Ian Fortune

Less than 30 seconds separate the six remaining Irish challengers from a place in the final of the Star Sports/ TRC English Derby at Towcester.

Tonight’s semi-finals will take centre stage at the Northamptonshire venue and as many as five Irish trained runners could progress to next weekend’s decider.


That is perhaps a best-case scenario but it would be something of a shock if at least three didn’t make it through.

Of course, the 2022 Kirby Memorial and 2023 Easter Cup champion Swords Rex is the hot favourite for outright glory and is one of four left in the stake for last year’s winning trainer Graham Holland.

As you would imagine, things are starting to get tougher and tougher but, such has been the professionalism and level of performance from Swords Rex in recent weeks, he is an odds-on chance to come through tonight’s assignment in the second semi-final with flying colours.

The market suggests that Romeo Command, the top-rated UK challenger left in the classic, is the main danger. Drawn in four, immediately inside Swords Rex, the Patrick Janssens trained star has an incredible record in the UK, winning thirteen of his fourteen starts to date.

If he is to make it fourteen wins, he must rocket from traps to get the better of Swords Rex into the corner. Otherwise, he is destined to play a minor role behind the hot favourite. Jacktavern Bella, a kennelmate to Swords Rex, also lines out in this contest and her task has been made somewhat easier with the sad withdrawal of Romeo Top Gun.

She has been performing with real distinction but faces a tough test tonight if she is to progress. The presence of last year’s finalist Savana Beau is not ideal. He is very strong and would be very difficult to reel in if getting a head start on the bitch.

Swords Rex can produce another foot-perfect display to see off Romeo Command, ensuring the he starts a hot favourite for next week’s decider, while the battle for third could go right down to the wire. Jacktavern Bella might just have enough in her arsenal to come through.


No fewer than four Irish challenger’s line out in the opening heat including Gaytime Nemo and Clona Duke, both kennel companions to Swords Rex.

It’s pretty remarkable that at this late stage in a classic as prestigious as the English Derby that Graham Holland is responsible for a third of the entire field but it highlights the incredible strength at his disposal.

Irish Derby runner-up Ballymac Finn and the Brendan Matthews trained Burj Khalifa complete the Irish challenge in this contest. This is a really open affair with each of the six, including the two home challengers Mystical Mario and Cochise, holding claims.

Much will depend on how Clona Duke performs. The Juvenile Derby and Select Stakes winner holds the track record at Towcester but was a bit flat in the third round but slightly better in last weekend’s quarter finals. If he does repeat his best form, he will no doubt take the world of beating.

He is chosen to come home in front of the well housed, in-form, Burj Khalifa. The latter has been a revelation through the classic for Brendan Matthews and Chris Sower and can make the most of the draw to get involved.

Gaytime Nemo can complete a one-two-three for the Irish. From an inside draw, he need only hold his pitch into the corner to turn within striking distance. It would be madness to dismiss the chances of Ballymac Finn given his immense talent but he just isn’t firing at present and needs to find a few lengths on recent efforts to progress.