Stakes spot plays for Irish Derby weekend at the Curragh

June 30th, 2023

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares spot plays for seven weekend stakes at the Curragh Racecourse in Ireland, including the prestigious Irish Derby (G1).

The Sunday card is part of the World Pool operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which means betting dollars from around the globe are commingled to create larger pools with greater liquidity than regional pools, offering a better experience for bettors.

Saturday, July 1

Race 2: Airlie Stud (G2, six furlongs on turf)

First choice: #6 Matrika won her debut dashing six furlongs at the Curragh and then took on tough competition at Royal Ascot to finish second against a large field in the six-furlong Albany (G3). Returning to Ireland under Royal Ascot’s leading jockey Ryan Moore can send Matrika to the winner’s circle.

Second choice: #3 Grand Job might be a maiden, but she was beaten less than one length by Matrika when finishing second on debut at the Curragh. Whereas Matrika has run at Royal Ascot in the interim, Grand Job has been freshened and may have an upset chance.

Third choice: #5 Launch is 0-for-3, but two starts back, she finished third behind Albany winner Porta Fortuna in the six-furlong Fillies Sprint (G3) at Naas. We’ll draw a line through her subsequent 14th-place run in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot and assume Launch is capable of bouncing back.

Race 4: Pretty Polly (G1, 1 1/4 miles on turf)

First choice: #1 Above the Curve won the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) racing 1 1/4 miles in France last fall and showed an affinity for the Pretty Polly course and distance when prevailing in the Blandford (G2) last September. She got back to her winning ways with a decisive triumph in the 1 5/16-mile Prix Corrida (G2) on May 28 and looks ready to shine in her return to the Group 1 ranks.

Second choice: The three-year-old #9 Never Ending Story has placed multiple times at the Group 1 level while squaring off against dual French classic winner Blue Rose Cen and Irish classic winner Tahiyra. She’s toting 10 fewer pounds than her older rivals in the Pretty Polly and may outrun her odds for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Third choice: #7 Via Sistina kicked off 2023 with a dominant six-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Dahlia (G2) at Newmarket, suggesting this five-year-old mare is improving and ready for a strong run in her Group 1 debut.

Paddy Power International (G3, 1 1/4 miles on turf)

First choice: #1 Layfayette has hit the board multiple times against group stakes competition, including when fourth to the talented Luxembourg in the 1 5/16-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at the Curragh two starts back. He enters off a win in the Martin Molony S. and can’t be underestimated as an older horse facing three-year-old favorites.

Second choice: #2 Mashoor has won two straight races over 1 1/4 miles and farther, most recently taking the 1 1/2-mile Orby S. at the Curragh by 1 1/2 lengths. The five-year-old has route racing experience that the Paddy Power International favorites lack and may have a shot at an upset.

Third choice: #4 Al Riffa was a high-class juvenile, winning the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) over a next-out Group 1 winner, but he’s never run farther than seven furlongs and missed a scheduled start in the Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1). We’ll try to beat him since he’s facing older rivals and stretching out over 1 1/4 miles in his first run of the season.

Sunday, July 1

Race 1: Railway (G2, six furlongs on turf)

First choice: #9 Unquestionable finished third in his debut dashing five furlongs at the Curragh, then stretched out over six furlongs to obliterate a maiden contest by 4 1/4 lengths. Ryan Moore was aboard that day and remains in the saddle for the Railway, stamping Unquestionable as a formidable Aidan O’Brien trainee.

Second choice: #1 Bucanero Fuerte won his debut at the Curragh in convincing fashion but is bound to receive a lot of play off his third-place finish against a large field in the Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot. He’s a logical win threat, but not necessarily a more promising runner than Unquestionable.

Third choice: #2 Democracy won his debut sprinting six furlongs at the Curragh by 2 3/4 lengths, and then faltered to finish last of six in the Marble Hill (G3) over the same course and distance. If you draw a line through that effort, Democracy has a chance to factor at a price for Aidan O’Brien.

Race 2: Dash S. (six furlongs on turf)

First choice: #3 Commanche Falls has placed in all three of his group stakes appearances, including when third in the 1895 Duke of York Clipper (G2) last time out. Dropping in class should make him tough to beat.

Second choice: #8 Mooneista couldn’t keep pace in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, finishing 13th, but dropping down in class can trigger a rebound. Four of his last six starts have come at the Group 1 level, and he ran second multiple times against Group 2 company at the Curragh last year.

Third choice: #5 Tango Flare hasn’t been facing the toughest competition, but he’s 2-for-2 in 2023, winning six-furlong sprints at Cork and Fairyhouse. The lightly raced four-year-old still has upside.

Race 4: Irish Derby (G1, 1 1/2 miles)

First choice: #2 Auguste Rodin was a powerful winner of the Derby (G1) at Epsom last month, finishing strongly to win by half a length with the third-place finisher far behind. He’s won multiple Group 1 prizes for Aidan O’Brien and should be tough to beat as an odds-on favorite in the Irish Derby.

Second choice: #7 Sprewell ran into bits of trouble when finishing fourth in the Derby, seven lengths behind Auguste Rodin. He’d previously dominated the Derby Trial S. at Leopardstown by three lengths and has every chance to crack the exacta in his second Group 1 try.

Third choice: #9 White Birch rallied to finish third in the Derby, 5 1/4 lengths behind Auguste Rodin. But three starts back, he was best by only half a length over Up and Under in the P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax (G3), and Up and Under subsequently lost by three lengths to Sprewell in the Derby Trial.

Race 7: Celebration S. (one mile on turf)

First choice: The three-year-old filly #12 Tarawa exits a solid fourth-place finish in the Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1) over this course and distance. The winner, Tahiyra, came back to nab the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot. Dropping in class for the Celebration stamps Tarawa as the runner to beat, even while facing older male rivals.

Second choice: #11 Salt Lake City ran fifth behind Auguste Rodin in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) last fall and kicked off 2023 with a neck defeat in Glencairn S. at Leopardstown. This lightly raced three-year-old still has upside for the team of Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore.

Third choice: #2 Carrytheone ran third in the seven-furlong Ballycorus (G3) last time out, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths. The six-year-old gelding should fit well at the listed stakes level.