When is a pacemaker not a pacemaker? Sound like a M&S food ad? Well, the analogy is fair enough. A pacemaker is not a pacemaker when it’s an Aidan O’Brien pacemaker in the Irish Derby, writes Tony Stafford.
In a year when no English stable even bothered to challenge for any of the €1.5 million available, it was left to five O’Brien colts and three others trained in Ireland, respectively by Messrs Bolger, Prendergast and Weld – combined age 234, average 78 – to pitch up for the prize.
When you consider the Investec Derby, with its seven O’Brien runners in a field of 13, contained only four representatives of the home team, maybe it’s not so surprising. Two, Bangkok and Telecaster, both backed to stem the Irish tide, finished in the last two places.
Telecaster, fast-tracked to the race after three spring runs, will be biding his time, but Bangkok reappeared quickly at Royal Ascot and chased home impressive winner Japan in the King Edward VII Stakes.
Japan had been the least “seasoned” among the Ballydoyle septet after a spring setback, but suggested firmly at York in Telecaster’s Dante that he would be getting there. His close up third at Epsom in a five-horse (four Aidan) finish that amounted in total to less than a length, and subsequent Ascot victory, suggests he might be the best of this particular bunch.
So why didn’t we see any of the other three English also-rans? Well Humanitarian, a 33-1 shot from the Gosden stable – does that tell us enough? – went with Japan and Bangkok to Ascot but ran a regressive seventh.
Line of Duty, who had beaten Anthony Van Dyck, the Derby winner, when they met at the Breeders’ Cup last year, was a modest ninth at Epsom. He might go to the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on Saturday. Epsom fifth, and favourite, Sir Dragonet, and sixth-home Circus Maximus, who memorably reverted to a mile when winning the St James’ Palace Stakes at Ascot, are also liable to pitch up there as a sidebar to Enable’s return to action.
The last UK-trained Derby runner was John Ryan’s Hiroshima, the outsider of the field. Even a mark of 93 (raised from 87 after his 11th at Epsom) was too severe as he ran tenth of 11 in the Magners Ulster Derby, a three-year-old handicap at Down Royal, next time.
I’ve asked the question before. Where have all the stamina-bred colts gone? If you scour the pages of Horses in Training 2019 as I often do, there seems to be if not an abundance, certainly a quorum – enough for a debate at any rate.
So it’s left to Aidan. With its massive prize of €855,000 to Saturday’s winner, it is incumbent on someone to guarantee a decent pace and, as at Epsom, that fell to Padraig Beggy and Sovereign. An early scrimmage there meant they didn’t get to the front for a furlong and faded in the straight to tenth.
At The Curragh, with Norway (eighth at Epsom) they set a joint pace strong enough to take an immediate four lengths out of the field with Anthony Van Dyck in the next pair. By the five-furlong mark, that had stretched with Anthony Van Dyck now several lengths behind third-running Guaranteed.
Sovereign and Beggy, to everyone’s surprise kept up the gallop to such a degree that Norway was burnt off with two to run as the favourite and Madhmoon, just touched off in second at Epsom, and surely a last Derby hope for 87-year-old Kevin Prendergast, set off in pursuit.
It proved all in vain, Sovereign maintaining a six-length margin over the favourite and Norway just holding Madhmoon for third on the line. So routine have O’Brien Group 1 one-two-three finishes become that the commentators didn’t bother to record this one but the partners, who maybe had hoped that Anthony Van Dyck might embellish his record, still won the race and a cool €1.3million as consolation.
The day before the Derby, Joseph O’Brien sent out last year’s winner Latrobe for the Group 2 Curragh Cup and the four-year-old was just out-battled by the Jim Bolger-trained Twilight Payment. Previously he was only fourth in the Listed Wolferton Stakes, although that race is overdue Pattern status and possibly even Group 2 given the class of the participants.
Friday’s defeat made it eight unsuccessful runs for Latrobe since the Lloyd Williams-owned four-year-old’s day in the sun last June. That is by no means exceptional for recent Irish Derby heroes, although the manner of Sovereign’s eye-opening success suggests he might become an exception to that recent example.
Some of the earlier among Aidan’s 13 Derby winners were superstars in the manner of Galileo. But since Camelot in 2012 even his two intervening successes, Australia (2014) and Capri (2017) had their disappointments. Australia won at York in the first of only two runs after the Curragh; Capri’s St Leger win was one of two wins from nine runs and he was well beaten in sixth behind Stradivarius at Ascot last month. A career as a Coolmore jumps stallion beckons.
In all, the six winners of the Irish Derby since 2013 have won five of 36 races. Harzand did nothing in two; Jack Hobbs did best of the six, winning the Sheema Classic and September Stakes, but it took him seven races to do that, while ill-fated Trading Leather died as a four-year-old after failing to win in eight post-Derby outings.
So what of the 2019 Investec Derby? We’ve already seen important wins from also-rans Japan and Circus Maximus, and the winner Anthony Van Dyck has a second to Sovereign in another Derby. It’s better than many in recent memory, but Aidan just makes it all so confusing!
And what of Mr Beggy? Two years ago he swooped late on Wings of Eagles to complete a shock long-odds triumph in the Derby. A year ago on Rostropovitch, another rag (25-1), he would probably have caught Latrobe with another few yards to travel as again he went past the stable-preferred Saxon Warrior.
Last year in Ireland he had 24 rides and two wins. Saturday’s victory was his first in nine rides in his homeland in 2019. For someone with so little public exposure, his talent, obvious as a young apprentice, but less so as a result of self-professed inner demons, remains intact while his temperament is unaffected by big-race pressures. Maybe we’ll see a bit more of him from now on.