Bobby Zen

EPSOM, UK — This is what vindication looks like: a usually composed superstar trainer with a hint of tears in his eyes, his chest heaving, the emotion a bit too much.

City Of Troy was Aidan O’Brien’s 10th Derby winner – but this one felt different. It would be ludicrous to say his credibility was on the line, but his words certainly were, and perhaps his judgment, at least in relation to last year’s No 1 two-year-old, whose balloon had popped three furlongs out in the 2,000 Guineas.

O’Brien has built such a wall of success around himself that critics rarely try to climb it. His talent is beyond dispute. Yet the eulogies around City Of Troy over the winter and spring exposed him to scorn when the 4-6 favourite traipsed home nearly 17 lengths behind Notable Speech at Newmarket. Guess who had the last laugh.

The Auguste Rodin-City of Troy sequence of 2,000 Guineas flops and Derby triumphs is one of the oddest in the Derby’s 244-year history.

Last year, and again on this day of reckoning for “our Frankel,” as part-owner Michael Tabor called City of Troy, O’Brien dispatched a horse to Epsom with a battered reputation. Both had been portrayed as Triple Crown contenders, only to fail in that mission on day one.

Auguste Rodin finished 12th in the Guineas, 20 lengths behind Chaldean. City Of Troy’s nosedive 12 months later was equally perplexing; embarrassing even, for O’Brien, who rummaged for explanations. He had shown “the best two-year-old I’ve trained” too much respect on the gallops. City Of Troy had been too fizzy in the stalls. Punters listened to this growing list of mitigations without being fully convinced by any of them.

But the Auguste Rodin story also offered a route out of trouble – a redemptive precedent. His three-quarter-length win at Epsom righted the wrong of Newmarket and obliged us to consider that horses are flesh and blood who have good days and bad. And Auguste Rodin’s boom-and-bust pattern continued throughout a campaign that was thrilling one minute and baffling the next.

O’Brien had sampled salvation once, but could he do it again? Was City of Troy too small? Had he trained on? Would the Epsom stalls be his undoing? No, yes, and no were the answers, as the Big Hope of this Flat season quickened away from Ambiente Friendly, restoring his reputation, along with the hope that 2024 has unearthed a champion.

O’Brien called him his best Derby winner yet. City Of Troy also caused him more angst than the other nine. You could see it as he struggled to catch his breath in the winner’s enclosure. No matter how ‘great’ people are in sport, they are only one calamity away from self-doubt. All the triumphs of the past can be stripped away by misplaced faith, or hyperbole that falls flat, or the murmured inference that they mucked it up.

O’Brien was brave enough to admit minor errors in the build-up to the Guineas. But you could tell, too, that his defences had been pierced. “There’s always a stick to beat you with,” he said here. Stepping down from the trophy presentation dais, he considered a question about the power of vindication in sport. It struck a chord.

“I feel relieved, really,” he said. “Every opinion that everybody has, everyone is entitled to it, totally. And you have to take it on board. Sometimes you don’t always agree with it. You feel like trying to explain it to people. But that’s not the way. Everybody has to have an opinion and everyone has to voice it.

“And all that you do is – you hope the faith you had in the horse, or the person, comes through. We felt he was the most special horse that we had, last year. He only had three runs. I focused hard on him through the winter. We had to look under a few stones we haven’t had to look under before – and they were the ones that came and got us.”

It helps when your pilot is the supreme Flat race jockey of his generation. On a retrieval mission, Ryan Moore is the rider you would send in to recover the goods. “Ryan was very cool on him,” O’Brien agreed. “After the Guineas he didn’t have to be that cool, a lot of stuff could have happened, but he stayed cool and calm.”

Moore paid his own tribute to a trainer who has elevated two consecutive Guineas duds to the stars. He said: “Aidan knew what he had, he didn’t lose faith in him.”

Sometimes promising horses flop – and keep flopping. Epsom is the resting place of many big reputations. Not City Of Troy’s. A bad day doesn’t have to be terminal. A defeat isn’t always a disaster.

O’Brien said it better than anybody: “It just goes to show that in horseracing, in sport, in life, nobody knows what’s round the corner, or what can happen.”



The post Vindication For O’Brien With a Perfect Ten appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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