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Appleby plots big-race targets for his Derby heroes

Adayar and Hurricane Lane were both reported to be in top form as Charlie Appleby looks to future plans for his Derby-winning colts.

Adayar struck gold at Epsom, while his stablemate claimed the Irish equivalent – and could have the final Classic of the year at Doncaster as his next engagement.

For Adayar, it will be the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot next.

Appleby said: “Touch wood, all is well – they’re (both) in great form.

Charlie Appleby with the Derby trophy at Epsom
Charlie Appleby with the Derby trophy at Epsom (John Walton/PA)

“Adayar worked on Saturday and is building up towards the King George. He’s done very well for his break – he put a nice bit of condition on, so it’s time to start taking a bit back off again! I couldn’t be any happier with him.

“Hurricane Lane has come out of the Irish Derby very well. It looked a tough, hard race – and I thought he’d sleep for a few days afterwards, but he’s come out of the race bouncing.

“We’ll potentially go straight to the St Leger with him.”

Reflecting further, the Godolphin trainer said: “It’s been a great year.

Hurricane Lane edged Lone Eagle in a thrilling Irish Derby
Hurricane Lane edged Lone Eagle in a thrilling Irish Derby (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

“We were always confident with the three-year-olds. We didn’t have a Group One-winning two-year-old last year, but we always felt with the pedigrees that they’d come into their own as three-year-olds – and they’ve not let us down.

“To have two Derby winners with two different horses is very unusual for our stable. It’s great for the team, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin.

“Like in any sport, when you have good players around you, it makes the yard tick away nicely.”

Varian retains faith in Third Realm

Roger Varian is confident Third Realm still has a “big future” ahead of him after finishing fifth in the Cazoo Derby.

The Sea The Stars colt beat Charlie Appleby’s Epsom hero Adayar when claiming top honours in the Lingfield Derby Trial last month.

That form was turned on its head on the day that mattered most, but Third Realm was not disgraced in finishing fifth – and his trainer believes there is plenty to look forward to.

“I think if everything had gone smoothly for Third Realm at Epsom, the closest he would have been is third or fourth. The winner won very well and looked a class above,” said Varian.

“I thought Third Realm ran with great credit. For a horse we thought would go round Epsom like a motorbike, he didn’t really handle things – he got a bump in the first furlong and just looked a little bit out of his comfort zone.

“He was a bit keen over the top of the hill and got a bit unbalanced round Tattenham Corner. For most of the way you couldn’t see him finishing in the frame, but he stayed on very well inside the final furlong and a half and nearly got fourth.

“I thought it was the run of a horse with a big future, but at no stage of the race watching did he look quite comfortable to me.”

Third Realm retains an entry in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot on Friday week.

Asked whether that Group Two contest is a possible target, the trainer added: “I would have thought that would be too soon, but we’ll see how he is this week – we don’t have to decide now.”

Save a Forest performed best of the trainer's runners in the Oaks
Save a Forest performed best of the trainer’s runners in the Oaks (John Walton/PA)

Varian saddled three runners in the Cazoo Oaks last Friday, with outsider Save A Forest faring best of them in fourth.

“It was no surprise to us that Save A Forest ran well. She’s improved with every start and she would have been suited by conditions,” said the Newmarket handler.

“I think she was a shade unlucky not to be closer. With all the field going over to the far rail, and her being on the rail but towards the rear, it meant up the straight she didn’t have a clear run. She ran great.”

Zeyaadah and Teona both ran below expectations, with Varian of the opinion both floundered in the rain-softened ground.

He added: “Zeyaadah ran like a non-stayer on that ground. She moved into it nicely in the straight and didn’t get home. I think it’s a misconception that she wants soft ground – I think she wants much better ground.

“Teona definitely wants better ground. Her mother Ambivalent liked it fast, and I should think she will be most comfortable on a faster surface.

“We’ll give her a bit of time – she’s a big filly. I’ve not lost faith in her. I’ve always touted her to be a nice filly and I’m sure she will be, but we won’t rush her back to the track.

“We’ll take a view on her in a couple of weeks’ time and see how she’s come out of the race.”

Appleby eyes King George for Adayar

The King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot is the likely next target for Cazoo Derby hero Adayar.

Runner-up in the Lingfield Derby Trial, the Frankel colt went one better at Epsom on Saturday under Adam Kirby – providing trainer Charlie Appleby with his second victory in the premier Classic, following the success of Masar in 2018.

The Moulton Paddocks handler reports Adayar to have taken his exertions well and is hoping he can become the first horse since Galileo in 2001 to complete the Derby-King George double on July 24.

“He has come out of the race great,” said Appleby.

“He went on the sea walker yesterday morning and he has been out for a jog this morning and has been turned out in the paddock, and he has shown his wellness. All signs are good so far.

“Without rubber stamping anything, the discussions taking place at the moment are that we will give this horse a bit more time and look towards going to a King George with him.

“I think timing-wise it suits him, and also we will have tested our mettle a bit against the older horses.

“After that we can see what he is like against the older horses, and if he happens to win a King George we can work back from an Arc. If he gets beat in a King George then we revert back to our original plan – which was going down the St Leger route.

“I think, personally, looking from the outside having won neither race, I would rather pinpoint one – because we all know in the autumn it is a big ask to do a St Leger and then an Arc.”

Appleby has also begun making plans for Hurricane Lane and One Ruler, who finished third and sixth respectively behind Adayar at Epsom.

Hurricane Lane (left) winning the Dante Stakes at York
Hurricane Lane (left) winning the Dante Stakes at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hurricane Lane is bound for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on June 26, while One Ruler could drop back in trip for the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot next week.

Appleby added: “I was delighted with Hurricane Lane. He was the horse I thought in the paddock looked magnificent – and I thought he took the preliminaries very well.

“What did surprise me, but we took it as a positive, is that he was very much learning on the job there. He showed his inexperience. Going into the Derby, I thought he was one run short of what I would have liked.

“I’m delighted with how he has come out of it, and the plan is to head straight to Ireland.

“We will drop One Ruler back to 10 furlongs. James (Doyle) said he didn’t handle the track particularly well, but he didn’t see it out either. We might look at something like the Hampton Court – we will see what his wellbeing is like.

“He would carry a penalty in that from his Autumn Stakes success, but we could look at something like that – or wait for an Eclipse.”

Monday Musings: Epsom Wonders

Friday morning 6 a.m. and I was keeping one of an increasing number of early-morning assignments with my good friend Steve Gilbey, long-term right-hand man of Raymond Tooth, writes Tony Stafford. He habitually – for Steve is very much a man of routine – starts his morning at crack of dawn at the North Audley Street, Mayfair, Grosvenor’s Café just along the road from Selfridge’s.

His first unofficial action is to help the early-morning setting out on the generous pavement of nine round tables and 36 chairs, using his boxing and security-man strength to speed up the operation.

But as we approached on Friday, there was a difference. A nicely-tanned, fit-looking gentleman came towards us, beaming at Steve, interrupting his own initialising that first task of the day at the café.

“How are you, my friend?” he asked. Steve had often mentioned the owner over the years but only on our previous visit the week before to my enquiry, said: “No, it’s been ages since I’ve seen him; he’s been stuck in South Africa because of Covid”.

So here we were on the morning of the Oaks and I was being introduced to the café owner, Mr Bernard Kantor. It wasn’t exactly a year before, more like eleven months, that Mr Kantor was standing alongside The Queen on the presentation dais for the Investec Derby as she gave the trophy to the Coolmore partners of shock winner Serpentine.

Co-founder and long-term managing director of the bank which had for ten years sponsored the entire Derby meeting, he had since retired upon reaching the age of 70 – you would guess ten years less when you see him.

So here was a highly-successful man actually enjoying the physical release of helping his bijou business – “I love it, it is so old school”, he says – start its day.

We had a pleasant chat, as racing people usually do, with the news that he had already been speaking to his trainer William Haggas and expected a call from him before we left after our toast and in my case some very tasty bacon in between.

As we went out, he thrust a napkin with an email address and imparted the news that Sans Pretention was fancied for the 3.00 race at Catterick that afternoon. When I got a chance to look up the race I discovered not only was the Haggas-trained three-year-old a daughter of Galileo but that she was owned and bred by a certain Bernard Kantor.

Naturally she won and this went along as just another of the ridiculously-fortuitous encounters I have experienced in my long life – even longer than the man who sponsored the Derby and who in 2018 dreamt on the morning of the race he might be winning it himself.

Haggas-trained Young Rascal, a son of Intello, had just come out on top in the Chester Vase, beating Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, but at Epsom while Dee Ex Bee filled the same position behind Masar, Young Rascal was back in seventh.

He won two more Group 3 races, both at Newbury, and a Kempton Listed to make his career tally five wins from ten starts and then he was passed on to Australian interests to continue his career.  There is clearly a strong bond between owner and trainer and Kantor describes Lester Piggott’s son-in-law as “the perfect gentleman, someone who brings great credit to his profession and to racing”.

Obviously, there was little time to sample the benefit of the experiences of a man whose husbandry of his company even though he had basically lived in London for almost a quarter of a century, maintained its South African roots, always with the theme of inclusiveness of the entire population of his homeland.

But he did offer one nice moment. One year as they were erecting the presentation platform for the Derby, one of his staff showed him the three steps he had sourced up which the monarch would climb to reach the presentation area.

“I said, “can you get two taller steps?” and he asked me why. “Wait and see”, I told him. “So when the Queen came to the top step of two I had to bend down to reach her hand to help her up. As I did, right behind me a massive banner depicting “Investec” came into view. I thought he knew why then”, said Bernard.

By the way, I can’t wait to go back and try to get in between the two powerful senior citizens at least to take a couple of chairs out and next Tuesday is already in my diary.  As I said, the bacon is delicious and so too are the lunches according to Steve. Grosvenor’s is open until five p.m. so if you want to sit in the sunshine just up the road from Selfridge’s, and sample “the life” I can heartily recommend it.

**

Ten hours after we left the café, a filly won the Cazoo Oaks by six lengths more than Shergar had won the Derby; four more than St Jovite’s margin in his Irish Derby and only second in terms of a Classic-winning distance in an attributed leading racing nation to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes.

Big Red, though, was unbackable and faced only four vastly-inferior non-staying opponents already worn out by taking him on in the Derby and Preakness. Snowfall wasn’t even her stable’s first choice, that distinction going to beaten 1,000 Guineas favourite, Santa Barbara.

Two starts before the Oaks, Snowfall had finished eighth at 50-1, beating only two home in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket although if you have another look at the race you will hear the commentator calling her a close third in her pink cap.

But that was the day the caps between her and better-fancied stable-companion Mother Earth were inadvertently switched, so the white cap, intended for Mother Earth ended on Snowfall who was just hunted up once victory was out of the question.

The Aidan O’Brien team were given a disciplinary sanction for the mix-up but events for the two fillies in 2021 have been ample compensation. Mother Earth, ridden by Frankie Dettori as Ryan Moore partnered the much-lauded favourite Santa Barbara, won the 1,000 Guineas and on Friday, Snowfall, also with Dettori as Moore was again more-or-less obliged to stay with the now Oaks favourite but Santa Barbara never held up much hope as Dettori landed on his feet on an O’Brien Group 1 winner.

There was a race in between the 50-1 no-show and the best Oaks winner of all the years I’ve been watching racing and probably any in the previous two centuries. That was the Musidora when Moore made all the running on the 14-1 shot and just when it looked as though the better-fancied challengers would be coming to get her at the end of the ten and a bit furlongs she opened out again. Most observers on the day thought she might struggle to repeat it at Epsom.

I mentioned last week that O’Brien horses could suddenly make massive strides from two to three. Already up from an official 90 after the Fillies’ Mile, she was raised to 108 after York and with the look from that race and in her pedigree that stamina would not be a problem, she had to come into the Oaks argument.

But this was not an argument. Projecting the late York surge away from the trio that were chasing her at York another almost two furlongs on a more testing track and on rain-drenched ground clearly produced extra dimensions of superiority.

In the last furlong and a half, perfectly in tune with his filly, once Dettori grabbed the stands rails with a little tickle to the long-term leader Mystery Angel, the margin stretched exponentially. As with Secretariat who, once his far-inferior rivals were stone cold, put in an exhibition for the Belmont Park crowd, so did Snowfall in leafy Surrey.

If the Epsom finish line had been another furlong on, 30 lengths would have been a realistic margin. How Snowfall can lose the Arc off bottom weight with all the allowances against her elders and male opponents is hard to imagine. I wonder how daring Dominic Gardner-Hill will be in rating her after this?

We all expected, especially once Aidan removed his other five acceptors from the path of favourite Bolshoi Ballet, his own ninth Derby to go with the same record number of Oaks (Oakses? Ed.) looked almost a case of going down and coming back.

But while that can happen occasionally in a Derby, there are always potential pitfalls. Afterwards everyone was musing on why the favourite had so clearly under-performed. It was only as the generous praise for hard-working Adam Kirby, winner on Charlie Appleby’s well-deserved second score in the race with strong staying Adayar, that Aidan O’Brien was tweeting a ghastly-looking wound on the favourite’s off-hind leg where he had been struck into in the early scrimmaging.

Hopefully he can be brought back to full health to challenge Adayar later in the season, though maybe their future diverging distance requirements might make that unlikely.

Not 24 hours later, with last year’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica annexing the Prix Du Jockey Club yesterday in such emphatic fashion to add to his earlier French 2000 Guineas success, Coolmore and O’Brien instantly re-established themselves at the top of the three-year-old colts’ division, too. It all makes for an exciting year.

Adam Kirby is such a nice bloke. One day coming back from a race meeting up north, one of my tyres blew but luckily it was close to the services on the A14. I limped into the garage and luckily noticed Big Paulie, formerly Adam’s driver, who had just stopped to re-fuel.

Paulie looked into the car, spoke to a bare-chested and clearly sleepy passenger who hastily pulled on some clothes and came out to look with Paulie at the damage. Within minutes they had changed the tyre with minimal help from the driver and we were all on our way. As I reiterate, very nice bloke is Mr Kirby!

Godolphin’s second win in four years started an astonishing day, rounded off by Essential Quality, who made the Belmont Stakes – the third leg of the US Triple Crown – his sixth win in seven career starts.

Before yesterday, Essential Quality, a son of Tapit and, like Adayar a home-bred Godolphin colt, suffered that sole defeat when fourth to the controversial Medina Spirit, absent from the field last night and with his trainer Bob Baffert now under a two-year ban from having runners at Churchill Downs.

Even if Medina Spirit is disqualified, as seems inevitable after two positive drug tests, the latter in a laboratory Baffert chose to carry out the test, there is no prospect of Essential Quality being the beneficiary beyond being promoted to third. Had he won the Derby, I’m sure trainer Brad Cox would have run him back in the Preakness.

In any case it was a memorable weekend for Godolphin, but even if they win ten more Derbys and three US Triple Crowns, it will never wash away for me the memory of a horse and jockey in perfect synchronicity slicing up the last furlong in the biggest show of superiority I have ever witnessed in a championship Flat race.

Sheer Derby delight for Kirby as everything comes right in the end

Adam Kirby was struggling to take it all in after ending a rollercoaster week on a high by claiming Cazoo Derby glory aboard Adayar.

The multiple Group One-winning rider is not one of the more fashionable members of the weighing room, perhaps because he made his name riding on the all-weather or perhaps because he has endured a career-long battle with his weight.

Imagine then being handed what may be the opportunity of a lifetime by being booked to partner the Ed Dunlop-trained John Leeper in the world’s most famous Flat race – only to lose the ride at the eleventh hour after Frankie Dettori became available.

“You wouldn’t have wanted to have been around me for the first hour,” Kirby admitted.

However, that was not the end of the story for the 32-year-old, with his friend and ally Charlie Appleby stepping in to give him the mount on his apparent third-string Adayar, replacing previously booked champion jockey Oisin Murphy.

The rest, as they say, is history, with the Lingfield Derby Trial runner-up and 16-1 shot – who was not short of support in the market beforehand – finding a gap on the far rail before scooting four and a half lengths clear.

Recalling the events of recent days, Kirby – no stranger to Group One success through his association with Clive Cox – said: “I was asked to ride John Leeper and then five minutes later Charlie rang me to asked me to ride this lad. I said ‘I’m sorry, I’ve just put my name to John Leeper’.

“Mr Dunlop said ‘if you’re going to ride him put your name to him’, and as a man of my word I did

“It’s worked out great that I lost the ride on him!”

Adayar storms home under Adam Kirby
Adayar storms home under Adam Kirby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He added: “I spoke to Charlie very quickly and I can’t thank him enough – his loyalty is unbelievable.

“When you’re just a run-of-the-mill jockey, being able to ride class horses and get a chance on the big day to deliver, it’s a marvellous feeling.

“Charlie had a champion jockey booked (to ride Adayar), but was kind enough to let me ride him. All credit it to him – he’s a great trainer, a great man and a great father. I will never be able to thank him enough.

“It’s quite unbelievable, really. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s mad, crazy – what goes around comes around.”

Trainer Charlie Appleby celebrates at Epsom
Trainer Charlie Appleby celebrates at Epsom (John Walton/PA)

Appleby, who saddled the first Derby winner to carry the Godolphin blue in 2018 hero Masar, was keen for most of the praise for his latest success to go to the winning rider.

He said: “Adam is a natural horseman. You can put him on every type of horse. When I was first given the licence, Adam rode winners for us very early on.

“I think if you win an English Derby, you don’t have to call yourself an all-weather jockey, that’s for sure! Adam is far from an all-weather jockey.

“I’m just delighted he’s part of the team and I’m delighted he’s had a winner.”

Kirby hopes his Derby success is proof, if it were needed, that he is just as capable of delivering the goods on a Saturday at Epsom as he is on a Wednesday at Lingfield.

He added: “I’m really pleased. I’m not really one to get over-excited about things, but I was then (passing the post).

“I hope the kids are watching and at least they know when people call daddy an all-weather jockey, I’m not.

“I’m good on the all-weather because I ride on the all-weather and I ride horses with a chance on the all-weather.

“You can’t win these big races unless you’re in them for starters. It’s great to pick up a ride and then go and win it.

“There was just enough room up the rail, and I thought if I could just get in I could help them make their minds up, so I got in – luckily the horse was brave enough to go through with it and galloped up to the line and out through it.

“It’s a marvellous day. I hope my mother was watching!”

And on the 40th anniversary of the great Shergar’s Derby win, the popular Kirby was also quick to remember the late Walter Swinburn, who was in the saddle that day and went on become a successful trainer before his untimely death at the age of 55.

He said: “He was a top man and a very sad loss. He taught me great things as well and taught me always to be very cool and calm and relaxed about things.

“He was great to ride for and a fantastic man. He had a lovely family and I am sure they will be pleased for me, too.”

Derby delight for bookies as Adayar scoops Epsom honours

Bookmakers were struggling to contain their delight after Adayar stormed to Cazoo Derby success at Epsom.

Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet was sent off the red-hot 11-8 favourite and although seemingly in the ideal position approaching the business end of the mile-and-a-half showpiece, he could only manage a well-beaten seventh under Ryan Moore.

Others fancied contenders that failed to make an impact were Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney and John Leeper, the mount of Frankie Dettori.

Adding further joy for the layers was 50-1 chance Mojo Star finishing second to the 16-1 winner.

Bookmakers shared Adam Kirby's delight at the Derby result
Bookmakers shared Adam Kirby’s delight at the Derby result (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Coral’s David Stevens said: “The Derby is always the biggest betting race of the Flat season, and going into this year’s renewal, two horses emerged as the most popular with punters, favourite Bolshoi Ballet and Frankie Dettori’s mount, John Leeper.

“But neither could land a blow once the stalls opened, and although Adayar attracted some late support, his victory was still very much in our favour.”

For Ladbrokes, Nicola McGeady said: “Adam Kirby is the toast of Ladbrokes this afternoon after landing the Derby on Adayar. Every horse in this year’s renewal attracted support at some stage, but Adayar was the best result in the book.”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield added: “The winner didn’t go unsupported each-way at fancy prices, but despite that and Mac Swiney finishing fourth not being ideal with our extra place, it was still a good result for us.”

Looking to the future, Coral make Adayar the 4-1 favourite for the St Leger, while Ladbrokes quote the son of Frankel at 8-1 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Kirby stars as Adayar powers to Derby glory

Adayar sprang a 16-1 surprise as he came home a wide-margin winner of the Cazoo Derby under a jubilant Adam Kirby at Epsom.

Trained by Charlie Appleby and only ridden by Kirby after he lost the ride on John Leeper to Frankie Dettori, the Godolphin-owned son of Frankel shot clear in the final furlong to give his handler a second win after Masar in 2018.

Richard Hannon’s Mojo Star, a 50-1 chance, ran a huge race to be four and a half lengths away in second, with the winner’s stablemate Hurricane Lane another three and a quarter lengths back in third.

Gear Up set the early gallop, with Kirby on his heels aboard Adayar and Youth Spirit also prominent in the early stages.

Hot favourite Bolshoi Ballet was also towards the head of the field, settled in fourth on the outside, while the well-fancied John Leeper was restrained in last place by Dettori until the field reached Tattenham Corner.

Gear Up started to drop away with two furlongs to run, allowing Kirby a run up the inside rail and he soon put daylight between himself and the field.

Mojo Star finished well from off the pace, with Hurricane Lane also keeping on at the one pace for minor honours, but Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet and the Ed Dunlop-trained John Leeper were both ultimately well-beaten.

Kirby was struggling to comprehend his achievement following the race.

He said: “There’s been ups and downs, it’s racing, but when it comes to Charlie Appleby, he’s a top man. I can’t thank him enough. He’s a real gentleman and a great trainer. It’s quite unbelievable really – I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.

“It’s a Derby. He ran well in the Lingfield Derby Trial and that was obviously good form – we can all be wiser after the event.

“I got in (on the rail) and luckily the horse was brave enough to go through with it – he galloped up to the line and out through it.

“It’s a marvellous day. I hope my mother was watching.”

Appleby admitted he had his doubts about Adayar tackling the Derby, but Godolphin founder Sheikh Mohammed was keen to let the colt have his Classic chance.

Trainer Charlie Appleby celebrates with the trophy at Epsom
Trainer Charlie Appleby celebrates with the trophy at Epsom (John Walton/PA)

The trainer said: “I’m delighted for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and Team Godolphin, being a home-bred as well and Frankel having his first Derby winner.

“I’m delighted for Adam. He knows him as well as anyone as he broke all three of the runners in.

“To win the way he has done, he’s stamped his authority there among the three-year-old middle-distance horses. We’ll just take a breath, let the dust settle and regroup. It will be interesting to see what the boys say about the other pair (Hurricane Run and One Ruler, who was sixth) as well.

“I had a conversation with His Highness on Wednesday and I sort of put it up there that Adayar would be more of a staying horse and, thankfully, he put me straight back where I should be and said ‘no Charlie, there’s only one Derby and you need to stay in the Derby’.”

Adam Kirby celebrates at Epsom
Adam Kirby celebrates at Epsom (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

Oisin Murphy had been asked to partner Adayar, but given Appleby’s long-standing relationship with Kirby, he changed the riding plans.

Appleby said: “Adam is a huge part of the team, he’s been with us since I started and does a lot on the racing side, breaks some of our horses in. I have to say Oisin was very professional when he took the news.

“Once Adam was available, I was always going to offer the ride to him, and Oisin said ‘I know what you’re going to say and I understand’, so a big thanks to him for being a true sportsman.”

Appleby admitted he felt Adayar might be more suited to a stamina test.

He said: “They all looked great and were training well and I couldn’t give a negative to any of them coming in, but I felt one horse was going to be a more of a Leger horse and that was him – I’m not saying we won’t see him there yet.

“He’s a big horse and I wouldn’t say we’re going to rush to anything yet. I think we’ll take this on and just sit back – they’re nice discussions to have of where we go next.”

Masar won the Derby three years ago for Appleby
Masar won the Derby three years ago for Appleby (Adam Davy/PA)

The trainer believes his first Derby win three years ago provided some valuable insight ahead of a second success.

He added: “When you’re in the position I’m in and have the horses I have in your care, the expectations are always there and when you have your first Derby winner it’s a surreal moment and there’s also a sort of sense of relief that you’ve ticked off one of the boxes of what you’re employed to do.

“So coming into today’s Derby, everyone was a bit more relaxed – but as I always say, unless you’ve driven a Ferrari you don’t know what one is like, and until you’ve won a Derby you don’t really know what sort of horse you need to win a Derby.

“So thankfully we’re in a position now to learn what horses are needed and we have a great team sourcing horses for us to train.”

Derby ground set to dry out after unexpected amount of rain on Friday

The ground at Epsom is expected to dry out ahead of the Cazoo Derby on Saturday, but to what extent remains to be seen.

More rain than had been expected fell on Friday – turning the ground officially good to soft, from the good, good to firm in places at the start of Oaks day.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said at the end of racing: “I’ll leave it as good to soft, but it’s going to be dry overnight and then we are due a pleasantly warm day tomorrow, with temperatures of 22 to 23 degrees.

“It will dry to some degree, and I’ll be surprised if at some point in the morning we are not mentioning ‘good in places’. Time will tell to what extent it dries after that, but I’ve known us run a Derby on officially good ground when it’s been like this at the end of the first day. I wouldn’t rule that out again.”

He added: “I think every race today was around six seconds slower than standard, so they weren’t exaggerated soft ground times and it tends to look worse than it actually is here, and invariably walks back well after each race.

Racegoers look on under umbrellas at Epsom
Racegoers look on under umbrellas at Epsom (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“Overnight the last mile of rail will be taken away, as usual, so that opens up around five yards of fresh ground. Today’s racing surface will be repaired to a degree tonight and completed in the morning, when the entire Derby course will also be given a cut.”

Defending the watering that took place earlier in the week, Cooper said: “When I came in this morning at 6am and walked the course I was on the verge of calling it ‘good to firm, good in places’, and if we hadn’t watered during the week it would have been firm, undoubtedly.

“The forecast at that stage, as it had been on Thursday, was for a day that would be damp, but with rainfall in the one millimetre to four millimetre range. We ended up with nearly 11mm, but you accept that as the meteorologists are working with the information that’s available to them.

“We’ve been open about what we’ve done this week, and in putting down 5mm, 5mm and then about 2.5mm that adds up to only about half an inch. Without doing something in the week it would have been firm, with a forecast of 2mm of rain, which would have turned it into an ice rink.

“I can’t believe anybody would think that was a sensible approach.”

Meade could look to Irish Derby with Lone Eagle after colt forced to miss Epsom

Lone Eagle could head for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby after being ruled out of the English version due to a dirty scope.

The Galileo colt was found not to be 100 per cent when given a routine test after a workout on Thursday morning.

It was a bitter blow to trainer Martyn Meade and his team, as Lone Eagle looked to be in top form after easily winning the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood two weeks ago under a 5lb penalty.

“We were all ready – we gave him his last bit of prep this morning for a blow-out and as a matter of course we scoped him and unfortunately there was a bit of mucus,” said the Manton handler.

“The trouble is the horse has been in great form – he was eating everything, working so well and his coat was looking great, but you can’t get away from the fact that for that race you need to be 100 per cent, not 90 per cent.

“I was devastated. It’s very disappointing.”

Meade feels Royal Ascot, where Lone Eagle holds an entry in the King Edward VII Stakes, is likely to come too soon – but the Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 26 could be on the agenda.

“It’s going to be a rush to get to Ascot, so I don’t think we’ll be going there,” he said.

“We’ll look at the Irish Derby which might suit him a bit better. I think that’s where we might go. We could still go for a Derby, but it’s not the English one.”

Mill Reef remembered – 50 years on from Derby success

Mill Reef was described as the “most perfect specimen of a small horse” by his trainer Ian Balding – and he developed into a giant of thoroughbred racing.

Standing 15.2 as a two-year-old in 1970, Mill Reef went on not only to land the Epsom Derby the following season but won a host of other major races too, including the Coral-Eclipse, King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Such were his achievements that he is immortalised with a life-size statue at Park House Stables at Kingsclere.

The small but exquisite colt, with a mahogany coat, came to occupy a special place in the hearts of the public as he drew on his courage to win his greatest battle when, at the age of four, he suffered a life-threatening injury in a routine gallop at home.

Mill Reef and Geoff Lewis return victorious following the Derby
Mill Reef and Geoff Lewis return victorious following the Derby (PA)

The story of Mill Reef, named after a stretch of coastline in the West Indies, began in the United States, where he was bred. It soon transferred across the Atlantic as his owner, the American millionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon, adored the English racing scene.

Under the tutelage of Balding – whose son Andrew has leading claims this year through Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit – the youngster was never less than sensational right from the start, overturning 2-9 favourite Fireside Chat by four lengths on his Salisbury debut before winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot by eight lengths.

Although he was beaten a short head by My Swallow in the Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Laffitte, after a debilitating journey and a bad draw, the chance of redemption arrived in the Gimcrack at York – for which Mellon flew in from the States to watch him for the first time.

Alas, it rained so heavily on the Knavesmire that Balding wanted to withdraw his potential superstar – but the owner assured his trainer everything would be fine. He was right as Mill Reef carried the familiar black and gold colours to a staggering 10-length victory. “He was the best two-year-old I had ever seen,” said the trainer.

Owner Paul Mellon with Mill Reef after the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot
Owner Paul Mellon with Mill Reef after the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot (PA)

There were two more victories before that stellar campaign ended, including a four-length success in the Dewhurst at Newmarket.

The three top two-year-olds of 1970, Mill Reef, My Swallow and Brigadier Gerard clashed in the 2000 Guineas, the field for which was one of the finest ever assembled. It was won by the peerless miler Brigadier Gerard, with Mill Reef in second and My Swallow third.

Balding admitted being shocked by the defeat. But jockey Geoff Lewis was convinced the horse would be better over further, despite his pedigree suggesting otherwise.

However, Lewis faced his own race against time to be fit to ride Mill Reef in the Derby after being injured in a fall less than two hours after the 2000 Guineas.

He won his battle and was in the saddle as Mill Reef strode to a smooth three-length victory over Linden Tree at Epsom – and he also rode the winners of the Oaks and Coronation Cup at the same meeting.

When Mill Reef went gloriously into his winter quarters, racing fans were already awaiting the promised showdown of epic proportions between him and Brigadier Gerard in the Coral-Eclipse the following season, but it was not to be.

Mill Reef with Geoff Lewis, pictured at Newbury racecourse
Mill Reef with Geoff Lewis, pictured at Newbury racecourse (PA)

Mill Reef sauntered to a 10-length victory in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp, but a scrambling success when the virus was on him in the Coronation Cup at Epsom proved his swansong. While being prepared for the Arc on a sunny August morning on Watership Down, a dreadful, audible crack signalled he had broken his near foreleg.

The operation to save him took more than seven hours, after which Mill Reef’s calm temperament and indomitable spirit took over. It was not long before he was able to hobble along with his leg encased in plaster, until finally he could leave Kingsclere for his new career as a stallion where he went on to sire two Derby winners of his own – Shirley Heights (1978) and Reference Point (1987).

Mill Reef still has a race named in his honour at Newbury, where he kicked off his three-year-old campaign with a four-length success in the Greenham Stakes.

The Group Two Mill Reef Stakes over six furlongs, held every September, also had an auspicious beginning under its new name when its first winner in 1972, Mon Fils, went on to win the 2000 Guineas.

High Definition set to miss Epsom and run in Irish Derby

High Definition is set to sidestep the Cazoo Derby at Epsom on Saturday and instead run in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh on June 26.

The Galileo colt spent the winter months as ante-post favourite for the premier Classic after coming from the clouds to win the Beresford Stakes in September.

However, his preparation this spring has not been entirely straightforward, with unsatisfactory blood test results ruling him out of his intended comeback run in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

Aidan O'Brien with High Definition and jockey Seamie Heffernan
Aidan O’Brien with High Definition and jockey Seamie Heffernan (PA)

Instead, High Definition returned five days later in the Dante Stakes at York – and while he was not disgraced in finishing third on the Knavesmire, O’Brien has revealed he is set to be saved for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby later in the month.

The Ballydoyle handler still houses the hot favourite for this weekend’s feature in Bolshoi Ballet.

Speaking after saddling Point Lonsdale to win the opening race at the Curragh on Wednesday, O’Brien said: “It looks like Bolshoi Ballet will run at Epsom and High Definition will wait for the Curragh.”

He went on: “Nothing is written in stone until ten o’clock in the morning (final declarations), but it looks like the two horses are going to be split.

“It looks like Bolshoi Ballet is going to Epsom and it looks like High Definition is coming straight here (Curragh). Bolshoi would be our only runner at Epsom – that’s what the lads are thinking to give the two of them a chance at a Derby.

Bolshoi Ballet is set to be Aidan O'Brien's sole representative in the Derby
Bolshoi Ballet is set to be Aidan O’Brien’s sole representative in the Derby (Brian Lawless/PA)

“St Mark’s Basilica and Van Gogh are going to France (Prix du Jockey Club, on Sunday). Kyprios is going to Ascot for the Queen’s Vase and Sir Lamorak might go for the King Edward.

“We were lucky to get the run into High Definition at York and we think he’s a very good horse. A little more time won’t do him any harm.

“It was just to give the two of them a chance until they have to meet. The Curragh Derby is a very important race, as the Epsom Derby is also.

“I’m very happy with both horses. If we didn’t get the run into High Definition then there was no decision to make as if he didn’t run in York then he definitely wouldn’t go to Epsom.”

John Leeper is now set to be ridden by Frankie Dettori
John Leeper is now set to be ridden by Frankie Dettori (Adam Davy/PA)

Frankie Dettori has teamed up with O’Brien on a number of occasions of late, steering Mother Earth to victory in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month.

The Italian had been due to partner an O’Brien-trained runner at Epsom, but he will now ride the Ed Dunlop-trained John Leeper in the Classic.

In Dettori’s expected absence Adam Kirby had been booked for the mount on the impeccably-bred Frankel colt, but Patrick Cooper, racing manager for owner Cristina Patino said: “As far as I know, he (Dettori) is riding, that’s what I’ve been told.”

Shergar’s imperious Derby victory remains vivid – 40 years on

Shergar’s victory in the 1981 Derby at Epsom remains one of the most iconic moments in racing folklore.

His winning margin of 10 lengths is the biggest in the history of the premier Classic, which was first run in 1780.

It was a case of Shergar first, the rest nowhere – and was a dream first Derby call for Graham Goode, in his first year as commentator for ITV.

He admits owing Shergar’s jockey Walter Swinburn, who was 19 at the time, an enormous debt of gratitude for making his colossal task much simpler.

“The tag line for me was I was always very grateful to Walter Swinburn for winning so easily,” said Goode.

“It made my life on the most prestigious, most under-the-microscope race, very easy, and I was always grateful to him – which always brought a smile to his face.

“I also remember from the race John Matthias finishing second (on Glint Of Gold) saying he looked up, thought he’d won the Derby – and then he saw something many lengths ahead.

“Shergar always held a good position in the race, was always in the right place at the right time, he quickened and went on.

“He was an unbelievable horse.”

The racecard for the 1981 Derby at Epsom opened on the page featuring the reference to Shergar
The racecard for the 1981 Derby at Epsom opened on the page featuring the reference to Shergar

It was a staggering success that saw Shergar, who carried the famous colours of the Aga Khan, rise above the normal racehorse and become a legend on and off the track.

His racing career was guided by Sir Michael Stoute, who sent him out to win six of his eight races, taking the Sandown Classic Trial by 10 lengths and the Chester Vase by 12 on the way to Epsom, where he started a 10-11 chance and won in a stroll.

With Swinburn suspended, Shergar was ridden by Lester Piggott to win the Irish Derby by four lengths, but the young rider was back in the saddle for another four-length victory against the older generations in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Both Shergar’s defeats came at Doncaster, where he closed his racing career with an inexplicable loss at long odds-on in the St Leger.

The wonder horse was syndicated for stud duties and arrived at the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud in County Kildare with everything ahead of him, but armed raiders stole him one winter’s night in 1983.

With the kidnappers apparently unaware that the Aga Khan was no longer the sole owner of the horse, demands for payment of a massive ransom came to nothing.

It all ended in tragedy, of course, and it remains a mystery as to where the horse’s remains are buried, in some unmarked grave with no plaque or statue to celebrate his glory.

Image of Shergar’s empty stable box where was taken from on February 8, 1983 at the Aga Khan's stud farm in Ballymany, County Kildare
Image of Shergar’s empty stable box where he was taken from on February 8, 1983 at the Aga Khan’s stud farm in Ballymany, County Kildare (PA)

Forty years on, Shergar’s name is as likely to be mentioned alongside that of another infamous absentee, Lord Lucan, as with the Derby, and feature films and TV documentaries have cast no more than a shadowy light on his final days.

The racing world, however, has not forgotten. The abiding memory will forever be of Epsom in 1981, and that wonderful moment rounding Tattenham Corner when Walter Swinburn flicked the switch and the afterburners powered on.

All that disappeared that day was the opposition as Shergar cleared away, his rivals withering to dots in the distance.

Monday Musings: New names in Epsom frame

There are Classic trials and Classic trials, but never before, I suggest, has there been a situation like that which leads into Friday’s Oaks, writes Tony Stafford.

I was about to trot out “Investec” as usual but checked and it’s now the Cazoo Oaks– yes, I wondered who they were too! There are 15 acceptors and it is possible to line up all bar one of them running in one of four races and all within a ten-day time-frame.

So there should be no excuse on whether the filly in question has trained on or indeed whether she will be fit. Only one of the 15 finished out of the first four – Martin Meade’s Technique, fancied for the Lingfield Oaks Trial but only seventh of eight behind the Archie Watson-trained 28-1 shot Sherbet Lemon.

Five of the eight that ran there, including runner-up Save A Forest, Ocean Road and Divinely reunite: the 1-2-3-4 that day are in the line-up.

There seemed only minimal evidence why the Aidan O’Brien filly Divinely should have attracted a gamble from an early last week’s 50-1 to one-fifth those odds, so a fraction of the 33-1 available about the first two home at Lingfield. But then she is a full-sister to Found, winner of a mere £5 million in prizemoney and a consistent improver throughout her three seasons’ racing.

Then again maybe a leaked whisper of a sensational Ballydoyle gallop might have had something to do with it. Anyway, the races in question in time order and in number of days before Friday start with the one-mile 1,000 Guineas (33) from which runner-up Saffron Beach and fourth home, the beaten Newmarket favourite Santa Barbara, come.

Three days later, the Cheshire Oaks at Chester, the race which first indicated Enable’s outstanding potential, revealed three more Oaks possibles and a more predictable outcome. The Mark Johnston filly Dubai Fountain, a daughter of Teofilo, beat Zeyaadah by a length with O’Brien’s La Joconde fourth in what was clearly a scouting mission for the girls back home.

Lingfield, which we dealt with above, was three days after Chester and the final link in the Classic chain came another four days on, so just over three weeks before the big race. The Musidora Stakes at York, run over slightly more than ten furlongs provided a surprise O’Brien winner in Snowfall, living up to the tradition of abrupt form progression from two to three for horses from that stable. The daughter of Deep Impact – do not worry, the dam is by Galileo – swamped the principals in that market leaving Noon Star, Teona and Mystery Angel to fill the places at a respectful distance.

The only outcast from those four tightly arranged and informative indeed series of races is Willow, the fifth and possibly on form the least feasible of the Coolmore contingent. She was third in a Naas Group 3 on Lingfield Oaks day and is, so far, winner of one race in five (a maiden), so normally just an also-ran.
But then you notice that the daughter of American Pharoah is out of Peeping Fawn who, at the time she ran in the 2007 Oaks, also just had one maiden victory from five career starts. She did not run at two but packed in five runs before the end of May, finishing a more than creditable third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Despite that she was a 20-1 shot for Epsom, hardly surprising as she was stretching out from a mile to a mile and a half and only five days after her third behind the brilliant Finsceal Beo. In the event she easily outperformed the trio of other O’Brien candidates when a half-length second to Sir Henry Cecil’s Light Shift with the stable number one All My Loving four lengths back in third.

For the rest of the summer Peeping Fawn was supreme in winning four Group 1 races in succession, the Pretty Polly, readily from the previous year’s 1,000 Guineas heroine Speciosa; the Irish Oaks, emphatically turning around Epsom form with Light Shift; the Nassau at Goodwood and then the Yorkshire Oaks, wrapping up her 10-race, five-win career in 144 days.

So if Willow does turn up on Friday I wouldn’t put you off having as my friend Prince Pippy always says – and I’m sure he’s missing going racing as much as me – a chip each-way on her.

It’s a very different Oaks this year with no Gosden, Charlie Appleby or Wiliam Haggas runner, but Roger Varian is upholding the Newmarket challenge with three contenders along with Sir Michael Stoute, veteran of many Classic triumphs over the past 50 years and Hugo Palmer, a 2,000 Guineas winner with Galileo Gold (ironically not by Galileo, but with him as the broodmare sire) and now proud progenitor of two winners from his first crop including Listed winner Ebro River, hero of the National Stakes at Sandown for Palmer last week.

The Oaks would already have fallen to a Hugo Palmer filly had his Architecture not had the misfortune to be in the same age group as the amazing Minding, comfortable winner of the race five years ago. Architecture was an excellent second.

There are at least three names in addition to Martyn Meade that do not fall easily from the tongue in relation to Group 1 fillies’ races. The afore-mentioned Archie Watson’s filly Sherbet Lemon, despite her almost-unconsidered status as a 33-1 shot, did extremely well to hold off a quartet of challengers around Lingfield and that race has been a more promising indicator of events at Epsom than was the case in the early part of this Millennium. Still regarded as more of a two-year-old “get-‘em-out-and-run-‘em” trainer, there seems to be more of a measured approach these days. As Watson’s stable grows into its new coat, so Hollie Doyle keeps pace and more.

That prospect of a first Classic for her is almost too exciting to contemplate but virtually guaranteed to happen one day.
If Watson used to be that specialist trainer, George Boughey, with the help pf Amo Racing’s big-spending Kia Joorabchian, has smoothly stepped into his shoes. A former Hugo Palmer assistant, he has all the hallmarks of a future top five trainer.

The name Chapple-Hyam has been notable in Classic terms and Peter of that ilk trained two Derby winners, Dr Devious and Authorized. At the time of his training for Robert Sangster from his Manton stables, Chapple-Hyam was married to Jane, daughter of Sangster’s second wife, the former Susan Peacock.
In 1992 not only Dr Devious brought Derby success, but the outstanding miler Rodrigo De Triano won the 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Over the past decade while her former husband has been operating on a much smaller scale – though with little sign of diminished talent – Jane Chapple-Hyam has gradually shown her own skills as a handler. Starting in 2006 she had tremendous success with multiple stakes-winner Mull Of Killough, trained for some of the younger members of the Sangster family, headed up by Sam and his nephew Ned and now her step-brother Ben’s wife Lucy with James Wigan and Lucy’s son Olly own Saffron Beach.

Winner of her only two races at two, a maiden and then the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes, both over seven furlongs at Newmarket, Jane has kept the daughter of New Bay to the same track this year.
She reappeared in the Nell Gwyn, finishing runner-up to Sacred and then comfortably left Sacred behind in sixth in the 1,000 Guineas, staying on strongly past Santa Barbara into second behind that filly’s stable-companion Mother Earth who did not let the Classic form down with her second to Coeursamba in the French 1,000.

There are plenty of potential stories, but save a Hollie win, Jane Chapple-Hyam winning a race for her step-nephew and step-sister-in-law would run it close. There are certainly worse 12-1 shots around to waste our money on.

It would be great if Love could turn out earlier in the afternoon in the Coronation Cup. We only saw her once after her two Classic wins, by almost five in the 1,000 and nine in the Oaks. That later five-length win in the Yorkshire Oaks seems so long ago. It would be nice to see her challenge the fast-improving Al Aasy for William Haggas and the French colt In Swoop who has carried on the good work this spring after that excellent second in the Arc last October.

As to the Derby, you tell me, although it is hard from here to look past the favourite Bolshoi Ballet who won the same two races that his sire Galileo did before his triumphant run in the Derby. In winning the Ballysax Stakes and then the Derrinstown Stud Stakes, Bolshoi Ballet has convinced Ryan Moore he is the most uncomplicated colt he has ever ridden. I believe him.

-TS

Varian looking forward to ‘cool dude’ Third Realm playing his part in intriguing Derby

Roger Varian is confident Third Realm possesses all the tools required to make his presence felt in a “fascinating” renewal of the Cazoo Derby at Epsom on Saturday week.

The multiple Group One-winning trainer has surprisingly saddled just one previous runner in the premier Classic, with subsequent St Leger hero Kingston Hill filling the runner-up spot behind Australia in 2014.

In Third Realm Varian believes he has finally unearthed another legitimate contender, with the Sea The Stars colt having earned himself a shot at Derby glory with victory in the Lingfield Derby Trial earlier in the month.

“I did think he’d go and run a nice race (at Lingfield), but he’d only had two starts – and when you jump from a novice straight into a Derby trial, often they come up short because it’s a big ask on a horse and they’re hard races to win,” said the Newmarket handler.

“Having trained horses long enough and been disappointed often, I don’t think you ever go into those races too confident, but I really liked how he trained between Nottingham and Lingfield and I was obviously delighted with how it panned out and the ability he showed.”

While Third Realm passed the post with just over a length in hand over Adayar at Lingfield, Varian feels the winning margin underestimates his superiority to his rivals on the day.

He added: “He came down the hill very well. I think what I was really impressed with was the ease with which he took himself into contention – the visual impression he gave me at the bottom of the hill was that he just looked the best horse in the race.

“When he got to the front he probably got a bit lonely and he had to dig deep in the end, but it was only his third start and I thought if David (Egan) had waited longer and produced him with a furlong to run, he might have won even more impressively.

“I think he’s got an outstanding attitude for a race like the Derby. He seems to conserve energy – he’s not a flashy worker at home and just does what you ask him to.

“He wasn’t distressed after Lingfield in any way and his recovery was very quick. He’s got a very relaxed way of racing and I think that’s vital in these big races.

“We’re still to learn whether he’s got the engine to bring home the Derby, but I think he’s got the mind for it.

“A lot of the boxes you want ticked going into the race he ticks. We’ve been very happy with his training since Lingfield – Andrea (Atzeni) actually rode him on Wednesday morning in his last serious bit of work and was very impressed with the horse.

“We’re very much looking forward to the day. He’s a relaxed character and a bit of a cool dude, so I would be hopeful he’ll handle whatever Epsom throws at him.”

Third Realm is a best-priced 14-1 in a Derby market headed by Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition.

Roger Varian has high hopes for Third Realm
Roger Varian has high hopes for Third Realm (Joh Walton/PA)

Others in the mix include Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Mac Swiney, the promising John Leeper and Dante winner Hurricane Lane.

Varian said: “I think it’s a fascinating Derby and a very good Derby. Time will tell, of course, but if you look at the horses coming from Ireland and the horses in Newmarket you could make a case for different reasons, it looks intriguing.

“We’re delighted to be involved in it. I think it’s a Derby that if I wasn’t involved, I’d be super excited to watch, because there are lots of different types of horses in the mix.

“I truly believe the Derby is one of the most iconic races our industry across the globe has on offer. It will always be the pinnacle of the test of a horse, the ability of a horse, the jockey’s ambition and the trainer’s ambition.”

Aidan O’Brien lining up strong Epsom challenge

Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition give Aidan O’Brien a formidable hand in his bid for a ninth victory in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

It is 20 years since the Ballydoyle handler first landed the premier Classic with Galileo, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012), Australia (2014) and last year’s surprise winner Serpentine.

O’Brien would love to add to his total in the premier Classic on June 5, saying: “It (the Derby) is what the foundation of the thoroughbred is built on really. It is the ultimate test and they are tested in every way – speed, stamina, courage and balance.”

The hot favourite for this year’s renewal is Bolshoi Ballet, who followed up victory in last month’s Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown with a scintillating display in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial over the same course and distance.

High Definition winning the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh
High Definition winning the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh (PA)

“I am very happy with him, everything has gone well so far,” said O’Brien.

“He started off at Leopardstown in the Ballysax Stakes and we were very happy with him. He then went to the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and we were very happy with him in that as well and he seems to be in good form.”

High Definition spent the winter months at the top of ante-post lists for the Derby after winning his two starts as a juvenile.

However, this spring has not been so straightforward, with unsatisfactory blood test results ruling him out of an intended return in the Lingfield Derby Trial, although he did make his comeback five days later with a creditable third place in the Dante at York.

O’Brien said: “I am very happy with him. Obviously, he had a very interrupted preparation – a week before the Dante he wouldn’t have been able to run. He just came right a couple of days before.

“We knew he had to run if he was going to the Derby and we couldn’t have been happier.

“It is far from ideal (the colt’s preparation), but we are very lucky it came right itself without having to medicate him. When the blood first came out the way it was, I did not think he would make it (to York) and I didn’t think the blood would come back, but it did naturally for some reason.

“Obviously, we were going to ride him patiently (in the Dante), kindly and gently, and that is what Ryan did. We were very happy with his run at York. He covered the last three furlongs quicker than anyone else in the race, so that is a very good sign for a horse like him.”

The trainer’s other potential Derby candidates include Leopardstown handicap winner Sir Lamorak and Van Gogh, although the latter is set to first contest this weekend’s Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.

Of Sir Lamorak, O’Brien said: “We have always thought a lot of him. He didn’t win last year, but we were very impressed with his last run.

“It was a three-year-old handicap at Leopardstown over a mile and a quarter. He relaxed very well, quickened very well and finished very well. Everything has gone well with him since.

“With a nice bit of ground and a nice pace on in front of him, everything looks good with him at the moment.”

O’Brien also has the first two in the betting for the previous afternoon’s Cazoo Oaks, with 1000 Guineas fourth Santa Barbara heading the market ahead of Musidora Stakes-winning stablemate Snowfall.

Santa Barbara remains a hugely exciting prospect
Santa Barbara remains a hugely exciting prospect (PA)

“It was a big risk going to the 1000 Guineas on only Santa Barbara’s second run, but she ran very well. This (Oaks) was always pencilled in to be her next run,” O’Brien continued.

“She came out of the 1000 Guineas well and everything has gone well with her since.

“She hasn’t been over that far (mile and a half) before, but she is a Camelot filly and we are really looking forward to seeing her run.

“We always thought the world of Snowfall last year, but we could never get her to produce what she was doing at home. Maybe a little bit of time over the winter, maybe she matured from two to three and a little bit extra distance has helped her.

“We were delighted for her to show what she has been showing us the last year at home.

“Physically she has done well since and mentally she is lovely, so it is very possible that she could really take off.”

The trainer’s potential runners in the Coronation Cup on Cazoo Oaks day include Japan, who recently made a winning return to action in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, and the brilliant filly Love, who won the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks last season.

He said: “Japan is very well. We were delighted with his run (at Chester).

“He could go to the Coronation Cup, back to a mile and a half. He ran a very good race in the Derby and he seems in good form.

“Love is very well. She is doing everything right and is ready to start.”