I was lucky enough to work for Aidan O’Brien as a young lad, for me the best trainer ever, and at Epsom on Saturday he bids for his fifth Investec Derby today, saddling four of sixteen runners.
Yes, he’s well represented with a quarter of the field but for me, it’s all about one horse, Australia. More importantly the trainer believes he has “never had a horse” like Australia, some statement when you think of the stars he has had through his yard over the years.
The three-year-old came up narrowly short in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket behind Night Of Thunder and subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Kingman, but O’Brien insists Epsom has been his primary objective since day one and the step up in trip will really suit.
“We don’t take anything for granted ahead of any big race, we’re always hopeful and never confident. We were happy with the horse at Newmarket,” said O’Brien.
“Australia is uncomplicated, relaxed and has speed – exactly what you want in a racehorse. He’s very natural and takes no training. He has a great mind and settles very well.”
The trainer revealed he knew Australia was something out of the ordinary even before he first graced the racecourse last summer.
“From the time he worked, he always showed something different. In March and April of last year he was doing half-speeds with horses he shouldn’t have been able to do it with,” said O’Brien.
“When you see the splits in the Guineas they were all 11 seconds and looking at the video he was doing half-speed in the first half of the race. It was an unusually strongly-run race and he was cruising along.
“I’d never say the Guineas is a trial, but the reason we went was it was good ground and a mile on a straight course. It’s the most straightforward trial for him. It is run over a straight mile and gave us a five-week gap ahead of Epsom.”
Having never raced beyond a mile, Australia will be stepping into the unknown over a mile and a half, but given his stout breeding, connections are not anticipating any stamina issues.
O’Brien said: “I would be surprised if he didn’t stay. He’s never shown anything that would suggest it will be a problem.
“The guys couldn’t believe they could buy a Galileo out of Ouija Board. It’s very rare to get a horse like that and even more rare that they are good – most horses don’t live up to expectations.
“He’s a Derby horse like we’ve not had the likes of before. We’ve never had a horse like this.”
While Australia is undoubtedly the star name among the Ballydoyle three-year-old brigade, the colt is ably supported by three stable companions.
Orchestra earned his tilt with a narrow victory in the Chester Vase, but Ryan Moore has intriguingly jumped off him to ride Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial third Geoffrey Chaucer, leaving Seamie Heffernan to ride the Roodee winner.
The formidable quartet is completed by Dee Stakes scorer Kingfisher, the mount of Colm O’Donoghue.
Last year’s renewal saw an almighty performance from Smoothtalkinrascal, who finished a neck second to Duke Of Firenze from the widest of draws in stall one.
The race before the Derby is the Investec Dash and O’Meara, who continues to send out runners at an incredible rate, is hoping to go one better than last year with Smoothtalkinrascal.
O’Meara’s charge was also shouldering a 4lb penalty on that occasion and warrants the utmost respect bidding to go one place better this time around.
Chris Richardson, managing director at Cheveley Park Stud, said: “He loves Epsom so we’re hopeful, but he may need further than five furlongs at this stage of his career and Saturday’s race will tell us more.
“He ran arguably his finest race there 12 months ago so we’re hoping he can put his Haydock effort in the Temple Stakes behind him.”
There’s great racing in prospect, but the weather does not look to be on side with the possibility of an inch of rain throughout the day.
Yes, it looks like being wet, wild and blustery and I predict Australia will be on top of the world this evening.
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