Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 17 September 2014

All the hype was justified

Greg Wood

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

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Jockey Joseph O'Brien

Pedigree proved decisive in the 235th Derby, on both sides of the saddle.

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Australia, the son of two Epsom Classic winners, secured the victory that he was conceived to achieve, and did so under a polished ride by Joseph O'Brien, himself the son of one of the sport's greatest talents. Aidan O'Brien, Australia's trainer, now has five winners in the race and the all-time record of seven is within sight.

The winning margin was little more than a length, but there was no point in the race when Australia looked like anything but the hot favourite he was, waiting to stamp his authority on the field.

O'Brien settled in mid-division, then moved smoothly into contention as soon as Tattenham Corner had been turned. Up ahead, Andrea Atzeni, another of the brightest young talents in the weighing room, had steered Kingston Hill, the second-favourite, into an ideal position to strike, and the two jockeys were briefly alongside each other about a quarter of a mile out as both asked for maximum effort.

But only briefly. Australia had all the momentum and a burst of speed took him a couple of lengths clear, an advantage that he never seemed likely to surrender. Kingston Hill stayed on well, putting more than three lengths between himself and Romsdal back in third, but he did not have the glimmer of brilliance that a Classic winner needs. Australia, by contrast, had Epsom written into his genes.

It had been obvious, as Aidan O'Brien had hinted many times, from the moment Australia arrived at Ballydoyle. O'Brien has said as much about other colts, mindful that they are potential stallions as much as racehorses, but as with Camelot two years ago, Australia did what all the talk suggested he would.

"We thought he was special from the first day he worked," O'Brien said.

"What made him very unusual was that he had a lot of speed for a horse bred to get a mile and a half.

"It's the way that he goes from A to B so easily that makes him unique.

"Horses that do that don't normally get a mile and a half. To get a mile and a half at Epsom, every sinew in his body was going to be tested. He had to settle, quicken and handle the hurly-burly, but what makes him different is his natural pace."

Australia's victory means that O'Brien is the first trainer in Derby history to win the Classic three years running, and the odds are shortening that he will equal and then overhaul the record seven winners trained by Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling before his career is over.

"You never expect it," O'Brien said. "So many people put so much into it, day in and day out, and there are so many variables. I just can't believe it." Despite his pedigree, it was only when Australia crossed the line that he confirmed that his stamina stretches to 12 furlongs, and while most bookmakers pushed him close to the head of the betting for the Prix de l'Arc De Triomphe in October, he may yet prove to be as effective, if not more so, at 10 furlongs.

A Group One win at that trip would certainly add to his value as a stallion, though John Magnier, who owns the Coolmore Stud where he will eventually stand, is a keen supporter of the Irish Derby later this month and that is where Australia seems most likely to appear next.

"The lads (Magnier and his co-owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith) will speak about the next races among themselves and then we will all have a chat," O'Brien said. "He has a lot of options because he has a lot of pace." This Derby offered confirmation that O'Brien is one of the outstanding trainers that the sport has seen, while his son is now a dual winner of the race just 15 days after his 21st birthday. Kingston Hill's fine run into second, meanwhile, highlighted the quiet but relentless progress of both Atzeni and Roger Varian, the colt's trainer, while he also raced in the colours of Paul Smith, Derrick's son. Kingston Hill was Varian's first runner in the race and produced a performance good enough to win several recent renewals.

"The winner is very good and the Guineas form has stood up," Varian said. "I knew how tough my horse is and I'm hoarse from cheering him. He went down fighting and we'll see what paths we both go down now. They could meet again."

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