Galileo wins the Derby
Galileo: Aidan O'Brien's first Derby winner

Aidan O'Brien's favoured trials for his Derby and Oaks winners

John Ingles highlights which races Aidan O'Brien's eight Derby winners and ten Oaks winners have contested on the way to Epsom.


Aidan O’Brien has won the Derby a record eight times. But his winners have taken a variety of routes to Epsom which reflects the fact that his Derby winners have come to the race with a range of profiles, from maiden winners to classic winners and long-shots to hot-pots.

O’Brien’s first two Derby winners, however, had identical preparations, with Galileo winning the Ballysax Stakes followed by the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial in 2001 and High Chaparral winning the same two Leopardstown races a year later.

However, none of O’Brien’s subsequent Derby winners have taken that Irish route, even though he has won the Leopardstown Derby Trial another 12times since High Chaparral won it. O’Brien’s last couple of Leopardstown winners, Bolshoi Ballet and Stone Age last year, were sent off favourite and second favourite respectively at Epsom but neither made the frame.

Two of the next three Ballydoyle Derby winners contested the 2000 Guineas rather than a Derby trial, with Camelot following up his success at Newmarket in 2012 and Australia improving on his promising third behind Night of Thunder and Kingman two years later.

Australia’s defeat in the Guineas actually resulted in his price contracting for Epsom, where he started 11/8 on the day, whereas O’Brien’s winter Derby favourite Auguste Rodin was pushed out in the betting for this year’s race after a lacklustre effort at Newmarket last weekend.

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Two more of the stable’s Derby winners used the Chester Vase as their prep race. Battle of Marengo (another Ballysax/Derrinstown winner, incidentally) was the shortest price among Ballydoyle’s five Derby runners in 2013 but he could only manage fourth behind stablemate Ruler of The World who was fast-tracked to Epsom, having only made his racecourse debut, winning a Curragh maiden, less than two months earlier and taking in the Chester Vase along the way.

O’Brien threw four runners at the Chester Vase in 2017 and three of them filled the places. Ryan Moore chose the right one that day, in Venice Beach, but he preferred Dee Stakes winner Cliffs of Moher instead when the Derby came round.

Cliffs of Moher duly fared a good deal better than Venice Beach at Epsom, but it was the unconsidered Chester Vase runner-up Wings of Eagles who improved most to spring a 40/1 surprise, beating Cliffs of Moher three quarters of a length.

2019 was the year Ballydoyle dominated the various Derby trials like never before, resulting in seven of the stable’s colts taking their chance at Epsom and five of them taking the first six places. Moore’s pick this time, and sent off favourite, was another Chester Vase winner, Sir Dragonet, who had a similar profile to Ruler of The World in that he’d only made his winning debut the previous month.

But it was the much more experienced Anthony Van Dyck who fared best at Epsom, having had a full two-year-old campaign and then returned with a win in the Derby Trial at Lingfield which made him his stable’s third string at Epsom behind Sir Dragonet and Broome who’d taken the Ballysax/Derrinstown route.

O’Brien’s most recent Derby winner came in the pandemic-hit 2020 season when the Derby was run in July and the traditional calendar of trials was thrown in the air. As a result, the leading Ballydoyle contenders that year, Mogul and Russian Emperor, had been prepped at Royal Ascot, where the latter had won the Hampton Court Stakes, but victory went to another outsider, Serpentine, who had won a maiden at the Curragh just a week beforehand.

It’s notable that Britain’s most important Derby trial, the Dante Stakes, hasn’t been used by any of the Ballydoyle Derby winners. Ante-post Derby favourite High Definition was sent off favourite when third at York in 2021, though he only ran there after a setback ruled him of Lingfield which had been his intended trial.

Dante Stakes entries


O’Brien has been even more successful in the Oaks than in the Derby with ten winners, the first in 1998. Perhaps the most striking statistic is that seven of those fillies were beaten in their starts before winning at Epsom. The majority of the Ballydoyle Oaks winners didn’t contest a trial at all but instead ran in either the British or Irish 1000 Guineas, or both.

Minding in 2016 and Love in 2020 managed to complete the 1000 Guineas/Oaks double, though Minding did so after being beaten a head in the Irish 1000 Guineas in between. Imagine (in 2001), placed in her first two starts at three, is the only Ballydoyle filly to have won the Irish Guineas and then followed up in the Oaks. Like her sister Minding, last year’s Oaks winner Tuesday was runner-up in the Irish 1000 Guineas, having won a maiden at Naas and then finished third in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket beforehand.

O’Brien’s first Oaks winner, Shahtoush, finished second in the 1000 Guineas only to take a backward step when finishing only tenth in the Irish equivalent, but clearly relished the longer trip at Epsom. That was also true of 2015 winner Qualify who was the rank outsider in the Oaks field at 50/1 having finished down the field in the Guineas at both Newmarket and the Curragh but showed plenty of improvement for the step up to a mile and a half at Epsom.

Of the four Ballydoyle Oaks winners who contested a trial before going to Epsom, Snowfall was the only one to win one when successful at odds of 14/1 in the Musidora Stakes at York in 2021.

Alexandrova was beaten at odds-on when second in the same race in 2006 but convincingly turned the tables on her conqueror Short Skirt in the Oaks.

Likewise, Forever Together, second in the Cheshire Oaks in 2018 and still a maiden, turned the form around with the winner of that race, her stablemate Magic Wand, when they met again in the Oaks. O’Brien had five fillies in the 2012 Oaks with Maybe, unbeaten at two and third in the 1000 Guineas, looking the pick of them.

However, she didn’t prove as suited by the longer trip as 20/1 stablemate Was who had finished third in the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas on her previous start.

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