NEVER in the 234 years since the Investec Derby was first run on the Epsom Downs has a trainer won the race for three straight years. But Aidan O’Brien looks set to run four horses from his powerful Ballydoyle stable as he bids to add another chapter to his illustrious career.
The Irish maestro has won the world’s most famous race four times with Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012) and Ruler Of The World (2013). And he told Epsom’s ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ event yesterday morning that long-term ante-post favourite Australia is likely to be joined by stable-mates Geoffrey Chaucer, Orchestra and Kingfisher for the £1.25m Group One contest on Saturday 7 June.
The Coolmore operation has made no secret of the regard in which they hold Australia, and O’Brien issued a positive bulletin on Coral’s 4/6 favourite to compere Clare Balding, saying: “He’s in good form. We didn’t do much after the Guineas [in which he finished a close-up third] and everyone is happy.
“We never take anything for granted but we were very happy with the Newmarket run, and we hope with his pedigree he’ll get a mile-and-a-half. Although we wouldn’t want very soft ground as he is a beautiful mover.”
Andrew Cooper, clerk of the course, said the ground was soft at present and is hopeful that, despite the weather for the next 10 days described as unsettled, the ground won’t be too testing.
When asked by Balding if the significant market move on Geoffrey Chaucer in the last week (7/1 from 14/1 with Coral) was sparked by rumours that the horse had thrashed Australia in a piece of work on the gallops, O’Brien coyly answered: “I don’t know where those rumours came from.” When pressed to deny it categorically, he rather sheepishly said: “It might have happened but I certainly didn’t see it.” To great laughs from the assembled press.
O’Brien’s son Joseph will take the ride on Australia with last year’s winning jockey Ryan Moore to partner his pick of the rest, likely to be Geoffrey Chaucer.
Dermot Weld also joined on the phone from Ireland and is delighted with his runner Fascinating Rock, last seen winning the influential Derrinstown Derby Trial in the steward’s room, with Geoffrey Chaucer back in third.
Weld said: “It’s always a very good Classic trial but it was a muddling pace. I think the first three home are very decent colts and I’m very happy with my horse.” John Gosden won the Derby with Benny The Dip in 1997 and worked both his Derby and Oaks hopes yesterday. He was glad to give the unbeaten Western Hymn experience of Epsom, commenting: “He’s still growing up – he’s only had three races and had a bit of a slog at Sandown last time. His head carriage was better here and he’s a horse with a great personality and lots of ability.”
The Newmarket handler was joined by Roger Varian in taking advantage of a racecourse gallop, and Varian is looking forward to Kingston Hill’s bid for glory.
Last year’s Racing Post Trophy winner is likely to be the only top-level winner in the field and he easily beat his work horses on the track. As a horse “who wants more than a mile, and who gave good milers a headstart when he blew the start [in the Guineas], on reflection he ran well,” said the trainer.
Racing’s new superpower, Qatar Racing, could be represented by Arod and an ambitious tilt for the world’s most expensive yearling sold in 2012, the £2.5m Hydrogen, could be on the cards if the unraced colt wins impressively in Newmarket’s 3.05pm maiden today.
However, Sheikh Fahad told us it’s a “one per cent outside chance.” He also warned that Arod, a fast finishing second in the Dante at York, won’t run if the ground is worse than good to soft.