Aidan O’Brien targets historic eighth Epsom Derby win
Mouthwatering weekend of Classic action ahead in England and France
A unique Investec Epsom Derby today could be the scene for a historic eighth victory in racing’s most prized contest by Aidan O’Brien.
The Irishman currently ties with three legendary English trainers of the past who also won the sport’s ‘Blue Riband’ seven times during the Derby’s 240-year history.
O’Brien has six chances in the race that has defined racing through the centuries but which this time takes place in unprecedented circumstances.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the great race back a month, forcing it behind closed doors, and for the first time ever Epsom’s other Classic, the Oaks for fillies, takes place on the same day.
It will take place in front of numbers on the ground perhaps comparable only to when Charles Bunbury got consolation for losing the toss on naming the new race to the Earl of Derby by winning with Diomed in 1780.
If the days are gone of London decamping en masse to Epsom for the Derby, and parliament closing down for the day, then the sight of the famous Downs fenced off to keep the public out will still be stark evidence of the singular circumstances of this Derby due to Covid-19.
The unique switchback challenge of Epsom remains the same but without the raucous hullabaloo that over the years has famously exposed fragile equine nerves and compromised their chance of racing immortality.
All of it is a long way from ideal and already there are fingers being kept tightly crossed that the impact of this virus makes 2020 a once-off.
But on the upside, having to revamp the schedule for Europe’s major racing prizes has conspired to throw up an unparalleled weekend of quality action.
Four major Classics are crammed into 24 hours as tomorrow’s delayed French Derby and Oaks also get put on the same programme at Chantilly.
Not only that but the big race glut also contains tomorrow’s Eclipse at Sandown, a race now restricted to older horses but which contains the superstar dual-Arc winner Enable.
No matter what the circumstances though the Derby always tops the billing and 19 years after first winning with Galileo, O’Brien’s dominance could now become unparalleled.
Anthony Van Dyck’s success a year ago – when stable companions of his were third, fourth, fifth and sixth into the bargain – edged his trainer one clear of Vincent O’Brien.
Should Mogul, Russian Emperor or one of the four others emerge on top this time the modern master of Balldoyle will eclipse the trio of Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling.
It will also put him in sight of Lester Piggott’s iconic haul of nine victories as a jockey.
In a race that matters like no other such status may well represent O’Brien’s crowning glory to date, although the famously unassuming Wexford man is still only 50.
The status of the Derby itself means that a trio of O’Brien’s home-based riders, including Russian Emperor’s jockey, Séamus Heffernan, go to Epsom despite the prospect of facing a 14-day isolation period on their return to Ireland.
Heffernan won on Anthony Van Dyck a year ago and although Coolmore Stud’s number one jockey Ryan Moore has opted for Mogul, the veteran Irish rider is entitled to fancy his chances of a repeat.
There are 10 potential stumbling blocks to history, including Jessica Harrington’s outsider Gold Maze. However the ante-post market has been dominated by just two of them.
Oisín Murphy has the task of conserving the Guineas winner Kameko’s stamina over the mile and a half. Frankie Dettoi’s job is to overcome an inside draw on the unbeaten English King. Both have quality although in an open year Russian Emperor may ultimately be the one to supply history.
O’Brien has three in the Oaks, with the 1,000 Guineas favourite Love the clear stable number one. She steps beyond a mile for the first time and faces a formidable opponent in Frankly Darling who is already proven at the trip.
The lack of atmosphere at Epsom might even prove to to the advantage of Frankly Darling, who appears to have inherited some of her sire Frankel’s fieriness.
Tomorrow Harrington appears to have a much better shot at Classic glory when her Royal Ascot winner Alpine Star lines up in the Prix de Diane.
The race, which is due off at 2.55pm Irish-time, also contains Ballydoyle’s Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Peaceful as well as Fancy Blue who will try and give Donnacha O’Brien a first Classic as a trainer.
It is 50 years since the sole Irish-trained winner of the French Oaks, Sweet Mimosa.
Both that and the French Derby are the two glaring gaps on Aidan O’Brien’s classic CV. With his main guns concentrating on Epsom it is left to the unheralded pair of Order Of Australia and Fort Myers to break his duck in the Prix du Jockey Club (2.10) after 23 years of trying.
Heffernan will continue his Classic trek to France and team up with both Peaceful and Order Of Australia.
Ryan Moore will ride Mogul for idan O’Brien in the psom Derbyf one of his siò entries. O’Brien has siò chances in the race that has defined racing through the centuries.