Colin Keane aims to win Epsom Derby on first attempt aboard White Birch

Passenger supplemented into ‘Blue Riband’ on Monday as 16 remain in classic mix

Ireland’s champion jockey Colin Keane will hope it is first time lucky in Saturday’s Betfred Epsom Derby after securing the coveted “spare” on White Birch in flat racing’s “Blue Riband”.

The grey colt, trained in Co Cork by John Murphy, will be Keane’s first Derby ride and just his second ever at Epsom.

The 28-year-old rider was on board a 66-1 outsider in The Algarve when beating only one home in last year’s Oaks.

It’s likely to be a different proposition this weekend with White Birch a general 12-1 shot to become just the 23rd colt to win the Derby having been prepared in this country.


That is on the back of a Ballysax Stakes victory at Leopardstown in April, following which he proved it was no fluke when a fast-finishing runner-up to The Foxes in York’s Dante.

White Birch was one of 16 left in the racing’s most coveted prize at Monday’s acceptance stage where the Michael Stoute-trained Passenger was supplemented at a cost of £85,000 (€98,000).

Auguste Rodin tops an Aidan O’Brien quartet left in and he is near the top of the betting to give his trainer a record-extending ninth Derby success.

Godolphin’s Military Order is also at the top of the market to emulate his brother Adayar who won two years ago.

Another racing superpower, Juddmonte, has the option of running Arrest who is set to be Frankie Dettori’s final Derby ride.

Donnacha O’Brien’s Alder is also among the 16 along with Jessica Harrington’s Sprewell and Shane Foley’s link with him means Keane steps in for the spin on White Birch.

In elite flat racing terms, success for a horse trained from a comparative outpost in Co Cork might seem unlikely.

Murphy, who famously prepared the 2006 Champion Chase winner Newmill, has never had an English Classic runner before.

However, he has a real shot at the biggest prize of all with the distinctive three-year-old carrying the silks of Spanish owner, Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez.

She has tasted Epsom Classic glory before having won the Oaks in 2015 with the 50-1 outsider Qualify, while Keane already has the Irish Derby on his CV through Westover’s victory at the Curragh last year.

White Birch made light of the quickest surface he’s raced on to date at York and is set to face similar conditions at Epsom.

“Talking to John and George [Murphy], and Shane [Foley], it was the quickest ground he’s run on [at York] and it just took him a while to warm into it. But when he got going, you’d have to love the way he came home and hit the line. Hopefully they keep it on the safe side at Epsom, with the downhill and the turn in; once it’s safe that’s all we can hope for,” Keane said on Monday.

“You need a well-balanced horse to help you get around there. But to be fair, the filly I rode in the Oaks, even though she finished out the back, she handled the track well. She was a well-balanced filly and that’s a help,” added the man who has been champion jockey four times.

Due to a clash with the FA Cup Final, and ITV coverage of both events, the Derby is the second race on Epsom’s programme and is due off at a much earlier time of 1.30.

The Ballydoyle team has also left in the Dee Stakes winner San Antonio as well as Adelaide River and Covent Garden while their Savethelastdance continues to dominate betting for this Friday’s Oaks.

“Epsom is all about Auguste Rodin at the moment and everything has gone well since the Guineas. We have others in and it’s possible that something else will run with him,” said O’Brien. “Covent Garden might run in the Derby as well along with Adelaide River.”

The busiest Classic window of the year also includes Sunday’s €1.5 million Qatar Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly for which 17 potential contenders remained on Monday.

Ahead of potential supplementary entries later in the week, O’Brien has a trio currently in the French Derby reckoning. Adelaide River is in both contests while Continuous, who made the Dante frame at York, is also in the mix for Chantilly.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column