As the longest-documented of all sports, racing must be the ultimate anoraks' delight. But despite more than two centuries of statistics, there are still records to be broken and milestones to be passed. Take the most famous race of all, the Derby, which will be run on Saturday for the 235th time. In all the previous editions, no trainer has saddled three winners in a row. But there is every likelihood that this afternoon at Epsom that particular barrier will fall. After winning with Camelot and Ruler Of The World, Aidan O'Brien fields a team of four, headed by the favourite Australia.
O'Brien is one of 16 men to have completed a Derby double, and one of just four to have done it twice, after the 19th-century figures John Scott and John Porter and 20th-century paragon Fred Darling. And O'Brien came so close to that elusive hat-trick in 2003 when, following victories from Galileo and High Chaparral, The Great Gatsby was passed in the final strides by Kris Kin.
O'Brien has sent more horses to the fray than any other, before Saturday 55 over a period of 16 years. Neither he nor punters always know which one will be the best – of his winners only Galileo and Camelot headed the market, and of his six runners-up two started at 100-1 and 25-1 – but that is one of the points of a contest for relatively young and unexposed athletes. The Derby is a proving ground, a standard setter. Not the end, but a beginning.
Australia came to notice last year with some lavish praise from his trainer after a wide-margin defeat of a well-touted rival and, though he could not translate the wonder-horse words into deeds in last month's 2,000 Guineas, his close third place in a messily run contest was an admirable first try at the top level.
The form of the mile Classic is rock-solid; the two he split, Kingman and Shifting Power, have since finished first and second in the Irish Guineas and 10th-placed The Grey Gatsby ran away with the Prix du Jockey-Club on Sunday. And hype notwithstanding, Australia's effort was an eye-catching Derby trial for one thought likely to fulfil his potential only when stepped up to a mile and a half. He is thoroughly bred for the Epsom job, his parents being Galileo and the 2004 Oaks heroine Ouija Board.
Stamina and class will not be the only qualities tested; the unique switchback course demands balance and athleticism and the drawn-out preliminaries an unflappable temperament. And, on such a testing occasion on such a tricky track, luck must be along for the ride too. Australia might just have won the Guineas if the race had panned out better for him and there is even less guarantee things will go smoothly at Epsom.
Australia, the mount of O'Brien's son Joseph, may be the Ballydoyle belt, but braces are being deployed too. For at stake is not just the present and a first prize of £782,000, but the future, in the shape of a potentially lucrative stallion career. And in Geoffrey Chaucer, Orchestra and Kingfisher, O'Brien and the Coolmore Stud ownership team have three more choicely bred, well-performed colts as back-up.
Most notable among others with credentials is the well-supported Kingston Hill, especially if the forecast thunderstorms arrive and materially soften the ground. Though the grey, a first Derby runner for Roger Varian, finished only ninth in the Guineas he won at the top level at two and is another who will appreciate the distance. But O'Brien, already a Derby wizard, can do it again with Oz.Reuse content