Tom Marriott reports from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle base ahead of the Cazoo Derby Festival
IT’S ALL change at Ballydoyle.
Not just the installation of floodlights and speedometers on the gallops at Aidan O’Brien’s already state of the art training establishment – the home of a record-breaking eight Derby winners – but most importantly with the horses set to take part.
Just 24 hours before visiting O’Brien’s Co. Tipperary yard, long-time ante-post favourite Luxembourg was ruled out of the Epsom Classic due to a muscular injury, while stablemate Stone Age bolted up in the Derby Trial at Leopardstown, a combination of events that led the latter to tumble in the betting from 25/1 to just 5/2.
He never entered the Derby reckoning as a juvenile, having remained a maiden after five starts, but O’Brien was less surprised about the colt’s new status as Cazoo Derby favourite.
“If we wanted to make him win at two, we could have. We were just educating him. He had good form at two, which shows that he was a good juvenile, but it’s always been about the three-year-old season with him.”
Stone Age is by Derby winner and Coolmore super sire, Galileo, out of a proven middle-distance mare and the master handler seemed particularly keen about the colt’s credentials of relishing the mile and a half trip at Epsom.
“We always thought he was that type of horse [for a Derby],” O’Brien said.
“If you look back at his races, over a mile and a mile two, he was always running through the line. He didn’t really surprise us [by the way he won the Derby Trial]. We always thought he was going to be a class horse.”
And the nature of Stone Age’s Leopardstown romp could be enough to keep number one stable jockey Ryan Moore in the saddle.
“I would think Ryan would probably find it hard not to go with Stone Age now. The way the others will be ridden will suit him too.”
The ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ looks set to be mob-handed in the Cazoo Derby having mopped up most of the Classic trials on offer, and bookmaker William Hill were quick to shorten their offering of an O’Brien-trained winner to just 7/4.
But winning a ninth Derby is far from a penalty kick.
“I’m always amazed if any of my horses win it. There are so many variables and so many things that can happen to you. I’m just delighted that we have horses that can be competitive, especially with Luxembourg on the sidelines.”
Others bang in contention are Lingfield trial winner United Nations, Chester graduates Changingoftheguard and Star Of India, while Point Lonsdale, who finished down the field in the 2,000 Guineas and is yet to be tested over further than a mile, is still in the frame.
“We always thought last year that he wanted to go a mile but we never went a mile,” O’Brien said.
“We were keeping him at seven because he was the best horse we had at that distance at the time. Looking at him, though, you’d always say that he was going to be a middle-distance horse this year.
“Obviously, we thought he’d run a bit better than he did at Newmarket and he was a bit disappointing, but he’s still very much in our Derby plans.
“He’s in good shape and he’s a naturally fit and balanced horse. He’s still very much in the mix.”
Also, Bluegrass could be added to the list if he runs well in Thursday’s Dante Stakes at York.
As for the Cazoo Oaks, O’Brien confirmed plans to continue Tuesday’s progression in the Irish 1,000 Guineas before a crack at Epsom, while Cheshire Oaks winner Thoughts Of June, looks set to go straight to Epsom alongside Concert Hall.
Toy is being aimed towards the French Oaks instead of the Downs, while The Algarve’s participation in the Oaks rests on her upcoming run in tomorrow’s Musidora Stakes.
“We’ve got Tuesday, Concert Hall is a very strong possibility and The Algarve,” said O’Brien.
“The first thing Frankie [Dettori] said to me about Tuesday after the 1,000 Guineas was to go for the Irish 1,000 Guineas, so we’ve left that in her programme, and we’ll see after that.
“She’s not three until June, so it’s incredible she’s doing what she’s doing.
“As for Thoughts Of June, she’s a big filly, almost 17 hands, that stays very well and the plan is to go to Epsom.”
Whether it be down to setbacks off the track or performances on it, Ballydoyle’s teamsheet for the Cazoo Derby Festival is starting to take place, and it looks like being a typically strong line-up.