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Untouchable O'Brien claims Derby record


Serpentine, ridden by Emmet McNamara, on the way to winning the Derby at Epsom yesterday

Serpentine, ridden by Emmet McNamara, on the way to winning the Derby at Epsom yesterday

Serpentine, ridden by Emmet McNamara, on the way to winning the Derby at Epsom yesterday

In this extraordinary season Aidan O'Brien predicted that the 241st Investec Derby winner could come from "out of the clouds" and, in becoming the first trainer to win the race eight times, he was proved right when Serpentine made every yard of the running to win by five-and-a-half lengths.

O'Brien was correct from a betting point of view, as the 25/1 shot ridden by Emmet McNamara, beat Khalifa Sat, a 50/1 shot, with Amhran Na Bhfiann, a 66/1 stablemate of the winner, in third helped bookmakers to recoup a large amount of their lockdown losses. Kameko, the 5/2 favourite, was fourth just ahead of the second favourite, English King.

From a tactical point of view, however, it was the opposition who needed to come from out of the clouds as they handed Serpentine a 15-length lead in what was a one-horse Derby from start to finish.

The only novel part of an eighth O'Brien Derby victory was the jockey.

McNamara, a former apprentice champion in Ireland who struggles with his weight, was superb in judging the fractions and a combination of empty grandstands and the lack of any sort of challenge to his lead meant that all he heard for a mile and a half was the sound of his own horse breathing.

McNamara, 30, has put all his eggs in the Ballydoyle basket, forsaking chances elsewhere for a loaf-sized crumb to fall from the table, and it paid off spectacularly yesterday as he rode on to the honours board of the world's most historic race.

When he was reminded that it was his first winner since October he joked that he had been saving himself. And how. But he had been just touched off in the Irish Derby last week on Tiger Moth and rides Fort Myers in the French Derby today. "Three Derbys in eight days - crazy," he said.

When asked whether he minded having to do 14 days' quarantine when he gets home, he said that, for the Derby, he would willingly have done 14 months - spending most of it watching replays of yesterday's win.

In the Oaks 70 minutes earlier, also won by O'Brien, the field had ignored the pacemakers who took each other on up front and, as expected, fizzled out in the straight. They did the same here, but the crucial difference was that McNamara enjoyed an uncontested lead on a true stayer.

Nothing took him on, the colt was relaxed and you could see McNamara was keeping something up his sleeve. It may well turn out that Serpentine is by far the best three-year-old of his generation, but even four furlongs out it looked like he had been given too much rope.

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One by one the jockeys behind him realised, too late, that he was not for stopping and their lack of enterprise was further compromised by their own mount's inexperience, lack of stamina or ability.

"I didn't expect to be sitting here," admitted McNamara afterwards. "The only thing I would say in that regard is that Aidan O'Brien filled me with a huge amount of confidence, so it's not a complete surprise.

"When that man tells you something about a horse, if he tells you that the sky is green, you'd believe him. I thought I was OK after getting quite an easy lead. I never looked behind me, but I couldn't hear a thing behind me.

''He was in a nice rhythm and I knew I wasn't after going a million miles an hour, so I was imagining they were ignoring me a small bit.

"That's what makes it feel even more surreal - the empty stands, didn't hear a horse - I feel like I'm going to wake up after just riding a bit of work or something, it's a bit unbelievable.

''I was lucky I got on the horse, there's a thousand other lads in that weighing room that are far more talented than me, but they didn't ride Serpentine in the Derby today.

"I hope my poor old dad isn't after dying of a heart attack. He was extremely proud of me riding in the race today, having spoken to him about 40 times in the past 24 hours - he was on the phone about this that and the other. I'm sure all my family are roaring the house down."

It had taken Serpentine, a Galileo colt, a while for the penny to drop. On his only start at two he beat one horse home in an 11-runner Galway maiden, hardly promising of such a day in the sun. First time out this year he was beaten in a maiden at The Curragh.

But, on Irish Derby day seven days earlier, he caught the eye and booked his Epsom ticket in winning a maiden by nine lengths. Even so he was one of the least considered of O'Brien's sextet of runners.

"Obviously we're absolutely delighted," said O'Brien, who had watched on television from Tipperary. "We try and give every horse the best chance of winning and there were two horses which were going to get the trip very well.

"We were very happy to go forward with him if no one else was. I was very comfortable he wasn't going to stop. Emmet gave him a brilliant ride."

More predictable than yesterday's trifecta was that O'Brien, humble as ever, would deflect the credit for his eighth Derby to the team at home and the raw materials.

But in expunging Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling, giants of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, from the record books, as far as the Derby is concerned he has now proved himself the greatest trainer of any generation.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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