Racing: O'Brien believes Brian Boru can still be king of Epsom

The Derby: Master of Ballydoyle, after a stuttering start to the season, insists he has a powerful team for the Classics
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The Independent Online

It was a long journey up the Ballydoyle drive yesterday morning, plenty of time to wonder what a barren springtime had done to the mood of the young master, Aidan O'Brien.

It was a long journey up the Ballydoyle drive yesterday morning, plenty of time to wonder what a barren springtime had done to the mood of the young master, Aidan O'Brien.

Hold That Tiger surrendered in the 2,000 Guineas, Brian Boru was turned over in Saturday's Derby trial at Leopardstown, and Alberto Giacometti was only third in the Prix Lupin at Longchamp 24 hours later. It was an occasion for a light knock on the door.

However, defeatism is not alive in this corner of Co Tipperary. Indeed, O'Brien sees the plan as forming after a haphazard start to the year. No particular Derby horse has been identified – no Galileo, no High Chaparral – but the trainer considers his strength in depth to be comparable with his victory days of the last two years. Crucially, all the Ballydoyle horses are marching onwards together.

"This year we've taken a lot of time to sort them out," O'Brien said. "They were all well and looking well but we just couldn't get them to come. We couldn't get at them. But, in the last couple of weeks, they've just started to change.

"We've trained very much in mind that we're trying to win a Derby rather than win a trial. We're sorting them out without doing any damage to them mentally or physically. If we gutted them now for the trials we wouldn't have Epsom."

The permutations are manifold and liable to daily change, yet a Derby without Brian Boru and Hold That Tiger is unlikely. Also in the mix are Catcher In The Rye, Alberto Giacometti, The Great Gatsby and Balestrini. If the trainer had his way he would run the lot. For while the Blue Riband may be a creaking glory for some, it will always be the chosen contest for O'Brien.

"Epsom is the pure test," he said. "You have to have speed and you have to have stamina. You have to have balance and you have to have courage at the end of it. It's the test of a horse everywhere and if you haven't got the speed there is no point in going there."

When you pass the Nijinsky statue and first encounter the Ballydoyle pastures you feel the Derby belongs here. It was in this golden corner – in 1951 at a cost of £17,000 – that Vincent O'Brien purchased the land that was to become the world's foremost private training establishment. Fast horses have come out of here ever since, to put a modern touch to the myth which surrounds the area's dominating Slievenamon mountain.

It is said that the ancient kings used to take as their brides the women that ran swiftest from the valley to the peak. Speed, then as now, was cherished in these parts.

Yet before Galileo's triumphant waltz two years ago it was back to 1984 when David O'Brien's Secreto emerged from the bottom yard to beat his father's 2,000 Guineas winner, El Gran Senor, that the trophy was last seen here.

A first ever hat-trick in the Blue Riband now beckons and has been a principal consideration for some time. Only 7 June counts. The trials have been happily forfeited in an effort to deliver for just two minutes over the Surrey downs.

Brian Boru may have looked a little leaden as he trundled home behind Alamshar and The Great Gatsby on Sunday, but he was conceding weight and conditioning. He is not considered a loser by those around him.

"Brian Boru is working like the other [Derby-winning] horses were at this stage," O'Brien added. "And remember the last two Derby horses were not that impressive at Leopardstown. In the last couple of weeks he's just started to change. That's why we were delighted with Leopardstown. We could not wait on him too long. We had to run.

"Brian Boru was giving them 5lb. The pace was steady for the first two furlongs and he was a bit keen and fresh. We were just trying to get him to do things right rather than winning the race. We just followed Alamshar and taught him a little bit of manners. When they kicked quick around the bend he was just a little bit raw, a little bit ring rusty.

"We like him here. Most horses will just walk straight by you but he doesn't. He will stop and stare at you. Look in your face. He's different. All the good horses have something different about them."

Hold That Tiger has already proved himself extraordinary as a two-year-old, which made his pale effort in the Guineas even harder to stomach. Even at home the chestnut has a wild look about him and the challenge remains to keep the keg sealed. "Hold That Tiger came back from Newmarket and didn't eat up. He was obviously going through something," O'Brien said. "Yes I am worried about the trip for him, but then if you're not worried about that they're too slow."

Anxiety, however, is not flourishing at Ballydoyle. Yesterday does not matter, neither tomorrow. Three weeks on Saturday is everything. "It is the ultimate test of a horse," Aidan O'Brien said. "We're very proud to have won it twice. Please God we can do it again."

Racing in brief: Sweet for Dettori

Frankie Dettori won on Sweet Folly at Saint-Cloud yesterday. Sheikh Mohammed's filly prevailed by a nose from Baie in the Group Three Prix Cleopatre. She is trained by Henri-Alex Pantall.

There was a thrilling finish to the Evening Gazette Handicap at Redcar yesterday with the James Hetherton-trained Encounter hanging on by a short-head from the jointfavourite, Peartree House.