Following the script

  • By: Irish Eyes
  • Last Updated: June 10 2014, 21:58 BST

Australia was bred to win the Derby - it is well documented that both his parents won Epsom classics - and he duly ran out a one and a quarter length winner.

The star performers pose at a press open day before Epsom. (Caroline Norris: Coolmore)
The star performers pose at a press open day before Epsom. (Caroline Norris: Coolmore)

On the evidence of what we have seen to date, he is a long way off the best that Aidan O’Brien has trained but he must be given credit for winning the race he was bred to win and running third in one of the best renewals of the 2000 Guineas in living memory. 

He has already surpassed the achievements of Aidan O’Brien’s hitherto “best we have ever trained”, in Camelot.  Although the latter won both classics, he was blessed that there was a dearth of any serious three year old talent in 2012 and there is no doubt, he would have struggled to reach the first five in this year’s 2000 Guineas. 

Therefore, Australia deserves plenty of plaudits for following the script and doing what he was bred to do.  After all, he is not the first blue blood to grace the turf and plenty of those that came before him were unable to exceed as their classic bloodline suggested they should.

"We did witness one of the “best ever” rides in an Epsom Derby. It was like watching Piggott all over again. Yes, Australia was the best horse in the race but he got an absolutely superb, copybook ride from a 21-year-old who treats pressure with disdain."

The star performances at Epsom on Derby Day however, came from the father and son team of Aidan and Joseph O’Brien. 

There is little more to be said about Aidan save for, long after Australia is forgotten, Aidan will be remembered as the only man to ever train three consecutive Epsom Derby winners.  On to his son then, another who is bred to do excel, given both his parents were champion jockeys in Ireland. 

He has struggled with his weight and height but this talented young man was  winning his second Epsom Derby in three years and he gave the horse an absolutely brilliant ride in doing so. 

Joseph was quick to lay the praise on the head of the horse afterwards saying that Australia is an “easy horse to ride” and “you can put him anywhere in a race” but that is part of the job of the stable jockey and trainer at Ballydoyle – deflect all praise onto the horse, after all, the horse is the star. 

Camelot was “the best ever” in 2012, Australia is “the best flat horse ever” in 2014 and the nature of the business dictates that there will be many more anointed as the “best ever” in years to come. 

The flat horse merely has two seasons to shine (three maximum), while the trainer and jockey will be around for longer.  The flat horse is not merely a racehorse for the here and now, rather he is an embryonic stallion with significant future revenue, far in excess of what he will ever earn on a racecourse. 

Consequently, all comments must be fully thought out in advance and tailored with breeders (i.e. potential future customers) in mind.  Bearing all that in mind, we did witness one of the “best ever” copybook rides in an Epsom Derby yesterday.   Never at any stage did Joseph have the horse in the wrong position – it was like watching Piggott all over again. 

Yes, Australia was the best horse in the race but he got an absolutely superb, copybook ride from a 21-year-old who treats pressure with disdain.  As for the “best ever” horse  – when it was suggested that Australia merely won by a length and a quarter, Joseph was quick with the retort “that was because I got to the front a little too early”, proving that his genius is not confined to the saddle alone - never deflect from the horse! 

"Despite repeated pokes in the back and mutterings from his wife, he continued with his mini-tirade. His most audacious move of all was turning around to his wife and saying “I don’t care” – that’s the sort of bravery that only a married man can appreciate!"

Attention turned to the Triple Crown in Belmont Park, New York and here we were treated to a race that also followed the script but the aftermath certainly did not!  Poor California Chrome, a brilliant winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes lost a chunk of his foot as he was struck into leaving the stalls, which did not help his cause.  However, the real reason the odds-on shot could only manage fourth was he was simply not bred to see out the extended trip in the Belmont Stakes.

Afterwards, the script was thrown out the window when the camera’s turned to his clearly devastated and upset owner Steve Coburn who had tried valiantly, like his horse.  In a break from the sanitised, pre rehearsed post-race interviews we have become accustomed to, how refreshing it was to hear a genuine reaction from the owner of a horse that captured America’s hearts on his quest to win America’s triple-crown.  

Coburn’s immediate reaction was to slate the horses that finished in front of him.  He reasoned that the first two home had not contested the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, unlike his champion and therefore they had a significant advantage. 

He said that his horse had “a target on his back”.  Despite repeated pokes in the back and mutterings from his wife behind him (‘Shut up, Steve’ etc.), he continued with his mini-tirade.  He reasoned “if you’ve got a horse, run him in all three” and accused those that don’t of taking “the coward’s way out”.  His most audacious move of all was when he finished by turning around to his wife and saying “I don’t care” – that’s the sort of bravery that only a married man can appreciate! 

Here is a guy who is treating flat racing as a sport and not a business like the vast majority of, let’s call a spade a spade here, ‘boring’ owners do.  Granted he may not have been as sporting in defeat as some may have liked, and it’s true that perhaps he could have chosen his words more carefully but deep down, he’s just like all of us really - we all hate it when our horses loose. 

He was given no time to compose himself but I suspect that even if he had been, his reaction would have been much the same.  Everyone has been very quick to slate him but I for one applaud the man who wore his heart on his sleeve and reminded us that racing is not always about the business of producing future stallions and that post-race interviews cannot always be scripted weeks in advance.  It remains a fantastic sport, full of passion and feeling after all…..even American racing!

Thank you Steve Coburn and California Chrome.