06/29/2006 11:00PM

Overseas runners strong in Irish Derby


The English, French, and Italian Derby form will go on trial Sunday at The Curragh as overseas challengers account for six of the 13 runners in the $1.7 million Irish Derby.

Dragon Dancer, Dylan Thomas, and Best Alibi - who finished second, third, and sixth in the English Derby - face the first two home in the French Derby (Darsi and Best Name), while French champion trainer Andre Fabre is represented by Gentlewave, winner of the Italian version.

Early signs suggest that the English Derby form will hold up well, as Papal Bull and Snoqualmie Boy, two of its also-rans, both won at last week's Royal Ascot meeting.

But both Dragon Dancer and Dylan Thomas gained an advantage by racing close to the pace in that race, and Best Alibi, who finished only three lengths behind that pair despite coming from a long way back and hanging badly up Epsom's severely banked home stretch, could reverse the placings.

British raiders have a miserable recent history in this race, having failed to land the prize since 1993, but the French have fared much better, winning 4 of the last 11 renewals.

They stand a good chance of improving that record, although Darsi and Best Name both need to prove their stamina, as the French Derby is now run over 1 5/16 miles, rather than the full 1 1/2 miles that they will be negotiating here.

Darsi finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Best Name in the French Derby, but there are good reasons to believe that order may be revised Sunday. Best Name, a son of the 2000 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap runner-up, Flawly, finished strongly, having passed nine rivals in the Chantilly stretch, suggesting that this longer trip should suit him.

Fabre won this race last year with Hurricane Run and in 1995 with Winged Love. Now owned by Gary Tanaka, the late-developing Gentlewave was unraced as a 2-year-old and was not initially entered for the top races. But he would probably still be unbeaten in his four starts had jockey Christophe Soumillon not dropped his whip in the closing stages of the Prix Hocquart, contributing to his mount's getting caught on the line.

Gentlewave has since justified a supplementary entry by running away with the Italian Derby. He will be ridden by John Murtagh, with Soumillon claimed by his retaining owner, the Aga Khan, to ride Darsi.

The pick of the remainder is the Irish 2000 Guineas sixth-place finisher, Heliostatic, who has since landed a ten-furlong listed race at this course.