‘No race is more important than the Derby – it always comes back to Epsom’
Eight potential rides and one world-class jockey. Horse racing fans await Moore’s big decision
At about midday today, Ryan Moore, arguably the world’s greatest jockey, will know which of Aidan O’brien’s possible eight runners in Saturday’s Investec Derby he is to ride.
It is not quite like the story which, for three decades in the second half of the 20th century, was central to the Derby build-up: what will Lester Piggott ride?
But, in betting terms, it will be almost as influential and, if it is not already favourite, the blue-blooded colt Moore rides will, doubtless, be heading the market soon after the announcement.
Before taking three days off to spend time with his children at half term (it is very debatable whether attending pony shows with small children constitutes battery recharging or is the equivalent of seven rides at Hamilton during a pilots’ strike) he had narrowed the choice of eight down to just the half-dozen: (in alphabetical order) Anthony Van Dyck, Broome, Cape Of Good Hope, Circus Maximus, Japan and Sir Dragonet.
“Aidan will tell me what he thinks, I will tell him what I think and what I ride will be what everyone believes to be the right one,” says Moore, 35.
“I’m always happy to go along with what everyone thinks. But the reality is I can only ride one and there’s a good chance one of the other seven will win. It’s seven versus one, so from a betting point of view the odds are in favour of one of the other seven winning.
“I’m just fortunate to be riding one of the eight; they’re all bred and trained for the job and if they weren’t in the Derby, it would be a lesser race for it. At the end of the day, I’ll have a very good ride, if it goes well and I have a bit of luck, I’ll have a good chance.”
To get to the stage where you can take the quieter domestic days off, you have to be a jockey of international standing with ambitions beyond being British champion, a title Moore has achieved three times. Then, given the nature of long-haul travel, to achieve some sort of longevity, it becomes essential.
Though Moore is not quite winning everything around the world as he was three and four years ago, he has won the majority of the most iconic races: the Derby
(Workforce in 2010 and Ruler Of The World in 2013), the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe (Workforce in 2010 and Found in 2016), the Japan Cup (Gentildonna in 2013) and the Melbourne Cup (Protectionist in 2014) while he is as at home in the Breeders’ Cup in the United States as he is at Brighton, where he was brought up. One day, he would like to win the Kentucky Derby.
But, says Moore, still nothing beats the Derby. “No race is more important – it always comes back to Epsom; the past and what happens in the future. What happens at Epsom is the foundation of racing not just in Britain and Ireland, but around the world.
“Everywhere I go, it’s the Epsom Derby. That’s what makes the stallions and I don’t think that’ll ever change. This year, all the horses are there. Two weeks ago, it would have been quite nice to see Too Darn Hot there and, look, there may be a couple of colts who come around later in the year, but at the moment there are probably only two horses that shouldn’t be in the race. You could make some sort of case for the other 13. It’s very competitive.
“Apart from Anthony Van Dyck and Sir Dragonet, most of ours are going up to a mile and a half for the first time and we don’t know how much they might improve for that.”
Moore’s first hazy memory of the Derby was of Erhaab’s win in 1994. “I remember watching it with my grandma after football training, but the first one which really sticks in my mind was Lammtarra in 1995, the way he finished and the ride he got from Walter Swinburn, how he flew from nowhere.”
Moore was told by plenty that neither of his Derby winners could triumph; Workforce because no horse which had been beaten in the Dante had ever gone on to win it, and Ruler Of The World because so few Derby winners had not seen a racecourse as two-year-olds.
“It just proves you don’t know where the Derby winner is going to come from. I couldn’t have been happier with Workforce’s run at York. People will give you reasons why horses can’t win a Derby, I’ll give you reasons why they can, that’s why it is such a fascinating race.”
Of course, being spoiled for choice has always been an occupational hazard for the first jockey at Ballydoyle. Mick Kinane, Johnny Murtagh, Kieren Fallon, Joseph O’brien – they all rode the “wrong” one occasionally. This season alone, Moore has been on the “wrong” one in the 1,000 Guineas and the 2,000 Guineas, but Hermosa put that right in Sunday’s Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Indeed, it happened in the Derby in 2017 when he rode O’brien’s Cliffs Of Moher, only for the stable’s 40-1 outsider Wings Of Eagles, under stable work-rider Paddy Beggy, to sweep past him deep inside the final furlong. No one, not even Gypsy Rose Lee in her palm-reading caravan on Tattenham Hill, saw that coming.
“Of course, you have to hope you’re on the right one,” he points out. “But I’ve been there before. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t.
“You want to ride the right one but there’s no point in worrying about it. We’ve got to run them to find out which is the best. It’s the most important race, I want to win it. I’m certainly not going to go out with the mindset that I’ve picked the wrong one.”
Any disappointment will be assuaged by the fact that he is part of one of the most successful set-ups in racing history and the knowledge that if he does not ride the winner for Ballydoyle on Saturday he will, at least, ride him next time out.
“I spend a bit of time at Ballydoyle in the spring,” he says. “I wish I could spend more time there. It’s incredible. Occasionally I’ll ride the wrong one but it is fantastic just to be part of it, it’s very special.
“The whole thing works so well. I’ve been riding for Aidan for 10 years. We have a good relationship, plenty of trust. We know what to expect of each other.”
The Investec Derby on Saturday is part of the 2019 QIPCO British Champions Series: britishchampionsseries.com
Take your pick: Ryan Moore has an enviable choice of rides for Epsom, including his Dee Stakes winner Circus Maximus (below)