Last updated : 01 July 2007 By Editor

The Scotsman:

I would dearly love to be close to Sir Alex Ferguson when he watches the Budweiser Irish Derby this afternoon. It would be most instructive to monitor the Manchester United manager as the field hurtle across the Curragh. For if the bookmakers and most experts are to be believed, the winner will be Eagle Mountain, second to the magnificent Authorized in the Epsom Derby, and now set to land his home blue riband for trainer Aidan O'Brien, jockey Kieren Fallon and the Coolmore stud partnership of owners Derrick Smith and John Magnier.

For the uninitiated, Eagle Mountain is the son of Rock of Gibraltar, a horse that caused Ferguson a great deal of joy followed by a much vaster load of trouble. Eagle Mountain was the first of Rock of Gibraltar's sons to land a Pattern race, the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh last October, and has become the first of his offspring to have a serious chance at Classic glory.

He was, as his regular jockey Michael Kinane called him, the "ultimate racehorse", but it was only after he went to stud in 2003 that all hell broke loose over his handsome head. Though Magnier had not sold him one pennyworth of the colt, Ferguson really thought he owned half the horse, and was therefore due something like £25m-£50m in potential stud fees. Magnier stonewalled, Fergie took him to court, and after taking effective control of United, the Irish multi-millionaire made Ferguson aware who was really the boss at Old Trafford.

The row was eventually resolved with Ferguson being paid off with £2.5m tax free, while Magnier recouped at least 50 times that sum by promptly selling the club to American tycoon Malcolm Glazer, sparking the takeover frenzy in the English Premiership.

The intriguing aspect of today's race is that, instead of cash, Magnier first offered Ferguson four nominations - the right to send a mare to a stallion - for Rock of Gibraltar at stud. Ferguson would have had to buy or rent some mares and pay the stud fees of €90,000 a pop, but commentators were stunned when we learned that he had turned down those four nominations, which were "like being given lottery tickets with five winning numbers already pre-selected", as I wrote in November 2004.

I just could not believe that a man who liked a gamble would turn down the nominations, and settle for cash. And it has duly gone wrong for Ferguson, for today, with his first full crop of three-year-olds, Rock of Gibraltar could become a Classic-winning sire.

It is no exaggeration to say that, given that he had those four nominations annually, Ferguson had a real chance to be the man waiting in the winner's circle to greet a colt whose winnings will be £600,000, and who will then go on to amass many, many millions at stud: millions that could have gone the way of the ex-toolmaker's apprentice from Govan.

Nor does it matter if Eagle Mountain fails to win - Rock of Gibraltar's long-term future at stud is secure, and his earnings will get more impressive as he is allowed to service better mares. Last year he was visited by 198 mares in Ireland and 146 in his second stint in Australia, and his yearlings sold Down Under for an average of A$186,356, while his yearlings in Europe went for an average of 109,000 guineas. Only recently, leading Australian trainer Gai Waterhouse spent a record A$3m for a yearling colt by Rock of Gibraltar which, as a son of Danehill, carries the finest genes in racing. And though he banked £2.5m, Fergie turned down four chances each year to land such riches. Bonkers, frankly.