O'Brien's Derby six in focus
Ben Linfoot discusses Aidan O'Brien's domination of the Epsom Derby and looks at six of his contenders for 2015.
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In 234 years of horse racing history, no trainer had ever won the Derby at Epsom three years consecutively until Aidan O’Brien achieved the remarkable feat in June.
Australia’s success in the 235th running of the sport’s most celebrated Classic followed victories by Camelot and Ruler Of The World to ensure the Ballydoyle handler added another record to his bulging collection.
Only Kris Kin denied O’Brien from rattling in the hat-trick over a decade earlier, as The Great Gatsby finished second to the Sir Michael Stoute-trained horse in 2003, the year after High Chaparral and immediately before him Galileo had stormed to Classic victory on the Downs.
O’Brien’s record of five wins in the Derby is the best by a modern handler. He’s closing in on the six achieved by his Ballydoyle predecessor Vincent O’Brien and the record of seven held by Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling.
Arguably, Australia’s success is the most important of O’Brien’s career. The time will come when Galileo’s stock has run dry, for want of a better phrase, and Australia, his son, out of the great race mare Ouija Board, is perfect material for the Coolmore marketers.
Unbeaten he isn’t, but he has won three Group Ones on the trot including two Derbys and the all-important 10-furlong prize. Another defeat on his record won’t do, and while Galileo himself unsuccessfully ended his career with a sixth behind Tiznow and Sakhee in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, such a bold campaign looks unlikely for Australia. He’s just too important.
A trip Stateside looks unlikely, as does the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It’s unfortunate, as you want to see the best horses in the best races, but perhaps that is unfair to the Champions Stakes run on both sides of the Irish Sea. Australia certainly looks like lining up in at least one, and maybe both, of those.
But I digress. O’Brien’s domination of the Epsom Classic is concurrent and the chances are he’ll be the first trainer to win a fourth Derby in a row come June 2015 looking at the present ante-post betting for the great race.
It isn’t surprising that O’Brien-trained horses dominate the market for the Derby nine months before the contest. They always do. But for him to train the first six in the betting at this stage is quite remarkable. A quick straw poll of the Sky Bet racing traders when asked to provide an estimate of the price O’Brien would be to win next year’s Derby saw odds ranging from Evens to 6/4. They weren’t prepared to offer it on site, though, understandably!
After Camelot won his maiden in the July of 2011 he was a 12/1 chance to win the Derby, while Australia was 16/1 prior to his demolition of Free Eagle in the September of 2013. Camelot returned at 8/13 at Epsom, Australia 11/8. Clearly, there is a temptation to beat the book here. Time to look at the ‘Ballydoyle Six’ in question…
John F Kennedy
By Galileo out of Rumplestiltskin, John F Kennedy is a full brother to recent Yorkshire Oaks winner Tapestry and he stormed to Derby favouritism in some lists after a ready success in a Curragh maiden on his second start. As expected, he improved from his first start emphatically, cruising to an easy four-and-three-quarter length success over Pincode.
What Aidan said: "He's still very babyish. Mentally he's still a bit immature, although physically he's mature. The penny never dropped the first day at Leopardstown. He's a very smart colt, and we'll probably take our time with him."
Another son of Galileo, Highland Reel was also beaten on debut at Leopardstown and, like JFK, he learnt from that experience in stylish fashion, slamming maiden opposition by an easy 12 lengths at Gowran on his next start. Since then he’s been out once, winning the Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood – a first success in the Group Two contest for O’Brien. He was visually impressive that day, but the form hasn’t really been franked by any of the beaten horses since (no winners from six runners).
What Aidan said: "He was a very impressive winner of his maiden the last day and Joseph was very happy with him. He said he had a lot of speed. This race just fell really nicely. The spacing of the race worked out just lovely. He has a lot of speed and a lot of natural energy. He's by Galileo and they can be classy and sharp. Joseph travelled well into the straight and then went to the line very strong. Obviously he has lots of options, the Futurity and the National Stakes would be two of them."
"It looked a good solid race and he travelled very strongly. He had to get tired going that gallop first time, but he cruised into the lead. We'll take our time with him. We'd rather go gentle and see what's going to happen. He seems to have plenty of pace."
Aidan O'Brien on Ol' Man River
Ol’ Man River
By Montjeu, out of dual-Guineas winner Finsceal Beo, Ol’ Man River has a touch of the Australia’s about him. Okay, he’s not bred by a Derby winner out of an Oaks winner, but as alternatives go this isn’t a bad pairing and the Ballydoyle work watchers were purring about the 2.85million Euro purchase before his debut. Sent off at 11/10 for a well-contested Curragh maiden, he cruised through the race, beating the aforementioned Pincode by almost twice as far as JFK had.
What Aidan said: “You'd have to be delighted with that first time. He's never been away and this was his first day on the track. It looked a good solid race and he travelled very strongly. He had to get tired going that gallop first time, but he cruised into the lead. We'll take our time with him and won't be in any panic. We'd rather go gentle and see what's going to happen. The good thing about him is he's a strong traveller and seems to have plenty of pace. Looking at today he wouldn't mind going back to seven furlongs. He was working with plenty of class and showing plenty of pace at home. You are always afraid first time what will happen and he was drawn in the car park. If we had a preference we'd rather go faster than softer, ground-wise."
Sir Isaac Newton
The only one of the O’Brien sextet that hasn’t had a race, that he’s fourth in the betting at 25/1 despite not seeing a racetrack is testament to his reputation at home. By Galileo out of the Danehill mare Shastye, the 3.6million Euro purchase is a full-brother to 2013 Oaks runner-up Secret Gesture and is entered in everything, from the National Stakes to the Dewhurst to the Derby.
What Aidan said: Nothing as yet. Well, not to us anyway.
Another son of Galileo and the one with the best form – so far. He too was beaten on debut, but has won three times since including the Group Two Futurity Stakes at the Curragh on August 24. He showed a nice turn of foot that day and did it nicely enough, attaining a rating of 112 in the process – 1lb higher than what Highland Reel was awarded following his Goodwood success. Looks to have plenty of speed and is a full-brother to stablemate Marvellous, this year’s Irish 1,000 Guineas winner.
What Aidan said: "I'm delighted with that. He quickened up really well, but didn't do much in front. He had to move when the gap opened on the rail. He could possibly come back here for the National Stakes, but he has plenty of options. He has plenty of speed. He's able to change gears. He quickened up there and went two or three lengths up easily, but then started to idle."
Yet another son of Galileo and this one’s a half-brother to 2009 Golden Jubilee winner Art Connoisseur. Sent off at 1/3 for his debut at Listowel in June, he won easily enough despite a slight stumble late in the race. Nothing in behind has done anything for the form since, but he has an entry in the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh on September 28.
What Joseph said: "He has been working well at home and I think he'll improve for that. He was quite green and a bit on and off the bridle but in the last furlong he was always comfortable. It's the first time he has been hitting ridges and running on a tight track but in fairness it's really good ground."
These things need a conclusion, don’t they? It’s very difficult to summarise with any degree of confidence which of these six will turn out to be the best, given each of them has so much potential. If it’s a price thing, Gleneagles is probably the one at 25/1 given he’s shown a high-level of ability already. If it’s a breeding thing then Sir Isaac Newton makes plenty of appeal given he’s a son of Galileo whose sister was second in the Oaks. And if it’s a gut-feeling thing then Ol’ Man River is my fancy after his impressive debut at the Curragh. That tenuous line of form through Pincode gives us some sort of comparison between him and John F Kennedy, too, and at 16s he could be the one. Good luck if you’re tempted enough to chance one of the ‘Ballydoyle Six’ nine months before the big one.