KARL Burke offers three very convincing reasons why his unlucky Epsom Derby runner-up Libertarian can go one better in Ireland today – a stronger pace, a galloping track and the colt’s improving physical maturity.
He will have to improve markedly. Libertarian, York’s Dante hero, has a length and a half to find on his Epsom conqueror Ruler Of The World in their fascinating rematch in tonight’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on The Curragh.
There’s also the peerless record of Ruler Of The World’s trainer Aidan O’Brien in this prestigious race. He has won this contest on an unprecedented 10 occasions, including the last seven renewals. Even though he does have many of Ireland’s best horses at his disposal, there is no such thing as a racing certainty at this rarified Grade One level.
The Ballydoyle genius also completed the English-Irish Derby double in 2001 and 2002 with Galileo and High Chaparral respectively before repeating the feat 12 months ago with Camelot on near unraceable heavy ground.
It’s a daunting prospect as Burke, and his wife Elaine, prepare to saddle their horse of a lifetime for a final time following his recent purchase by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation – Libertarian is due to move to the Newmarket stables of Saeed bin Suroor after today’s race.
But history is still on the side of the North Yorkshire couple who train at the historic Spigot Lodge stables near Leyburn. As the licence holder, Elaine Burke would become the first female trainer to win this one-and-a-half mile test for three-year-old thoroughbreds that dates back to 1866.
Poignantly, Libertarian would be the first English-trained horse to conquer The Curragh since the late Sir Henry Cecil’s Commander in Chief added the Irish Derby to his Epsom triumph 20 years ago.
And here is the rub. Like Libertarian who races today for just the fifth time in a rapidly-improving career, the much missed Cecil’s Commander in Chief was a late maturing horse who did not run as a two-year-old.
There are two other plusses – Sheikh Mohammed paid to fly Libertarian to Ireland yesterday to save travel time. He also agreed that William Buick, who rode the colt in both the Dante and the Derby, could retain riding duties rather than one of Godolphin’s retained riders.
The only difference is Buick, 24, will be in Godolphin’s royal blue silks rather than the pink, white, red and orange of Scandinavian entrepreneur Hubert Strecker.
With Epsom third Galileo Rock also in this select line-up, it’s little surprise that Godolphin supplemented the sacrificial pacemaker Cap O’Rushes when they stumped up Libertarian’s late entry fee on Monday.
“We are very excited,” said Karl Burke, assistant trainer to his wife Elaine. “He left here in great form. He looks great, and hopefully we will get a bit of luck in running.
“He is definitely improving physically – I always said that Epsom would be just the beginning for Libertarian. Nine runners has got to help – a small field will mean less traffic problems – while the pace on a galloping track is another plus in my opinion.
“At least we know we haven’t got Tattenham Corner to negotiate. All these staying three-year-olds tend to progress through the summer, but being a May foal, you would like to think he has scope to improve more than the other horses that ran at Epsom. There is a lot of stamina on the dam’s side and he’ll see out the trip well. New Approach is turning into a superb stallion.”
That said, Ruler Of The World was also sired by New Approach, the 2008 Epsom Derby champion, and his jockey Joseph O’Brien appeared to be brimming with confidence last night as he looks to replicate Camelot’s battling win of 12 months ago.
O’Brien missed out on Ruler Of The World’s win at Epsom – he had opted to ride stablemate Battle Of Marengo – but today’s favourite has clearly impressed him on the gallops at Ballydoyle where his father Aidan trains.
“He’s an exciting horse. He’s won three times from three runs and he won very nicely the last day at Epsom,” said O’Brien junior. “He was ready to run early as a two-year-old and he was in the Chesham (at Royal Ascot) until very late on, he was going to run but then he got a little cough. They couldn’t shift the cough for the rest of the year but he’s a very exciting horse. You’d be hoping he’ll improve for the experience of Epsom.”
That said, Libertarian’s jockey William Buick is relishing the challenge.
He is convinced that he lost the Epsom Derby only because Ruler Of The World found the greater acceleration off a slow early pace which wrecked the chances of the favourite Dawn Approach.
“I’m really looking forward to it. He’s a lovely horse and he did very well in the Derby and the track should suit him better at the Curragh,” said the Northern Racing College graduate who showed great horsemanship in getting Libertarian to eventually settle at York and Epsom. “Although he’s taking on the Derby winner, I’m very hopeful.”