kinane was uncharacteristically articulate in expressing his chagrin at having forfeited his one remaining ambition in Irish racing. Pat Shanahan was understandably elated at the cards that chance had dealt him. Topping it all was Dermot Weld’s unfeigned delight at having finally won an Irish Derby with a doubtful contender making only the third start of his career. Sweeter still, Zagreb – named after a navigational checkpoint rather than the capital city of Croatia – was by Theatrical, the former inmate of Rosewell House narrowly foiled by Law Society in the 1985 Irish Derby.
Zagreb was bred and part-owned by Californian aircraft manufacturer Allen E Paulson (1922-2000), who had sold a half-share to a syndicate comprising Michael Smurfit, Mike Watt and Dermot Weld. Unplaced in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on his fourth and final appearance, Zagreb was sold to stand in Japan, subsequently repatriated to stand at the Beechbrook Stud, County Wicklow, from 2003 until 2013, as a National Hunt stallion.
Three times Irish amateur champion, Dermot Weld MRCVS had taken over his father Charlie’s Rosewell House stable in 1972. Instantly dominant in terms of races won, Dermot Weld secured the first of his seven Irish training titles up to that time in 1983. Consistent Rosewell House contenders for the Irish Derby had yielded third placings with Ramian (1980), Dance Bid (1981), seconds with Theatrical (1985) and Definite Article twelve months previously. In the meantime all the other four Irish classics had fallen to Weld runners, notably the Irish St Leger (twice) with Vintage Crop, the horse with which Dermot Weld created international racing history when carrying off the Melbourne Cup. Nevertheless, the trainer was quick to say that winning the Irish Derby: “has given me a bigger thrill than winning the Melbourne Cup. We have always rated Zagreb highly but he is a big shelly colt that needs the going good or easier. Given time there will be more to come.He is a very talented horse.”
Nenagh, Tipperary, native Pat Shanahan had become Irish champion apprentice in 1982 and 1983 while indentured to Curragh trainer Con Collins, for whom he won the 1984 Irish Oaks (in record time) on Princess Pati. Stable jockey to Con Collins and subsequently second jockey to Dermot Weld, Pat Shanahan retired to commence training at Danesfort, Kilkenny in 2012.
In the absence of both Benny The Dip, narrowly successful at Epsom, and Peintre Celebre winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club, the 1997 Budweiser Irish Derby appeared at the mercy of Silver Patriarch, just touched off at Epsom At least it did until rising star among Irish trainers, Aidan O’Brien, newly-installed master of Ballydoyle, supplemented Strawberry Roan, runner-up to her stable companion Classic Park in the Irish 1000 Guineas. Her late inclusion overshadowed the pretensions of Desert King. Likewise trained by Aidan O’Brien, Desert King had dominated his Irish 2000 Guineas field, only to disappoint at Royal Ascot.
Punters opted for Epsom form, sending Silver Patriarch off a short-priced favourite, with the Ballydoyle pair next in demand. In the event Silver Patriarch never looked the likely winner, ultimately returning a leg-weary and lame fifth. Instead it was Desert King that returned to his Irish Guineas best, storming home under Christy Roche to beat Dr Johnson trained by Charles O’Brien for his father Vincent and sister Susan Magnier. French challenger Loup Savage finished strongly to get within a short head of Dr Johnson.
At only twenty-seven years of age and in his first season as successor to his legendary but unrelated namesake in Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien was now poised to achieve a clean sweep of that season’s Irish classics, a feat only ever attained by JT Rogers back in 1935. Already twice Irish champion trainer and earlier twice champion amateur rider, Aidan O’Brien would go on to re-write Irish racing records, in the process emulating PJ Prendergast and MV O’Brien as the only Irish-based trainers to top the flat race trainers’ table in Britain.
As co-owner of both first and second it fell to Susan Magnier to commiserate with her young brother Charles, understandably frustrated to have the great race snatched from his grasp by a rival trained in his childhood home – Ballydoyle. The first Irish Derby winner to have been bred by the Irish National Stud, Desert King carried the colours of former bookmaker Michael Tabor, a major player in the Coolmore-Ballydoyle breeding and racing consortium. He was by that phenomenally successful sire, Danehill, champion in Great Britain, Ireland, France and nine times in Australia.
Previously successful in the National Stakes, Tetrarch Stakes and the Irish 2000 guineas, Desert King went on to finish second at his only two subsequent attempts. Beaten by Singspeil in the International Stakes at York and by Pilsudski in the Irish Champion Stakes, Desert King shuttled between Coolmore and Australia, his reputation Down Under forever secure as the sire of Makybe Diva, the only triple Melbourne Cup winner.
City Honours, beaten a head by High Rise at Epsom, with Sunshine Street, Sadian and Saratoga Springs further back on that occasion, seemed assured of compensation at the Curragh, all things being equal. However, a miserably wet Irish ‘summer’ reduced the Curragh to ‘Soft to Heavy’, calculated to suit Prix du Jockey-Club winner Dream Well. Sent off favourite accordingly, Dream Well proved the market correct when coming home well clear of City Honours with Desert Fox back in third place.
Bred in France by the late Stavros Niarchos and unraced as a two-year-old, Dream Well carried the colours of the Niarchos family, being Stavros’ children Maria Stavros Gouave and her brothers Philip and Spyros. However, they had disposed of a half-share in the colt to computer systems expert Jean Louis Bouchard. Unbeaten now in his only three starts, this dual Derby winner was rested for an autumn campaign with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as his objective. Unplaced behind Sagamix and successful just once as a four-year-old, Dream Well subsequently stood in Japan and New Zealand before returning to France in 2004.
Chantilly trainer Paschal F Bary had learned his craft with Sir Mark Prescott and Francois Boutin before setting up on his own in 1981. Miss Alleged brought Bary’s name to a wider stage when successful in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Turf. In his native France Paschal Bary enjoyed particular success in the Prix du Jockey-Club, successful with Celtic Arms, Ragmar, Dream Well Sulamani and Blue Canari.
Winning rider, Texas-born ‘Cash’ Asmussen, described his victory as “a dream come true,” as well he might, remembering his nightmare stint in Ireland as stable jockey to Vincent O’Brien in 1987. Vilified by Irish punters for his apparent lack of vigour, an unrepentant Asmussen observed: “If you come over with a big mouth and a big pay cheque you’ve got to expect some flak if things don’t work out. Already twice champion jockey in France, Asmussen returned to regain that title three years in succession. On his retirement in 2001 he returned to his native land, joining forces with his brother Steve, a colourful, if controversial trainer.
As so often in the past, the 1999 Budweiser Irish Derby seemed likely to be determined by the state of the going on the day. Montjeu, winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club, would attempt to emulate Dream Well, provided the going was no faster than good. By contrast, Daliapour and Beat All, second and third to Oath at Epsom needed good ground or faster. It was in that belief that connections of both Beat All and the improving Mutafaweq, winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, had paid the £77,500 supplementary entry fee. Clerk of the Course Joe Collins walked a tightrope in his endeavours to provide ‘neutral’ underfoot conditions.
The Clerk of the Weather showed no such scruples. Rain on the eve of the great race left the ground prefect. Further rain on Derby Day saw the going officially changed to ‘Good to Yielding’ only an hour before the great race, tilting the odds greatly in favour off the French challenger, duly sent off 13-to-8 favourite. The same factors saw the leading English-trained contenders – Daliapour, Beat All and Mutafaweq – remain relatively easy to back, even more so when Michael Tabor was seen to put his money down on his own colour-bearer – Montjeu.
Urban Ocean, one of Aidan O’Brien’s quartet, made the early running as Cash Asmussen settled Montjeu towards the rear of the ten-strong field. There the favourite remained, even as Daliapour took it up in the straight, apparently still full of running. Those who had berated Cash Asmussen during his brief spell in Ireland over ten years earlier, feared the over-confident Texan had once again been too clever for his good or theirs. Knowing how much horse he had under him, the Texan stalked Daliapour, using Montjeu’s finishing burst to send him five lengths clear at the line. Tchaikovsky did best of the Aidan O’Brien foursome to finish a similar distance back in third.
Bred by billionaire financier the late Sir James Goldsmith, and named after his chateau in Burgundy, Montjeu had been bequeathed to Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, who had borne Goldsmith two children, Jethro and Charlotte. The same ‘Jimmy’ Goldsmith had reputedly coined the phrase: “When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy.” Laure decided to race her horses under the name of Tsega Limited, under which banner Montjeu won twice as a two-year-old, leading to the purchase of a majority share in the colt by Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier. The Coolmore partners chose wisely, for Montjeu reappeared to win at Chantilly, beating Sendavar, subsequent winner of the French 2000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes and Prix Moulin. Surprisingly beaten at long odds-on in the Prix Lupin, Montjeu had made aments in the Prix du Jockey-Club en route to emulating Dream Well by completing the French-Irish Derby double. In so doing Montjeu became the fourth Irish Derby winner sired by the all-conquering Coolmore super-sire, Sadler’s Wells, previously responsible for Old Vic (1989), Salsabil (1990) and Dream Well in 1998. If that were not enough, Sadler’s Wells now became the first stallion in the annals of the Irish Derby to have sired the first three finishers, even if he had five of the ten-strong field representing him.
Montjeu reappeared to win the Prix Neil a traditional Arc trial, partnered now by Michael Kinane. In the aftermath of their successful follow-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the jockey proclaimed Montjeu: “The best mile-and-a-half horse I ever sat on.”
English-born trainer John E Hammond had learned his trade under Andre Fabre, setting up on his own in Chantilly in 1988. Cross-channel raids had borne fruit with such as Polar Falcon and Nuclear Debate, while Dear Doctor had carried off the Arlington Million. Suave Dancer might have caught a tartar when second to Generous in the 1991 Irish Derby, but he had already credited John Hammond with a French equivalent en route to Prix de l’Arc de Tiomphe glory. Sought Out carried off the 1992 Prix du Cadran, Dolphin Street the 1993 Prix de la Foret, while Cherokee Rose won the 1995 Prix Maurice de Gheest in Maktoum al-Maktoum’s colours.
Kept in training with John Hammond – as he had been from the start – Montjeu proceeded to run up a four-timer, successful in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix Foy. Retired to Coolmore as the winner of 11 of his 16 starts and the highest-rated son of Sadler’s Wells to stand alongside his sire, Montjeu was fondly described by John Hammons as “an eccentric genius.” If anything even more successful as a sire, Montjeu got four Derby winners – Motivator, Authorised, Pour Moi and Camelot – while Hurricane Run, Frozen Fire and Camelot saw Montjeu’s name inscribed thrice more on the Irish Derby roll of honour. His premature death, from septicaemia in March 2012, was a major catastrophe for Coolmore.
Dubbed the ‘Millennium Derby’, the 2000 renewal carried a Budweiser-funded $1m bonus to the winner, should he or she have previously been successful in any of the English, French or Kentucky equivalents. Sinndar, the first Irish-trained Epsom victor since Secreto in 1984, was of course qualified, having been among the early entrants. However, owner John Good initially baulked at stumping up £85,000 to supplement Holding Court, his recent Prix du Jockey-Club winner. “We are talking about a substantial amount of money.” Eventually, the old Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes maxim – ‘If you’re not in you can’t win’ – prevailed. In a three-horse market Sinndar went off favourite from Holding Court with King’s Best, the 2000 Guineas winner attracting support from those who backed trainer Michael Stoute’s judgement that a further four furlongs was within King’s Best’s compass.
In front of a crowd of 28,870 Johnny Murtagh settled Sinndar as his pacemakers Korasoun and Raypour ensured a true test of stamina. Sadly, Pat Eddery was obliged to pull King’s Best up at halfway, the cause diagnosed as a fractured cannon bone in his off-fore. Meanwhile Johnny Murtagh bided his time, content to track Raypour. Only when well into the finshing straight did he give Sinndar the office. The response was both instant and decisive. Sinndar surged clear, passing the post to wild acclaim, fully nine lengths clear of the Ballydoyle pair Glynebourne and Ciro. Raypour clung on gallantly for fourth. As for Holding Court, rider Philip Robinson reported that his mount never gave him any feel, beaten a long way from home.
A fourth Irish Derby winner for owner-breeder HH Aga Khan IV, following Shergar (1981), Shahrastani (1986) and Kahyasi (1988), Sindar was by the Coolmore stallion Grand Lodge out of Sinntara, an Irish Cesarewitch winner but a most reluctant mother to her offspring. Unbeaten in his two juvenile starts, including the National Stakes, Sinndar suffered his only career defeat on his seasonal reappearance. Thereafter he enjoyed a triumphal progress through the Leopardstown Derby Trial, the Derby, the Irish Derby, the Prix Neil and ultimately the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before being retired to stud.
Curragh trainer John Mortimer Oxx described his first Irish Derby victory as “A dream come true. This is the race my late father always wanted to win but sadly never did.” John retained vivid memories of that inaugural Irish Sweeps Derby of 1962 when, as an eleven-year-old, he had watched and waited in an agony of suspense for the judge’s verdict. Arctic Storm, trained by his father John Oxx, had gone down by a short head to Tambourine II. Nor had John Oxx senior been spared to see his son avenge that near miss, having died following a long illness in April 1987, aged seventy-seven. Since succeeding his father in 1979 John M Oxx MRCVS had made his name with such as Eurobird, Ridgewood Pearl, Timarida and Ebadiyla. The Aga Khan’s decision to remove all his horses in training from Britain to John Oxx in Ireland had injected strength in depth that transformed Curraghbeg into one of the most powerful stables in these islands, with commensurate results.
John P Murtagh – so styled to distinguish him from his senior namesake, one of the leading lightweights of his era – had emerged from the Racing Apprentice Centre of Education (RACE) to be indentured to John M Oxx. Having ridden his first winner in 1987, he became Irish champion apprentice in 1989. On succeeding Australian Ron Quinton as stable jockey in 1992, Johnny Murtagh achieved international recognition through his association with Ridgewood Pearl, winner of the Athasi Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Prix du Moulin and Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1995, when Johnny became Irish champion jockey on the first of four occasions.
Sinndar stood at HH Aga Khan’s studs in Ireland and France, getting Shawanda, winner of the 2005 Irish Oaks and Youmzain, runner-up in three successive Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Of those that finished in Sinndar’s wake at the Curragh, Media Puzzle achieved most renown when crediting trainer Dermot Weld with his second Melbourne Cup success in 2002.