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With the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket behind us attentions in the UK are now firmly set on Epsom with the second colts Classic of the season The Derby set to take place at the Surrey venue early next month.
As the primary trainer for one of the world’s most powerful bloodstock empires the focus for many will undoubtedly be on Aidan O’Brien with regards to the big race and with that in mind it’s worth looking at just how good, or bad the handler’s recent record is in the race.
Aidan O’Brien has saddled eight winners of the Epsom Derby race with the great stallion Galileo back in 2001 being his first and he was quickly followed by High Chaparral the following year.
While Galileo looked the clear pick of the O’Brien horses that year going into the race as the handler’s sole representative following three consecutive victories it’s perhaps notable that High Chaparral may have been held in similar regard with a short-head defeat when starting at cramped odds for a big field Punchestown maiden on debut the colts only defeat in five previous starts prior to his Epsom success.
Interestingly however he didn’t go off favourite with that honour granted to stablemate Hawk Wing, though that’s not too surprising given the son of Woodman’s neck defeat in Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas which at the time was considered by many to be unlucky.
A barren run followed given it was another ten years until the master of Ballydoyle saddled his third winner in the race and with that in mind I feel it’s worth focussing on his recent record in the Epsom feature.
While O’Brien failed to saddle the winner back in 2010 it’s of note that from three runners he saddled three of the first five home including 100/1 chance At First Sight who finished best of the trio in second. Favourite backers went home disappointed with the well held fourth Jan Vermeer going off favourite for the Coolmore team while fifth home Midas Touch who went on to reverse form with his two stablemates in finishing runner-up to stablemate Cape Blanco in the Irish Derby later in the month.
O’Brien was again mob handed in 2011 saddling four runners with Treasure Beach, runner-up at 25/1 the best of them in addition to Memphis Tennessee (fourth), Recital (sixth as the most fancied in the market at 5/1) and Seville (tenth) also contesting the 13 runner affair.
A Group 1 winner at Doncaster as a two-year-old Camelot started a warm order in 2012 having taken out the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his previous start and he duly obliged by an easy five lengths from Main Sequence who went on to become a top turf performer in the US and stablemate Astrology who made the running and narrowly missed out on holding on for second. With such a strong favourite it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Ballydoyle team only ran the two that year.
In more recent times it’s of note that O’Brien’s dominance in the three-year-old division has seen him run five or more horses in four of the last five years, the exception being when Bolshoi Ballet was Ballydoyle’s sole representative 12 months ago. While it’s easy to criticise such a scattergun approach to the biggest three-year-old race in the world it’s arguably paid dividends with three winners and three places from 25 runners in that time.
Perhaps of most interest to many will be the statistics regards prices and a quick look at the O’Brien runners from 2010 onwards to start at sub 5/1 reveals that the handler has saddled two winners from ten runners with those winners being Australia (11/8) in 2014 and Camelot (8/13) in 2012). In contrast to those successes Saxon Warrior (4/5), Bolshoi Ballet (11/8) and the previously mentioned Jan Vermeer (9/4) have all suffered defeats at sub 3/1 in the same time period.
While Serpentine’s 25/1 runaway victory back in 2020 may well have been a fluke performance in the grand scheme of the colts career it’s notable just how often the O’Brien outsiders perform well in the big race with Wings Of Eagles 40/1 victory in 2017 plus the big priced places of At First Sight (100/1), Treasure Beach (25/1), Japan (20/1), Idaho (14/1) and Amhran Na Bhfiann (66/1) all delivering a healthy profit for each-way punters with the master handler saddling two winners and five placed horses from his 24 runners to start at 14/1 or bigger since 2010.
Both High Chaparral and Galileo were winners of the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown and while the likes of Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Fame And Glory all won in the years that followed, and the trainer has saddled the winner of the Leopardstown contest in five of the last six years none of his more recent winners, Douglas Macarthur, Broome, Cormorant and Bolshoi Ballet went on to make too much of an impact at Epsom (though Cormorant didn’t run) which is perhaps a worry for backers of this years winner Stone Age.
In recent times O’Brien’s Derby winners have been more likely to be seen in action in the UK with both Ruler Of The World (a winner) and Wings of Eagles (runner-up) taking in the Chester Vase and Anthony Van Dyck tackling the Lingfield Derby Trial.
The anomaly in this regard is Serpentine who impressed when winning a Curragh maiden a couple of weeks before romping to victory in the Covid 19 affected running of the 2020 renewal which took place in early July.