O’Brien weighs up his Derby options

Aidan O’Brien could have an Epsom Derby all to himself. With the race less than three weeks away he still has 25 horses entered in the race and is seriously thinking about adding to that number by supplementing Daddy Long Legs.

O’Brien’s gallops include an almost perfect replica of the downhill sweep through Tattenham Corner, which his horses canter round every day. No doubt some speedier work round here will help the trainer to finalise his Epsom candidates. So out of those 25 entries, which are uppermost in O’Brien’s thinking? At yesterday’s media day at Ballydoyle he spoke about the chances of some of those horses.

Clearly race favourite, 2000 Guineas winner Camelot is his top colt, and has already demonstrated his ability. Obviously O’Brien thinks highly of him. He says, “I don’t want to blow him up in any way and I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to, but he was very exceptional from day one, when he was born. As anyone can see, he’s a very good-looking horse, a very good-actioned horse and usually those horses are too good to be true.”

But High Chaparral was O’Brien’s last Derby winner in 2002, and it hasn’t been for want of trying – he’s has 39 runners over the last decade. He’s taking nothing for granted this year, saying, “We’re used to coming home humbled.”

Of his other entries, O’Brien identified three that he thought could be in the line up on 2 June. The participation of Ernest Hemingway could be decided this week. He’s due to run in the Dante at York on Thursday, but will only do so if the ground is good, something that doesn’t look likely. The trainer said, “If it’s on the soft side we won’t run. He’s a beautiful moving horse and we wouldn’t want to run him in soft ground. If we got nice ground, we’d love to run.” OK, we get the message Aidan!

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Without a run this week, Ernest Hemingway is very unlikely to go for the Derby, as he won’t have enough experience for Epsom’s hurly-burly. He’s had just the one run so far, winning a maiden at Dundalk last month.

Another possibility is Tower Rock, who battled well before going down by a neck to Light Heavy in Sunday’s Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown. O’Brien expects more from Tower Rock. “He’s progressed well and I’d say would progress again. He’s very like his dad (Dylan Thomas). He’s a big horse and he could be very much a possible for Epsom.”

Wrote was favourite for the Derrinstown race at 8/13, but finished in third, eight lengths behind Light Heavy and Tower Rock. O’Brien said that Wrote didn’t have the stamina for the 10 furlongs of the trial, so tackling the 12 furlongs of the Derby is hardly an option. He’ll likely come back to a mile for the Irish 2000 Guineas.

It was ambitious to send Daddy Long Legs to America for the Kentucky Derby. He had struggles on the dirt track in last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile, and didn’t take to it again. “He was quick away but still ran disappointing so we put it down that he just didn’t handle the dirt and we’re going to bring him back to the grass. He has the option of the Irish Guineas or the Epsom Derby. He’s a hardy horse who comes out of his races very well and seems to be fine so far.” But will he be supplemented? Your guess is as good as mine.

One who won’t turn up at Epsom is Nephrite. He was beaten in a Guineas trial over a mile, and O’Brien said he thought the horse didn’t stay. He’ll take a similar path to Mozart and Stravinsky, both horses he trained who became top class sprinters after failing to get a mile (though I don’t recall a composer called Nephrite) and may go to Royal Ascot for the Jersey Stakes.

O’Brien was happy that his other entries would deserve their place in the Derby. “All these horses are bred and reared to turn up in the Derby, the race which distinguishes the breed. So it’s very hard, if they’re well, not to let them take their chance. But that won’t be my decision. They’re all on that Derby road at the moment, and, closer to the time, the boys (partners in the Coolmore operation) will decide that.”

No doubt one or two will be there as pacemakers for Camelot. And as we have seen already this season, pacemakers can keep going and overturn all expectations.

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