So Auguste Rodin, Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore did it, writes Tony Stafford. At the forefront of the Irish stable and its Coolmore ownership team’s £2.7 million return from their trip to Santa Anita, the dual Derby winner emerged as a true champion, not least because of the courage of his trainer.
When the son of Deep Impact trailed home a distant last in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot following his odds-on success at the Curragh, the knives were out.
The Derby form is rubbish they said – “when isn’t it?”, you might ask – and even his win dropped to ten furlongs for the Irish Champion Stakes still had its detractors.
But now, fully justifying (more of that word later) the decision to skip Ascot’s Champion Stakes day and the almost certain heavy ground – I sincerely believe the authorities need to do something about that – he came onto fast turf at Santa Anita and showed the sort of instant acceleration that has impressed the Ballydoyle cognoscenti from day one.
As ever with Aidan, the back-up riders are just as vital. Didn’t Padraig Beggy in 2017 and, three years later, Emmet McNamara emerge from the Chorus Line on the home gallops to win the Derby? They partnered back-up horses, Wings Of Eagles (Beggy) and Serpentine for McNamara, only to disappear from view pretty much thereafter, left with just their memories of that incredible career-garnishing achievement.
There was a bit of a Beggy/McNamara element to this year’s Breeders’ Cup, but it wasn’t that Aidan picked from the 70 or so riders that normally partner first and second lots of the incredibly talented team back home.
This time he “borrowed” a young jockey that has quickly got to near the top of the Irish riding tree, from son Joseph. Dylan Browne McMonagle – still only 20 – has ridden 59 winners in Ireland this year from 539 rides, putting him third only behind champion Colin Keane and Billy Lee.
In a year made difficult for Aidan by the long-term injury early in the year sustained by Wayne Lordan, you might have thought the master of Ballydoyle would have cast his net a little wider. From his 105 domestic wins, Ryan Moore has travelled over for 52 from 123 at 42% and ultra-reliable Seamie Heffernan has 32 from 150 at a more than handy 21%. With Wayne eight from 54 in the spring, there’s just 13 to go round. Surely Dylan would have picked up the pieces. He did, one win from nine rides.
His employment by O’Brien in the UK has been even more sparing, just a single ride on Champions Day at Ascot on Broome, and there he was again on Saturday on the same quirky old veteran apparently making up the numbers in the deep Turf field.
At Ascot, over what has become more his distance in the near two-mile Stayers Championship race, he faded to finish sixth of eight. His perceived role at Santa Anita was to help make the running and ensure a decent pace for the favourite. In the end, Dylan’s knowledge of the horse gained from Ascot did not help at the start as the seven-year-old dwelt as the rest of the field hurried on their way.
Maybe it was good fortune, but McMonagle didn’t rest on his laurels, trying to get to the front and Broome was prominent until understandably beginning to weaken as the last turn approached. Inevitably he fell into the laps of still travelling rivals and certainly Frankie Dettori on King Of Steel and Jim Crowley on Mostahdaf took a rapid diversion to the outside to avoid him.
The trigger effect was a nice gap on the inside. If ever you needed to know how much distance a horse can lose in the US when going wide on the bend this was evident as without doing too much, Ryan, having been some way back in seventh or eighth, was able to enter the straight just behind the lead.
The rail runner route was never more famously displayed than by Calvin Borel in his successive Kentucky Derby wins in 2009/2010, and when it works it looks very clever. Ryan confessed there was an element of good fortune in it but, again, to have a horse talented enough to accept the invitation is rare.
Clearly, Aidan O’Brien doesn’t need to employ a rider regularly to appreciate his talent and here we come to the day before when I’m sure McMonagle must have feared the worst when the local veterinary panel deemed River Tiber unfit to run in Friday’s Juvenile Turf race.
O’Brien took it on the chin in a little more restrained manner than Jessica Harrington, there with an owner who had nothing else to show for their trip. Aidan, of course, had back-up once more but, with Ryan Moore’s first pick an absentee, Frankie Dettori was booked for second string Unquestionable with McMonagle on longshot Mountain Bear.
Although only a winner of a maiden race previously, Unquestionable made plenty of friends with his second, a length behind Richard Hannon-trained Rosellion in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at the Arc meeting. Ryan promptly pulled rank leaving Dettori without a mount, unless…
Well, “unless” didn’t happen, and while Ryan came the inside route to get by the Americans in the straight while Dylan went widest of all, collecting with a flying finish the not inconsiderable runner-up prize of £141k as the trainer supplied the one-two.
If the Coolmore partners didn’t have enough pockets to cram the £2.7 million (less deductions!) into by 24 hours later, I’m sure Joseph’s protégé would have been planning what he might be doing with what must have been an unexpected windfall.
European horses once again made the Americans look ordinary in most of the turf races, with Mick Appleby’s Big Evs more than living up to his sprinting prowess back home by giving the home speedsters a lesson in the Juvenile Turf Sprint. If Godolphin had a quietish time of it, the identity of Big Evs’ sire, their first-season sensation Blue Point, would have kept them smiling wherever Sheikh Mo and co were last weekend.
While the two best male and female stars from the Ballydoyle academy were back home munching away unaware of their joint objectives in next year’s 2000 and 1000 Guineas, their paternal relatives, Just FYI in the Juvenile Fillies’ and Hard To Justify in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf which followed, were adding both lustre and the degree of versatility to their sire.
City Of Troy’s and Opera Singer’s return to action will be awaited with interest. I can tell you, if you are being impatient, the first weekend in May will come around quicker this time than any year previously. Then we can see if my exaggerated comments about City Of Troy are indeed Justified.