06/30/2008 12:00AM

Frozen Fire takes a chaotic Irish Derby


The Magnier/O'Brien gang combined for one of the uglier Irish Derby victories in history at the Curragh on Sunday as Frozen Fire claimed a two-length decision in the 1 1/2-mile classic after his stablemate Allesandro Volta had ended the chances of both Tartan Bearer and Curtain Call with an extraordinary display of brutishness in midstretch.

In a race depleted by the withdrawal of Epsom Derby winner New Approach due to lameness in his left hind leg caused by a foot bruise, this $2.3 million contest looked tailor made for the Epsom runner-up, Tartan Bearer, the Michael Stoute-trained British invader who was sent off as the even-money favorite. With Ryan Moore riding for all he was worth, Tartan Bearer appeared to be headed for the front when leader Alessandro Volta, one of five O'Brien-trained entries in the race, veered badly left off the rail under fierce right-handed whipping from Johnny Murtagh. Those antics forced Fran Berry to snatch up on Curtain Call as Tartan Bearer was pushed 10 yards wide of the line that Moore had chosen for him.

Meanwhile, the 16-1 Frozen Fire, kept well clear of the shenanigans by Jamie Heffernan, stormed down the wide outside for the victory in front of the Dermot Weld-trained Casual Conquest, who somehow managed to avoid all the trouble. Casual Conquest finished a short head in front of the offending Alessandro Volta, who was disqualified from third and placed fourth. Tartan Bearer was promoted to third, but Curtain Call was kept in fifth place.

This Irish Derby presented a clear illustration of what many people consider the questionable team tactics that O'Brien, Magnier, and company employ in any number of big races. Tartan Bearer or Curtain Call might have won the race with a clear run, but they were denied that chance by Frozen Fire's stablemate. As Irish racing does not couple horses with common ownership in the betting, punters who had backed Casual Conquest, Tartan Bearer, and Curtain Call had no recourse. In countries where the parimutuel system holds sway, Frozen Fire would have been part of an entry with Alessandro Volta, Bashkirov (sixth), Hindu Kush (10th), and Washington Irving (11th), and so would have been disqualified himself.

As it is, Frozen Fire, who covered the 12 furlongs in 2:31.96 on good to yielding ground, gave O'Brien his sixth Irish Derby victory after Desert King, Galileo, High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas, and Soldier of Fortune. The winner is owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Mrs. John Magnier.