Australia is now odds-on favourite for the Derby next month after True Story, supposedly his greatest threat, could finish only third behind The Grey Gatsby in the Dante Stakes at York, the last recognised trial for the Epsom classic.
The Knavesmire is a popular last port of call for the Derby and nine horses have completed the double since 1960, but today's winner is not even entered at Epsom and is unlikely to be supplemented, the preferred target being the French equivalent which is two furlongs shorter.
Trained in Yorkshire by Kevin Ryan – this has been a superb meeting for the locals – The Grey Gatsby finished down the field in the 2,000 Guineas and connections of True Story could be nothing but disappointed to be beaten by him, even if the winner did impede the hot favourite by hanging right entering the last furlong (an action which cost jockey Ryan Moore a two-day ban).
Godolphin have not, though, given up on the Derby dream. Saeed bin Suroor, who trains True Story, did not think the drying ground would be a problem going into the race and had been encouraged by a sparkling piece of work, but said afterwards: "He will be better on faster ground and over the extra distance, so we still plan to run."
Workforce was an emphatic winner of the 2010 Derby after being soundly beaten in the Dante, so there is a recent precedent for Godolphin to cling on to, but the bookies were quick to shovel True Story out to 16-1 for Epsom, the same price as runner-up Arod.
Peter Chapple-Hyam, whose Authorized was the last to complete the Dante-Derby double in 2007, was thrilled with Arod, who improved again on his impressive Windsor maiden win last month. "The important thing was to get him to relax and he did," he said. "I would imagine he will go to Epsom now, but quicker ground will help."
So where are we after this final Derby trial? Is Australia now the proverbial "good thing"?
Taking him on at Epsom Downs or in the betting shops might be seen as a leap of faith, but there are holes to pick for anyone who cares to delve for them, even merely as a Devil's advocate.
For instance, it has been suggested that his breeding (by Derby winner Galileo out of Oaks winner Ouija Board) already puts one of his feet in the Epsom winners' circle, but Ouija Board's other offspring have been nothing out of the ordinary and that includes Australia's full sister, Filia Regina, last seen down the field in a nondescript Newcastle handicap off a rating of 65.
Aidan O'Brien said this week that he was first aware of Australia's exceptional qualities this time last year when four consecutive outings on the gallops were timed at 11 seconds per furlong. However, according to TurfTrax he did not manage to replicate that speed at any stage when beaten into third recently in the 2,000 Guineas, a race, by the way, that Nashwan, Sea The Stars and Camelot actually won before going on to triumph in the Derby. And should we not at least wonder whether a horse who worked like a champion sprinter as an early two-year-old will also be top dog over a mile and a half at three?
The hordes of O'Brien supporters probably will not entertain these doubts for one moment, relying instead on the master trainer's assessment that Australia is a step up from his four previous Derby winners and is Ballydoyle's "Special One". But it's no foregone conclusion.
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