O'Brien backs fab four to call tune on Derby rollercoaster

There is a corner of Co Tipperary, in the sweet, green plain overlooked by Slievenamon mountain, where speed has long been cherished. Legend tells that Finn McCool, the warrior king of Irish folklore, took as his bride the woman who ran swiftest from the valley floor to the peak. Nowadays, it is fast horses who put a modern touch to the myth.

Inside the gates of Ballydoyle, the first you see is Nijinsky, immortalised in bronze. The Triple Crown hero of 1970 was the best of the six Derby winners prepared by Vincent O'Brien, who purchased the land that was to become the world's foremost private training establishment for £17,000 in 1951. Today, it is the province of the great man's namesake Aidan, going for his third Epsom title on Saturday.

And though the world's most famous race, run on an idiosyncratic rollercoaster of a track, may be seen as a stuttering glory by some in an increasingly global era, it is still O'Brien's chosen contest. "The Derby is the pure test," said O'Brien. "A horse has to be able to gallop left and right-handed, uphill and downhill, he has to handle cambers. He has to have mental balance to cope with the preliminaries, the class to quicken up that long straight; he has to stay 12 furlongs and go the last half-mile at nearly sprinting pace. And he has to have the courage to fight at the end if need be. No race anywhere in the world is like it; it gives you the full read of the breed."

Flat racing can be so many things to so many. Spectacle and the beauty of the thoroughbred; the excitement of a closely-fought finish, the majesty of a solo tour de force; the tingle of satisfaction brought by a winning bet. But more than is contained in any instant is the thrilling potential of what will be revealed on the Surrey downs.

The brief for trainers at these elite levels is to turn the well-bred colts under their care into racehorses good enough to be given their chance in their infinitely more lucrative second career. The best from Ballydoyle take their place on the Coolmore Stud stallion roster, whether a few miles down the road at Fethard, the mother ship, or at the satellites in the States and Australia.

On Saturday, over a mile and a half in a little over two and a half minutes, one of a dozen powerful young equine athletes will set the standard for his generation in the 231st Derby. But will he prove himself a champion over the coming months? And more than that, will he go on to have an enduring impact on the breed?

And therein lies much of the fascination of the game, the progress of the generations. The sport and the bloodstock industry behind it is as much about the past and the future as the present. The Derby field may just contain that rarest of phenomena, a star who becomes a genetic meteor.

The fun is that at this stage, though the clues are sparkling beguilingly in the formbook, no one knows which one, if any. Not even O'Brien, who is responsible for the first four in the betting: Jan Vermeer, who has leapfrogged St Nicholas Abbey into favouritism, Midas Touch and Cape Blanco. And of those who go on to the historic roll of honour, some can hack it at the top afterwards, and some can't. And that is the point; the Derby is a beginning, not an end.

At Ballydoyle this year there is a perceived depth of talent that means that some of the squad will be diverted to the less testing Prix du Jockey-Club a week today. The decision on who goes where and who rides whom will be made midweek after a final crucial workout.

It is a judgement call that has arisen on the place before; in 1984 Vincent sent El Gran Senor to Epsom and the yard's second string to Chantilly. Both horses found one too good but it was the supposed lesser of the pair, Sadler's Wells, who went on to immortality as a progenitor. Two of his sons, the 2001 Derby hero Galileo and Montjeu, have picked up his mantle at Coolmore.

Galileo, who took the sires' crown two years ago when his own son New Approach followed in his hoofprints at Epsom, was the first of O'Brien's Derby winners, followed a year later by High Chaparral. Since then he has had 32 unsuccessful shots at the target, including the four who followed Sea The Stars home last year.

The Ballydoyle tilt at the £1.25 million Investec-sponsored purse will be challenged by behemoth industry rivals including the Godolphin (Rewilding and Al Zir) and Juddmonte (Bullet Train and Workforce) operations.

"It's the ultimate test," reiterated O'Brien, "and you've no idea how hard it is to win it. The horses are put to the sword and any flaw exposed, which is as it should be. We've been on the other side of the ditch for eight years, and with some good horses too. We're proud to have won it twice; please God we can again."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?