O’Brien had trained Galileo to win the Derby the previous year, his first victory in the race, and in 2002 he had the first two in the betting, with Hawk Wing, ridden by Mick Kinane sent off the 9/4 favourite, and High Chaparral, with Johnny Murtagh on board, next in the betting at 7/2. The two were ridden almost together throughout the race, held up towards the rear early on, moving up with half a mile to go, and moving ahead of long time leader Moon Ballad with two furlongs to go. From there on it was simply a case of which of them would come home first, as they pulled fully 12 lengths clear of Moon Ballad in third place.
In some respects that race showed aspects of an approach from O’Brien that we can see again this weekend with his entries in the Oaks yesterday and the Derby today: multiple entries, a declared uncertainty about which would win, but confidence that one of his horses would do so.
O’Brien trained three of the horses in the Derby of 2002, a quarter of the 12 runners. Of course the Coolmore operation is going to have many top class horses every year, but it’s usually the case that stables don’t enter many in the major races – perhaps a strong fancy and a pacemaker. That’s never been the case with O’Brien and Coolmore. In the Oaks yesterday he saddled five of the 12 runners.
Yesterday O’Brien was adamant he had no idea which of those five had the best chance. He said, “They are all well-bred fillies so anything is possible. And it was a similar story after High Chaparral’s win when he said after the race, “Even in the last half furlong I really didn’t know who would win.”
O’Brien hasn’t trained the Derby winner since, but there hasn’t been a year ending in “2”. And to push the serendipity of this irrelevant statistic even further, just note that ten years ago, O’Brien was 32 years old, and therefore is now 42. There’s no escaping that “2” in the year when it comes to the O’Briens and the Derby.