Horse Racing Betting: Donn McClean’s Five Most Memorable Irish Derbys

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Horse Racing Betting: Donn McClean’s Five Most Memorable Irish Derbys

Donn McClean, a renowned horse racing journalist and expert, has witnessed countless exhilarating moments in the world of Irish horse racing. 

Among the plethora of prestigious races that he has covered, the Irish Derby holds a special place in his heart and betting sites have odds at the ready for this year's renewal.

With its rich history and thrilling displays of equine athleticism, the Irish Derby has produced a tapestry of unforgettable moments throughout the years. 

In this article, we delve into Donn McClean's personal recollections and highlight his five most memorable Irish Derbys

From stunning displays of sheer dominance to heart-stopping photo-finishes, these races have etched themselves into the annals of Irish racing history, forever captivating the hearts of racing enthusiasts and leaving an indelible mark on McClean's own career. 

Join us as we relive these extraordinary moments that define the magic and allure of the Irish Derby.

1. Generous - 1991

It used to be the case that the French Derby winner and the Epsom Derby winner would meet at The Curragh in the championship decider that would definitively crown the champion three-year-old middle-distance colt of that generation.

Suave Dancer had won the 1991 Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) impressively, by four lengths. Generous had won the Epsom Derby by five and something had to give when they met at The Curragh at the end of June.  

The market favoured Generous, but not by much. And Generous was a little keen through the early stages of the race, three wide and doing a little more than his rider Alan Munro wanted him to do, as Suave Dancer sat cold in behind under Walter Swinburn.  

With about a mile to go, Munro allowed his horse stride on into the lead. A mile out is a long way out at The Curragh, but Generous was happier in front, he dropped the bridle and settled into his racing rhythm. 


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As they raced around the home turn, Munro got lower in the saddle in front as Suave Dancer made his ground around the outside under his motionless rider.  

But Generous found for pressure in front. Swinburn had to get after Suave Dancer fully two furlongs out but, while he threatened, he couldn’t get past.  

In the end, Generous was going away again on the run to the line under Alan Munro, whip high in the air like a periscope, to record a famous victory.

The quality of that Irish Derby was rubber-stamped later in the season when Generous won the King George and Suave Dancer won the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and they both ended the season with Timeform ratings in the high 130s.

2. St Jovite - 1992

The 1992 Irish Derby was the next stage in the rivalry between St Jovite and Dr Devious that was a thread that ran through the 1992 season.

Dr Devious was the Epsom Derby hero, but St Jovite had chased him home at Epsom, just two lengths behind him, and there was a sense that Jim Bolger’s horse would get closer still at The Curragh. 

He did better than that. He turned the tables on his rival, and he blitzed his field in one of the most memorable performances that an Irish Derby winner has ever put up.


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Handy from early under Christy Roche, St Jovite moved into second place behind the breakaway leader, his stable companion Appealing Bubbles, after they had gone a couple of furlongs.  

The leader came under a ride four furlongs out, and St Jovite moved up in his inside as Dr Devious made smooth progress up on the outside.  

Christy Roche started to niggle away on St Jovite as they rounded the home turn as John Reid sat motionless on Dr Devious, but St Jovite picked up. Suddenly he was two lengths clear and Dr Devious was being ridden along.

He never got any closer. On the contrary, St Jovite pulled away.  He spent the length of the home straight pulling further and further clear of his rivals so that, by the time he got to the end of it, there was fully 12 horse-lengths worth of green grass between himself and the rest of the field.

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3. Desert King - 1997

Desert King’s win in the 1997 Irish Derby was notable, not because it was a particularly vintage renewal of the race, and not only because he was completing the Irish 2000 Guineas/Irish Derby double, which was noteworthy in itself. But because he was Aidan O’Brien’s first Irish Derby winner.

Of course, we couldn’t have known the degree to which the trainer would dominate the race in the future. We suspected that this young trainer could go to great heights all right, but even the most optimistic of observers could never have envisaged the thin-air altitudes that he would reach.  

The legend that was Vincent O’Brien trained seven Irish Derby winners, stretching from Chamier in 1953 to Law Society in 1985. Aidan O’Brien has trained 14, twice as many and that is remarkable. And it could be 15 in a couple of days.

Three and a half months before Desert King won the Irish Derby, Aidan O’Brien had sent out Istabraq to win the Sun Alliance Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Three months earlier he had won the Dan Moore Handicap Chase with Idiot’s Venture. A day earlier he had won the Irish 1000 Guineas with Classic Park, a first European Classic for the trainer. The first of 99, astonishing, which could become 100 on Sunday.

The step up to a mile and a half was a step into the unknown for Desert King. He had the pace to win the Tetrarch Stakes over seven furlongs and he won the Irish Guineas over a mile. 

Only fourth in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on his last run before the Irish Derby, his trainer took the bold decision to step him up significantly in trip, to go four furlongs further than he had ever gone before, and he saw it out well under Christy Roche, coming home a length clear of Dr Johnson and Loup Sauvage.


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4. Montjeu - 1999

Montjeu had been beaten only once in his life before he went to The Curragh in 1999. Two for two as a juvenile, Michael Tabor’s horse had won the Group 2 Prix Greffulhe on his debut as a three-year-old and, after defeat at 1/10 in the Prix Lupin, he had run out and impressive winner of the Prix du Jockey Club.

The Epsom Derby winner Oath didn’t go to The Curragh that year, but the Epsom Derby form was still strongly represented there through the second and third, Daliapour and Beat All. 

Montjeu was sent off as favourite, he stalked in behind under Cash Asmussen and travelled strongly to the home turn. Moved towards the outside by his rider early in the home straight, John Hammond’s horse moved up easily towards the leaders on the run to the two-furlong marker. 

Daliapour kicked for home on the far side, but Montjeu just ranged up beside him, a colossus who oozed class, and, when Asmussen gave him a squeeze, he powered clear impressively.

The distance of the Prix du Jockey Club was shortened from a mile and a half to 10 and a half furlongs in 2005, and Montjeu is the last winner of the French Classic to follow up at The Curragh.  

The son of Sadler’s Wells went on to win the Prix Niel and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe later in 1999, and he returned as a four-year-old to win three more Group 1 races, including the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh and the King George at Ascot.  

And he was a phenomenal stallion, with Authorized, Motivator, St Nicholas Abbey, Camelot, Leading Light and Fame And Glory numbered among the progeny of a stallion who has had a profound impact on the bloodstock world. 

5. Alamshar - 2003

Dalakhani was sent off an odds-on to emulate Montjeu, the Prix du Jockey Club winner bidding to follow up at The Curragh, but he came up short, he had to give best to fellow Aga Khan horse Alamshar.

It was a wholly magnanimous gesture by the owner, to allow Alamshar take his chance in the race when it looked like, if he did run, he would be Dalakhani’s biggest danger.  

Alamshar was the Irish horse, the John Oxx horse, trained on the Irish Derby's doorstep, while Dalakhani was the visitor, the Gallic raider.  

Even so, Dalakhani’s rider Christophe Soumillon wore the first Aga Khan colours, the green with the red epaulettes, while Johnny Murtagh on Alamshar wore the old Aga Khan colours, the green with the chocolate hoops.

This was a Johnny Murtagh masterclass as they went fast early on, the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair High Country and Handel took them through blistering early fractions, as Christophe Soumillon sat off them in third place on Dalakhani. 

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Alamshar sat a little way off Dalakhani, at the head of the main body of the field in fourth place, but still daylight between himself and Dalakhani, Johnny Murtagh happy that he was going as fast as he wanted to go.

The leaders wilted as they turned for home and suddenly, fully three furlongs from home, Dalakhani was left in front.  

Alamshar moved up on his outside and, with no doubts about his stamina, Murtagh asked him for his effort early.  

It looked like Dalakhani was travelling better as the pair of them raced to the two-furlong marker and the race quickly developed into a duel, but Alamshar was gritty and determined and strong.  

He answered his rider’s calls and, gradually and inexorably, ground his rival down and galloped into the history books.

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