GEOFF LESTER VISITED BALLYDOYLE YESTERDAY TO CHECK ON INVESTEC DERBY HOPEFUL AUSTRALIA
There is nothing new in Australia grinding the Poms into the dirt on home soil, particularly when that dirt comprises the hallowed turf of Lord’s or the Oval. But the prospect of a horse of the same name matching those cricketing endeavours on Epsom Downs next month is one we can all celebrate.
The paying public got a taste of things to come last September when the equine Australia demolished Free Eagle – a horse who had been promoted to Derby favouritism after a sparkling debut win – at Leopardstown on his final start as a juvenile.
It was a scintillating performance that saw him inherit winter favouritism for both the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the Investec Derby.
But his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, revealed yesterday that it was a piece of homework that the then two-year-old did this time last year that first convinced him that he had something special.
That work included four consecutive 11-second furlongs, a feat virtually unheard of, even at a stable that has been home to some of the best thoroughbreds ever to race.
Small wonder, therefore, that the usually calm and collected O’Brien was waxing lyrical about his superstar-in-waiting during a press briefing at his Ballydoyle stable on Monday ahead of the Classic.
He said: “He is a Derby horse that we have not had the likes of before. I thought Camelot was the best horse we had for the Derby, but this horse is another step up.
“I’ve never had a horse like this. I’m not trying to blow him up, I’m just saying how it is.
“For a horse by Galileo to be doing what he’s doing, we’ve never had that before. The reason we were excited before the Guineas [was that] his lead horse was Oklahoma City and he was treating him with contempt every day.
“Even in March and April he was doing half-speeds with horses he shouldn’t have been able to go with. When Frankie [Dettori] was over last year, he jumped off the ground after he sat on him.”
It is high praise indeed from a trainer who is no stranger to the winner’s enclosure at Epsom, having enjoyed four previous Derby triumphs with Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012) and, 12 months ago, Ruler Of The World. Camelot had previously won the Guineas and went to Doncaster looking to become the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to win the Triple Crown, only to narrowly missed out in the St Leger. But O’Brien believes Australia is even better.
Much of his attraction, of course, is in Australia’s breeding, which is as near to impeccable as is possible.
If the 1980s cult movie Weird Science witnessed the quest for the perfect woman, the men in white coats at Coolmore tasked with matching bloodlines would appear to have created the perfect Derby competitor.
Small wonder then that the son of Galileo, whose dam is 2004 Oaks winner Ouija Board, is already as short as even money with one of the leading bookmakers.
Critics will argue he should have won the Guineas too, if he is all that he’s made out to be. But O’Brien is bullish, suggesting his time has now come after a slow start for the stable due to many of its performers being under the weather.
He said: “At the start of the year, we were struggling a bit. It hasn’t been straightforward. We had a bit of a cough around for a long time.
“We’ve trained our way gently through it. If the horses are going to a Classic, they have to run in a prep race. We’re not complaining about it, everyone gets a run of it sometimes.
“Australia was sick six weeks before the Guineas. He was probably the first horse to show signs of the cough and then it spread like wildfire through the yard.”
O’Brien will hope the remaining embers from that wildfire have now been extinguished, after revealing that three other stablemates of Australia may go to post with him.
“I would like to think Ryan Moore will ride Orchestra again. It was a good performance at Chester. He travelled well and Ryan said he felt that when the gap came he had to go. In the end he got there too soon, but Ryan was very happy – which for him says a lot!” he joked.
Joining Orchestra will be Geoffrey Chaucer and Kingfisher, who O’Brien believes have been served well by their prep races, saying: “Geoffrey Chaucer had no luck in running in Sunday’s Derrinstown Trial. It was a bumping match until the last two furlongs, but at least the hustle and bustle will be good practice for Epsom.
“Kingfisher is a straightforward horse who quickened up off a slow pace to win at Chester and he deserves to take his chance.”
If things go according to plan for O’Brien, that chance will see him and the others in the race following Australia home.