The horse racing season in the United Kingdom and Ireland steps up a gear as the year continues, with all racing fans already growing in excitement ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. However, when all the action over the jumps is complete, the attention turns back to the flat, and the British Classics.
The most significant Classic of the season comes from Epsom Downs, as the Derby will take place on Saturday, June 3, 2023. If the Kentucky Derby history intersects with American history, the Epsom is an event with similar importance to British and Irish people.
It is a race that the Irish has dominated throughout its modern history, with Aidan O’Brien looking for a record-extending tenth victory in the prestigious race in 2023. But, who are some of the leading Irish contenders chasing Derby success this year?
Aidan O’Brien last won the Derby in 2020 with Serpentine, and a number of his possible contenders dominate the betting once again this year. Auguste Rodin already looks to be the Irish trainer’s most exciting contender for 2023, having won three from four career starts.
Both of his previous two starts show that there are few weaknesses for this son of Deep Impact, as he won on soft ground over a mile at Leopardstown, before taking success by three lengths from Epicetus in heavy conditions in the G1 Vertem Futurity Trophy. There is every chance that Auguste Rodin could be the preferred ride for Ryan Moore for the Classic season in 2023.
It has been a solid National Hunt campaign for Joseph O’Brien, and he heads to Cheltenham with a leading chance in the Ryanair Chase in the form of Fakir D’oudairies. However, he also has a solid chance of Classic glory in 2023, with Al Riffa currently sitting as the second favourite in the ante-post betting markets.
We have only seen the three-year-old on three previous occasions, with all career starts coming at Curragh. However, a notable step up was taken on his latest appearance, as he landed the G1 National Stakes over seven furlongs by a length from Proud and Regal. That run achieved a career-best rating of 100, and it will be fascinating to see how he deals when stepped up in trip early in 2023.
Victoria Road looks set to be a very interesting contender in the early months of 2023, as the Aidan O’Brien runner has already claimed victory over a mile and a furlong. That victory was secured at Chantilly in September, as he claimed Group 3 glory in the form of Prix de Conde. On that occasion, he beat Rashford by a neck and scored an official rating of 93.
Victoria Road also claimed another significant victory before the end of 2022, as he got the better of Silver Knott to claim victory in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf by a nose. However, it could be significant that the Godolphin-owned runner-up is still a shorter price for the Derby this year.
A very interesting O’Brien runner to keep tabs on in the opening months of the flat season will be Alfred Munnings. This three-year-old remains a very decent price in the betting, despite finishing a distant six lengths off the lead at Royal Ascot in the Chesham Stakes. But, this son of Dubawi has prodigy shared by Best In The World and Galileo, meaning that a step up in trip is likely to see the very best of him.
He has already tasted victory on track, with that success being scored at Leopardstown in May, beating Segomo by four lengths over seven furlongs. It will be fascinating to see this runner when he returns to the track over a mile or greater.