Bobby Zen

TIPPERARY, Ireland — Aidan O’Brien walks into the semi-covered ride, shakes hands with each member of the assembled press pack and apologises for the rain. Within his private fiefdom of Ballydoyle there is plenty that he can control, particularly via the earpieces on each of his 50 riders currently warming up in front of him, but the weather isn’t one of them.

The rain fell on his parade at Newmarket just over a week ago when the longed-for procession of City Of Troy (Justify) in the 2,000 Guineas failed to materialise. The media throng is here primarily to talk about the Betfred Derby but in the case of this particular horse it is hard to look forward without first looking back. 

“Sometimes things don’t work and really I would always say that it’s my responsibility to make sure it works and when it doesn’t work, well, we’ve done our homework but maybe we didn’t do it all properly. That’s the way I would look at the Guineas,” he says.

The trainer is sticking with Plan A, which was and still is Guineas first, followed by Epsom, then “wherever”. 

“It will make it very interesting the next day,” O’Brien adds with no little understatement and says that the Derby trip will be no problem for the colt who was the unbeaten champion two-year-old. 

“But we all know horseracing and we all know life – no one knows what’s going to happen in the next half hour. Listen, the Guineas just wasn’t meant to be.”

He had still felt the need to apologise several times at Newmarket after the race, and there was no denying the sense of excitement with which many folk had arrived at the Rowley Mile on the first Saturday of May. 

“I felt everyone was there to see City Of Troy,” O’Brien says. “And obviously I probably expected too much of him and didn’t have him prepared properly. It’s our job to prepare him properly to go to the races for Ryan [Moore] to sit on, and we let him down. It was probably a bit of a letdown for everybody, because we were all expecting and it just went against us.”

Asked how he copes with the disappointment of a bad day when he gets home, the famously teetotal O’Brien quips, “Bottle of whisky, always,” before adding, “When I come back I usually have two or three hours of work to do here and I’d be setting up the morning and setting up the work and that would normally take me up to night time, and then I go to bed and start off a new day and I would never think about yesterday. It’s gone.”

His nine wins already make O’Brien the most successful trainer in the history of the Derby, surpassing his Ballydoyle predecessor Vincent O’Brien, who had been responsible for the construction of a gallop to emulate the turn, camber and downhill test of Tattenham Corner. This is still utilised on a regular basis. 

“In Dr O’Brien’s time everything was about winning the Derby,” he says. “The whole Thoroughbred generation every year is measured in the Derby and that’s just the harsh reality of it. It’s very hard to get a horse good enough to run in it and good enough to win it, and some horses don’t go on from it because it’s the ultimate test and some horses find it very difficult. But there has to be a barometer, and that is the barometer.”

O’Brien continues, “Every horse that works canters around Tattenham Corner every day. It’s repetition, and what we have seen over the years is that if a horse hasn’t handled it today they’re not going to handle it tomorrow, but you see very quickly the ones who have the balance and can handle it.”

Through the driving rain and strong winds which make this May morning feel more like February, the trainer marches to and from the woodchip gallop with its speedometer and floodlights. An easy canter for most of the horses first, followed by a stronger second turn along the gradually inclining four furlongs. Clad in black waterproofs, he says of mornings on the gallops, perhaps in slightly fairer conditions than this, and presumably without a pack of journalists in tow, “It’s like heaven.”

O’Brien trains 13 of the 40 horses who remain in contention for the Derby, with the whittling-down process set to take place as the dust settles on the formal trials. The leading candidates to accompany City Of Troy to Epsom appear to be last week’s Dee S. winner Capulet (Justify), Diego Velazquez (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), and Sunday’s Cashel Palace Hotel Derby Trial winner Los Angeles (Ire) (Camelot {GB}).

“Usually what happens is we get within two weeks of it and the lads see what we have and talk about what they would like to run. Really, the most important race every year is the Derby. They will then decide whether we’re going to let City Of Troy go on his own or let something else go with him,” he says.

“Every horse that has been running in a trial is for that purpose. This year we purposely haven’t been too hard on them in their trials because other years we might have won loads of trials and then run badly in the Derby. This year we decided to use the trials as trials and even if they haven’t won they will hopefully progress.

“We were very happy with Los Angeles yesterday. He’s a big relaxed horse. We always thought he would step up big time when he went to a mile and a half and we were very happy with the way that he won, so he’s definitely a possible.”

O’Brien continues, “Capulet could go. There’s been a lot of interest in him from Hong Kong and all these places so it’s possible too. He was always a horse that was going to step up going to a mile and a quarter and we always thought he was going to step up even further if he went further. Ryan rode him positively.

“Diego Velazquez is in both [the Derby and Prix du Jockey Club]. The reason for going to France [for the Poulains] was the lads were thinking of going to the French Derby and that’s right-handed. We could have gone to the Dante with him but we felt he wouldn’t have the experience if we decided to go to France so that was the reason.”

Diego Velazquez’s fellow Poule d’Essai des Poulains runner  Henry Longfellow (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), who finished eighth, is likely to be seen next in the St James’s Palace S., while Ylang Ylang (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who ran a close fifth in the 1,000 Guineas, heads to the Betfred Oaks with Rubies Are Red (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

“We were very happy with her in the Guineas,” the trainer says of Ylang Ylang. “We thought going to the Guineas that she was an Oaks filly given the way she had been working and that is how she ran. Ryan was very happy with her. He let her find her feet and he felt she came home very well.”

In the lot prior to City Of Troy and his friends was the four-year-old Auguste Rodin, who is as enigmatic as he is talented. This time last year there was similar head-scratching going on after his lacklustre seasonal debut in the Guineas before he beat King Of Steel (Wootton Bassett {GB}) to win the Derby. His next run will follow recent disappointment in Dubai.

O’Brien says of the four-time Group 1 winner, “He’s super. At the moment it is between the Coronation [Cup] and the Tattersalls [Gold Cup] and obviously he can only run in one, and himself and Luxembourg are on the same programme. One will go to the Coronation and the other will go to the Curragh. But we’re very happy with him. We’ve adjusted him as well and we think that run in Dubai will be gone.”

Newmarket, too, is in the rearview mirror now for the horse aiming to emulate Auguste Rodin’s bounce-back in the Derby.

O’Brien adds, “There was an owner who used to say to me after a run, ‘Are we still in the hope department?’ And with City Of Troy we’re still in the hope department.”


The post O’Brien: ‘The Most Important Race Every Year is the Derby’ appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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