Aidan O’Brien’s Investec Derby hand has strengthened with each and every trial.
He’s emerged from Chester, Lingfield and Leopardstown with four of the top five in the Sky Bet market as he seeks to win the Epsom Classic for a seventh time.
But as we try to work out which is the leading hope for the Ballydoyle maestro, what does history tell us? Which trial does he favour for his main contender year after year? Well – as you’d imagine – the picture is somewhat murky.
WON Ballysax Stakes
WON Derinstown Stud Trial
A horse who’s own Investec Derby legacy almost eclipses his trainer's, but let’s concentrate on Galileo the racehorse. He only ran once at two, winning a Leopardstown maiden in October, but carried a sky-high reputation with him.
Ballydoyle knew what they had and sent-off at 1/3 he made a stylish winning return in the Ballysax, beating stablemate and subsequent St Leger winner Milan by three-and-a-half lengths. Vinnie Roe, who went on to win the the Irish Leger four times, was a length away in third.
It was then back to Leopardstown for the Derrinstown and as 8/15 market leader he proved a length-and-a-half too good for Exaltation. Another routine win.
It was at Epsom, when 11/4 joint-favourite with 2000 Guineas winner Golan, that the first hint of greatness emerged with at thumping three-and-a-half lengths defeat of his market rival. O’Brien had his first Derby winner and a racing legend was born.
2002 HIGH CHAPARRAL
WON Ballysax Stakes
WON Derinstown Stud Trial
The trainer didn’t have to wait long for his next. This son of Sadler’s Wells wasn’t as much of a slow burner, his juvenile campaign culminating with victory in the Group One Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
Again it was the Ballysax-Derrinstown route to Epsom – and again he obliged at odds-on in both trials. The names of the vanquished, Twentytwoandchange and Rahn followed by In Time's Eye and Ahsanabad, don’t resonate but his Epsom performance does.
Stablemate and 2000 Guineas runner-up Hawk Wing was preferred in the market but having loomed large early in the straight, his stamina was to ebb away inside the final quarter of a mile and Johnny Murtagh punched High Chaparral two lengths clear. It was some performance – but then again he was some horse.
So there we have it – simple really – O’Brien runs his Derby colt in the Ballysax and Derrinstown and the rest are sighters.
Well not quite. He was to go what now seems a remarkable ten years without winning the race again – and while Galileo’s emergence as a stallion of a lifetime helped to end the drought, NONE of the trainer's four subsequent Epsom heroes even ran in EITHER of these two trials.
WON 2000 Guineas
Ah Camelot. His three-year-old campaign was built around the Triple Crown and he only fell three-quarters of a length short of racing immortality at Town Moor. So his route to Epsom was a straightforward one – the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
He got the job done, beating French Fifteen by a neck, but it was clear there he was a middle-distance colt running over a mile. The one common thread he had with a previous O’Brien Derby winner was victory in the Racing Post Trophy as a juvenile. At Epsom he was supreme, beating Lingfield Trial winner Main Sequence and stablemate Astrology, who'd taken the Dee Stakes at Chester.
2013 RULER OF THE WORLD
WON Chester vase
A trends buster in that he was unraced at two before making a winning start to his career in a ten furlong Curragh maiden in early April. All roads then led to Chester for the Vase, a race and track that is often used to hasten a horse’s education.
It did the trick as he learned with every twist and turn at the Roodeye before bounding clear to beat Mister Impatience by six lengths. It wasn’t a performance that sent shock-waves through the Classic market – indeed at Epsom he was one of five O’Brien runners and at 7/1, behind stablemate Battle Of Marengo in the punters’ pecking order.
But on the track he was dominant, beating Libertarian by a length-and-a-quarter. It wasn’t a vintage Derby and he wasn’t a vintage winner – but definitely a significant one. For he was the first son of Galileo to win an Investec Derby for the Ballydoyle team. He wasn’t to be the last.
3rd 2000 Guineas
By Galileo out of Ouija Board – he was bred to win a Derby and duly did – proving a length-and-a-quarter too good for Kingston Hill and justifying 11/8 favouritism. He was good, very good, so much so they thought he’d win a 2000 Guineas. He didn’t – beaten into third by Night Of Thunder and Kingman, but was only half-a-length and a neck away from emulating Camelot.
He too won over a mile as juvenile but wasn’t tested beyond Group Three company in three starts during his first season.
2017 WINGS OF EAGLES
2nd Chester Vase
As a 40/1 winner of Derby you won’t be surprised to know he didn’t follow any of the previous trends. He ran in one trial at three – the Chester Vase – where he finished well to chase home stablemate Venice Beach.
It was a pleasing return from a colt who won a Killarney maiden on his second start at two but he could only finish fourth in the Zetland at Newmarket and ninth in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in two subsequent juvenile starts.
He beat stablemate Cliffs Of Moher at Epsom (the Dee Stakes winner) with Cracksman third. The latter, along with Benbatl (fifth) and Capri (sixth) were to go on and carve out more successful careers than their Derby conqueror who was retired after sustaining a fractured sesamoid bone when finishing third in the Irish Derby.
So there you have it. There’s no such thing as a typical Aidan O’Brien Investec Derby preparation.
Stop the clock in 2002 and there was – you win the Ballysax and Derrinstown trials and bobs your uncle. But since then that route hasn’t worked for the Ballydoyle team. It’s been a mix of 2000 Guineas horses and the Chester Vase runners.
This year they ran two in the Newmarket Classic but there were never any pretensions from within the Coolmore team of Magna Grecia staying a mile-and-a-half – let alone the speedster Ten Sovereigns. Neither were ever in the Epsom frame.
History says forget their Lingfield Trial and Dee Stakes winners – the Dante at York hasn’t been paved with gold for O'Brien either. So the question is are you feeling in a retro mood ahead of this year’s race or going with the more recent trends?
BROOME is taking the Galileo and High Chaparral route to Epsom and clearly warrants respect while of the winners post 2002, SIR DRAGONET'S Chester Vase win puts him firmly in the trends frame too.