Given a perfect ride by Pat Smullen, it was Harzand for Dermot Weld and the Aga Khan, that fought off Ballydoyle’s US Army Ranger in a thrilling Investec Derby at Epsom.
Decision making proved vital in delivering Weld his first Epsom Derby, and it was Smullen who got it right when it mattered, positioning the winner perfectly throughout. Whilst Ryan Moore found trouble of his own making, getting US Army Ranger trapped behind a wall of horses, before rapid progress left him short of that crucial final kick when it mattered most.
Harzand was held in midfield for much of the race, mostly in seventh or eighth place, with Smullen sensibly keeping him off the rail. Steering him wide to make his challenge just outside the two-furlong pole, he set off to chase down Idaho, hitting the front just beyond the furlong pole. Moore on the other hand had been forced to switch his mount around the whole field having held up the favourite at the back of the field, near the rail, for much of the race.
Moore must have known he was in trouble approaching the two-furlong pole, as once he’d finally got his mount into the clear he’d gifted the eventual winner a decisive five length advantage. That gap narrowed dramatically to just a length by the furlong marker, but that surge from US Army Ranger could not be maintained.
Harzand appeared to find more when challenged, hitting the line a length and a half to the good. Just maybe, even had O’Brien’s hope been ridden more prominently, he may still have come off second best. Nevertheless, few could argue that the favourite had been given plenty to do, and unexpectedly so, bearing in mind that he is stoutly bred, and there were no worries of him needing to be held up to see out the trip.
A Dermot Weld success had looked extremely unlikely earlier in the day, when Harzand spread a plate, causing pain to the hoof and the need for ice to be applied for several hours. “It’s wonderful to win our first Derby,” said Weld. “We had a huge worry this morning and he was a very doubtful runner right up to about an hour before the race. Idaho is a horse I really rate and in the Ballysax there were five Group winners in that race and it had the form to win the Derby.”
Smullen was also winning his first Epsom Derby, and was understandably thrilled with the success, saying: “It's unbelievable, it’s what dreams are made of, more so for me to ride the winner for the boss - it makes it more fitting. I'm just delighted to ride the winner for him; he's the world's best trainer. The trouble we had this morning I didn't think I'd have a ride at all. It's a whole team effort, I've always said it.”
Aidan O'Brien felt a lack of experience may have proved costly for US Army Ranger, when saying: “I thought he behaved very well in the preliminaries but he was a bit babyish early in the race. Ryan felt that as well, but I wouldn't make any excuses. We'll see how our horse is but we would definitely be looking forward to our lad running again.”
The momentous nature of the victory, for one of racing’s great dynasties, was not lost on His Highness Aga Khan, when after the race he said: “This is a major gift for everybody who works with me in this wonderful activity. To win a fifth Derby for the family is obviously very historic. This is a great race with a great history. It’s been that way for three generations of my family.”
The success made it a famous five for the Aga Khan, matching the achievement of his grandfather. The first of those five came in 1981, thanks to the prodigious Shergar.