No less than any other walk of life, it is pretty rare in racing for anyone to profess indignation when credited with a stroke of genius. Such was the case at Epsom last month, however, when Aidan O’Brien and his patrons at Coolmore maintained a scrupulous show of bemusement about a theory that their horses had collectively undermined the prospects of the hot favourite, Dawn Approach, by setting an unexpectedly slow pace in the Investec Derby.
Whether or not anyone had taken a calculated gamble on Dawn Approach racing too freely over the longer trip, Jim Bolger will certainly not have enjoyed the novelty even of being perceived as a trainer outsmarted by his rivals. He has since restored morale with a left-field flourish of his own, turning out Dawn Approach barely more than a fortnight later to win back over a mile at Royal Ascot. And today he seeks revenge on O’Brien, his former protégé, by saddling Trading Leather against the colt who ultimately exploited his champion’s failure at Epsom, Ruler Of The World.
O’Brien is seeking his eighth consecutive success in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. John Magnier and his partners at Coolmore have shown great loyalty to their No 1 stable’s home Classic, and some wonder whether their willingness to run Camelot on very testing ground last year eroded the brilliance of a colt who has since won only a Group Three race against four rivals. But this looks an ideal stage for Ruler Of The World to open the next phase of his own career.
For he went to Epsom as only one of five Ballydoyle colts among 10 rivals to Dawn Approach. Like most of those stablemates, he arrived with every right to make the next breakthrough after merely earning the right to run. By coming out on top, however, he has altered his status for ever. From now on, all Ballydoyle strategy will be devised to preserve and magnify the reputation of a colt who was named so presciently.
The storming finish of Libertarian, who failed to handle the hill before charging into second, encourages some to believe that he will reverse form today – his first start in the Godolphin silks, and his final one for Elaine and Karl Burke. After all, he is bred to stay very well and his stamina was barely brought into play by the way the race unfolded at Epsom. But the fact remains that Ruler Of The World would himself not necessarily have been suited by the slow tempo. In his trial round Chester, at the full Derby trip, he had really powered clear in the closing stages. So while he was certainly indebted to a typically alert ride by Ryan Moore, it was no mean reflection on his own merit that he could show the best turn of foot.
Today he makes only the fourth start of a career that did not start until April. And if Moore must ruefully reflect that blood is thicker than water, on duly being replaced by the Ballydoyle stable jockey, then punters will have no concerns about the eligibility of Joseph O’Brien after a couple of outstanding rides at Royal Ascot.
Libertarian has himself come a long way very quickly – it is a dozen years since the first two in the Derby were both so lightly raced – but it would be no surprise to see expectations on his behalf confounded by a rather more emphatic success for Ruler Of The World (6.30) this time.
Galileo Rock finished third at Epsom, but was well positioned relative to the quickening pace, and the each-way value may rest elsewhere. Trading Leather is likely to improve for his first start at this trip, and likewise Little White Cloud – tempting at 33-1 for a top stable now emerging from a slow start to the season.
The highlight of the domestic programme is one of the most cherished and historic handicaps of the year, albeit mine closures have lent a note of condescension to those southerners, in particular, who still refer to the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate as “the Pitmen’s Derby”. Sun Central remains just about the most progressive in the field, but his trainer is concerned by the prospect of rain on watered ground. At odds of 25-1, it can instead pay to respect the aged through 11-year-old Blue Bajan (3.15). He has shown signs of rejuvenation in two quick spins this month and, off such a fair mark, it is worth chancing that he has absorbed his effort at Ascot only 11 days ago.
Jack Dexter (2.05) is another making a quick turnaround, but his performance at the royal meeting was a career best and anything close to a repeat would warrant short odds.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Curly Come Home (8.45 Doncaster)
Loved One (5.40 Windsor)