Magician conjures up Derby threat

Ballydoyle colt shows further progress in beating stablemate Gale Force Ten in Irish 2,000 Guineas

Well, first Classic blood this Derby week to Ballydoyle. The Epsom showpiece is just six days away, and is shaping to be a match between Jim Bolger, who trains hot favourite Dawn Approach, and Aidan O'Brien. Yesterday the upwardly mobile Magician and Gale Force Ten gave the Co Tipperary maestro a one-two in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, with Dawn Approach's stablemate Trading Leather only third. And, intriguingly, Magician may yet join Battle Of Marengo and Mars in their mission on the Surrey Downs on Saturday.

"This is an improving horse," said the Coolmore boss, John Magnier, after Magician's successful first crack at Group One level, "and a versatile one; all kinds of options are open. But we'll savour this moment and not get carried away just yet. But, you know, we do some surprising things sometimes."

Magnier, head of the ownership partnerships that campaign the Ballydoyle horses, may have had a twinkle in his eye over an Epsom adventure – the St James's Palace Stakes at Ascot next month and the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July were also mentioned as targets – but Magician's presence in yesterday's field was itself something of a left-field approach.

The Galileo colt's previous outing ended in victory over 10 furlongs in one of Chester's accepted Derby trials, the Dee Stakes, and the step back to a mile was a bold call. Whatever spells Magician had been weaving at home to prompt it were no illusion. He cut down the trailblazing Trading Leather, who had set a searching gallop, with a twinkling turn of foot going to the final furlong before powering three-and-a-half lengths clear.

It was O'Brien's ninth success in his home 2,000 Guineas, and his and jockey son Joseph's third in a row, after Roderic O'Connor and Power. "I didn't have a moment's worry," said O'Brien Jnr of the 100‑30 shot. "He travelled well all the way and I didn't have to budge on him until two down. He's got a great attitude, he relaxes, he stays well, he has loads of pace and he's a horse who seems to be getting better day by day. I think the key to him is fast ground, so let's hope he gets that for the rest of the summer."

For every victory there are disappointments, in this case for O'Brien's colleagues Richard Hannon and Johnny Murtagh. Hannon's charge Van Der Neer, made 5-2 favourite on the strength of his third to Dawn Approach in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks earlier, could beat only two. And that pair were Murtagh's first runners as a trainer, Fort Knox – carrying Sheikh Mohammed's maroon-and-white – and Ask Dad.

O'Brien Snr has taken an Irish 2,000 Guineas winner to the Derby before, but unsuccessfully. For Epsom seventh Saffron Walden 14 years ago, there were 13 days between the races. "I might imagine the Derby might come a bit quick," he said. "But we'll see how the horse is and what the lads [Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor] think. They'll have all the information, and they'll make a decision. They're pretty tactically astute."

Magician's odds for Epsom have been slashed, notably by Ladbrokes to 5-1 joint second-favourite with Battle Of Marengo. Dawn Approach, who runs in the blue silks of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, remains 10-11 in most lists; O'Brien has seven of the remaining 24 entries, enough to offer Frankie Dettori, who has been riding out regularly at Ballydoyle, a mount should the Italian get clearance from France to resume his career this week.

"Frankie has always been a great rider, and still is," O'Brien said yesterday. "Hopefully, we'll get the team for Epsom, horses and riders, sorted out by the middle of the week."

The cold winter and dismal spring has, according to Magnier, delayed the confirmation of the Ballydoyle three-year-old pecking order, but Magician seems to be the rising star of his generation down Rosegreen way. He does not yet provoke the smile of sheer pleasure from O'Brien that the four-year-old Camelot does. Last year's Derby hero, who had life-threatening colic surgery during the winter, returns to top-level action at the Curragh today, when he faces three rivals in the Tattersalls Gold Cup en route to the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.

O'Brien's record in the Irish 1,000 Guineas is not as good as in the colts race, with just the four successes. Rowley Mile fifth Snow Queen leads his three-strong challenge today, with his rival Bolger fielding two, headed by Rehn's Nest. But the warm favourite is one of four British raiders, the Charles Hills-trained Just The Judge, narrowly touched off in the Newmarket edition of the Classic three weeks ago.