Horse Racing

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Australia gives lesson in the art of simplicity

Stylish Derby win means O'Brien has last laugh, writes Ian McClean

Ian McClean

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

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Joseph O’Brien allows himself a smile as Australia wins the Derby at Epsom yesterday

Aidan O'Brien is probably too modest to say I told you so, but he would be well entitled.

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Out of the blue last September, after his two-year-old colt Australia had demolished the early Derby favourite Free Eagle in a Group Three on Champion Stakes day at Leopardstown, the Master of Ballydoyle blindsided the press with an uncontainable outburst.

"He is totally extraordinary. Everyone probably knows we always thought he was the best horse we've ever had. I don't want to be blowing up the horse but he was always doing things no two-year-old has ever done before."

His public reverence of his blue-blooded chestnut didn't end there. The eulogising continued to the press open day at Ballydoyle last month when O'Brien reiterated that the yard had "never had a Derby horse like this before" in spite of the fact Australia had tasted defeat in the Guineas in the interim. Given that the stable has already won four Derbies (including the last two), it was a remark he admitted could easily blow up in his face.

In a society plumped up on spin and smoke-and-mirrors PR, there is something admirably refreshing about the person who says it as they see it and to hell with the consequences.

After Australia had delivered on the O'Brien promise in sunny Epsom yesterday, it wasn't surprising to hear him reflect on the hyperbole he had brought upon his colt. "The best thing is often not to say it – I was always just saying what we all thought." Poetically, the reward bestowed on him on the Downs by the horse in whom he had placed such allegiance was to inscribe O'Brien into the roll of honour of the world's most famous Flat race as the only trainer ever to have won three in a row.

The most striking aspect of Australia's Derby victory given the heightened level of expectation was the absence of drama in the race itself. The strategy according to O'Brien was to "keep it uncomplicated" and that was precisely how it materialised. Apple's iconic designer Jonathan Ive has long asserted that "simplicity isn't simple". Far from it. If indeed simplicity is actually the ultimate sophistication, then Joseph O'Brien gave his horse a most sophisticated ride out of stall 12, especially when you consider how his father's remarks served to ratchet up the ante of scrutiny on the favourite to the point that one commentator suggested it was to be the most critical moment in young Joseph's short career.

Notwithstanding as much, Joseph, just turned 21, simply sat mid-division off a medium pace, kept his horse wide out of trouble, kicked at the two pole and kept his horse up to his work when he hit the front all the way to the line.

One of Joseph's finest attributes is undoubtedly his comfort with discomfort. He is so composed as to almost be asleep. The perfect antidote to the big occasion. He had a perfect ally on the day in Australia whose favourite past-time apparently is yawning. "He doesn't worry to much about anything," said the trainer. "He has a very relaxed demeanour." Like jockey, like horse.

And it served both well as others got undermined by the occasion before the start. O'Brien Jr and Australia were last of the 16 runners to load, and first home. Job done. Now what's the fuss? It was only left to Joseph to affirm that he is indeed the best he has ever ridden. The other deeply satisfying aspect of yesterday's result centres around the thoroughbred species itself. Breeding is both an art and a science, but the oldest moniker in the bloodstock lexicon of "breed the best to the best and hope for the best" hit the ultimate bullseye yesterday.

Yes, Lammtara 19 years ago was the progeny of a Derby winner (Nijinsky) out of an Oaks winner (Snow Bride), but you could be picky and say that Snow Bride only "won" the race on a technicality following the disqualification of Aliysa. However, Australia's sire and dam won the Derby and Oaks by a combined margin of more than 10 lengths and to see their offspring carry on the genes and fulfil what they was so thoroughly destined to do is as gratifying as it is rare.

The final post-script to yesterday's fourth UK Classic is a positive retrospective on the Newmarket 2000 Guineas which has already yielded up three Classic winners (Irish Guineas, French Derby and now the first and second in the Epsom Derby).

Aidan O'Brien was adamant all along in his effusive appraisal of Australia that his Guineas had far greater depth to it than Camelot's two years ago. It appears that as well as training them, the Master of Ballydoyle knows a thing or two about the formbook too.

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