Ai­dan O’Brien tar­gets his­toric eighth Ep­som Derby win

Mouth­wa­ter­ing week­end of Clas­sic ac­tion ahead in Eng­land and France

The Irish Times - - Racing News And Program - Brian O’Con­nor

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.

Reðamp

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.

Stamina

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

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.

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