Twelve months on from weaving his Derby magic, can Aidan O’Brien do it again?

We have been here before. A regally-bred two-year-old who carried all before him as a juvenile, only to run poorly in the 2000 Guineas and then bounce back to win a Classic on their next start.

And that is exactly what Aidan O’Brien will be hoping happens with City Of Troy in the Betfred Derby.

Even if, as he insists, O’Brien does not dwell on the past, the memories of Auguste Rodin must still be fresh in his mind from 12 months ago.

He was a different type of two-year-old with a very different pedigree. More stoutly bred, being by the Japanese star Deep Impact, and not as precocious, winning the Futurity Trophy over a mile in heavy ground in the October of his first season.

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Nevertheless he went off the favourite for the 2000 Guineas but never recovered from being short of room coming out of the stalls, finishing 12th of 14.

O’Brien’s faith in his colt never wavered and we all know what happened next. He turned up at Epsom and provided O’Brien with a ninth win in the blue riband, although it should not have been a real surprise given the general consensus was the Derby trip was always going to be the making of him.

That is perhaps the biggest difference between the two stablemates, as City Of Troy looked sure to be better suited by eight furlongs on the Rowley Mile than 12 furlongs around Epsom.

That the son of American Triple Crown winner Justify ran such a lacklustre race at Newmarket was a real headscratcher. But, just like last year, the confidence emanating from Ballydoyle has been hard to ignore and he must surely rate a different proposition on Saturday.

Auguste Rodin showed his true colours at Epsom
Auguste Rodin showed his true colours at Epsom (David Davies for The Jockey Club)

“We just accepted that all these things just happened and went wrong on the day and we’ve decided to stay with the plan,” said O’Brien.

“He’s done nothing since to make us change the plan. The plan was always to start with the Guineas and go on to the Derby and then go wherever after that and that’s where we still are.

“I would always say if something doesn’t work I might not have done my homework right. Obviously when he goes down to the start he should be relaxed but he wasn’t, he was flustered and his mind just wasn’t in the right place.

“It will make it very interesting the next day. For us, I’m not sure we’ve ever sent a horse to the Derby with as much ability as this. If we can get him to come out of those gates and everything to work properly for him, then we can have him in the right place.”

Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle with City Of Troy
Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle with City Of Troy (John Hoy/The Jockey Club)

Described as “our Frankel” after winning the Dewhurst last year, even Triple Crown dreams looked realistic. That those hopes have been crushed before stamina even came into the equation must hit hard.

Nevertheless, O’Brien has never had any doubts about him staying the Derby trip.

“I don’t think the trip will be a problem, no. I don’t think I ever did. I never thought any trip was a problem for him. You’re never sure until you do it, he has a big, long stride and he’s usually very chilled and relaxed but it will be a very interesting race now,” said O’Brien.

“I suppose what he did last year – everything he was doing last year the statistics were adding up. His times, everything. He never disappointed us in any way.

“But we all know horse racing and we all know life – no one knows what’s going to happen in the next half hour. Listen, the Guineas just wasn’t meant to be. I feel like, myself, I hadn’t got him prepared properly, so what we would have learned in the Guineas will hopefully help us to prepare him properly for the Derby.

“He’s obviously by Justify, who won a Belmont and all the other races… one thing you cannot stop coming out in anything is pedigree, so hopefully if he’s well we can have him in the right place.”

One thing O’Brien very rarely worries about is if his horses will act around the twists and turns of Epsom and that is because Ballydoyle is equipped with a copycat gallop of Tattenham Corner, installed by his legendary predecessor, Vincent O’Brien.

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“It’s vital. Obviously with Dr O’Brien everything was about the Derby and everything is really. Everyone can say whatever they want, but the whole thoroughbred generation every year is measured in the Derby and that’s just the harsh reality of it,” he said.

“What we have seen over the years is if a horse is not going to handle it today, very rarely will they handle it tomorrow. You’ll see very quickly the ones that have the ability and the balance to handle it.

Auguste Rodin was a ninth Derby winner for Aidan O'Brien
Auguste Rodin was a ninth Derby winner for Aidan O’Brien (David Davies for The Jockey Club)

“I think the Derby is the race that I and everybody most looks forward to. The build up and on the day, everyone is just so fascinated about what is going to happen. There are contenders arriving from everywhere and it is everybody’s dream, whether a horse cost £2million or £20,000.

“The Guineas was a let-down because we were all expecting. It just went against us and we have to accept that, move on and try to get back where we hoped we would be.

“If you are not open and honest, you can’t progress. If you don’t say what you feel, you can’t tweak things to make it better.

“Everyone knows we do our best every day. If anyone has better ideas, they are welcome to come here and join us!”

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