Aidan O’Brien aired his first doubts about Australia on Thursday when he admitted that the colt long heralded as the greatest of all the Classic hopes he has trained would be ill-served if the prevailing soft ground persists until Derby day a week tomorrow.
The 2,000 Guineas third – already uneasy enough in the Epsom market to have drifted to odds against with Ladbrokes, who have long enjoyed a reputation as the most reliable barometer of Ballydoyle affairs – has raced exclusively on a sound surface and there is an unsettled forecast for next week.
“We wouldn’t like the ground to be soft,” O’Brien told a Derby preview event at Epsom. “He’s a beautiful-moving horse, everybody saw the class he showed at Newmarket. Soft ground wouldn’t be ideal, but we’ll have to wait and hope it’s not.”
The 2,000 Guineas eighth Kingston Hill, who is expected to improve for the Derby distance, worked over 10 furlongs round Epsom. “He went really nicely,” reported his rider, Andrea Atzeni. “He travelled good and quickened up well. He handled the ground – it’s pretty soft out there.”
Such conditions could render the Dante Stakes second Arod an absentee, with his jockey, Jamie Spencer, stating: “He needs fast ground, so watch this space.” But he did so perhaps in the knowledge that Arod’s trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, and owner, Qatar Racing, may even at this late stage have a better prospect to turn to.
Hydrogen, a three-parts brother to Chapple-Hyam’s 2007 Derby winner Authorized and the most expensive yearling of his generation, makes his injury-delayed debut at Newmarket today. “We’ve always loved him and Pete’s always loved him,” said Sheikh Fahad al-Thani of Qatar Racing. “He has worked like a proper horse. It’s not a million to one him running [in the Derby]. He’s going to tell us tomorrow if he wants to come to the Derby.”