It is generally held that if a trainer thinks he has five Derby horses then he has none but, not for the first time, Aidan O'Brien made a nonsense of a piece of the sport's perceived wisdom. The quintet of Ballydoyle challengers for yesterday's 234th running of the world's most famous Flat race produced between them an inspired set of tactics that enabled one of their number – Ruler Of The World – to take the glory and ensure that the hot favourite, Dawn Approach, in the colours of arch-rivals Godolphin, did not.
The class of Dawn Approach, last year's juvenile champion and wide-margin winner of the 2,000 Guineas, was not under question. His stamina for yesterday's mile-and-a-half test was, though. But far from drawing its sting with a tag-team end-to-end lead-out as might have been expected, the O'Brien trailblazers Flying The Flag and then Battle Of Marengo produced something of a slow bicycle race. And before a quarter of a mile had been covered not only favourite backers but also Kevin Manning in the 5-4 shot's saddle knew their fate.
With such a pedestrian gallop up front – the race was timed nearly four seconds over standard – Dawn Approach refused to settle, tugging and fighting against his rider's hands and wishes. Eventually Manning let him have his head and stride on, and he led the field round Tattenham Corner, but by then he was a spent force and, heavily eased, passed the winning post in last place. "He was carting me 100 yards out of the gate," Manning said, "and it is not possible for a horse to do that and win anything."
With the main opposition out of the way the O'Brien horses, who carry the liveries of the Coolmore Stud partners, could play their individual hands. Battle Of Marengo, the 11-2 second favourite, went for home past the fading Dawn Approach and held the call until Ruler Of The World, well backed at 7-1, caught him going to the final furlong and stayed on strongly under Ryan Moore to take the Investec- sponsored prize by a length and a half from the 14-1 chance Libertarian.
"They went so slow in front that the field was tight early," said Moore, "and I was caught wider than I wanted to be and had to take back for some cover. But the slow pace made sense – Dawn Approach is exceptional over a mile and shorter, he had to settle if he was to see out the distance. If you go off too quickly in front you can end up with nothing left, and a horse with the speed of Dawn Approach will go past you, even if he doesn't truly stay."
Ruler Of The World was the only one of the 12 runners already proven over yesterday's distance, having won Chester's mile-and-a-half trial last month on just his second racecourse appearance. "He quickened well in the straight," Moore added of the son of Galileo, "and he was maybe in front a little sooner than ideal, because he's still a little green. I had to hold on to him and tough it out, which is hard. But he's got a real likeable attitude."
Yesterday was a second Derby for Moore, after Workforce three years ago, and a fourth for O'Brien, after Galileo – sire of not only yesterday's winner but the third and fourth as well – in 2001, High Chaparral in 2002 and Camelot last year.
The crucible of Epsom, with its drawn-out preliminaries and switchback track, is a test for any horse, let alone a late developer like Ruler Of The World. The chestnut was the least experienced in the field, having not made his debut until early April, when he won his maiden, and is a rare Derby winner not to have raced at two. "Credit to him," said O'Brien, "as he is really still a baby. But he'd come on a lot for his race at Chester, and he and Battle Of Marengo were the two we thought the most solid."
Libertarian, the strongest finisher from off the pace, and Galileo Rock passed Battle Of Marengo, the trio split by two short-heads, with French raider Ocovango fifth, clear of another O'Brien runner, Mars.
Co Tipperary-based O'Brien played down any joint effort by his squad, which is against the rules. "All the riders knew their horses and rode their own races," he said, "and what happened is just the way it ended up."
The spectacle was dramatic but undoubtedly messy, with tactics that not only produced Dawn Approach's nightmare but degrees of traffic problems for Libertarian, Ocovango and Mars. But the Derby is traditionally the race that sets the standard for a generation and though yesterday's winner may not have been the one that was expected he has revealed himself classy and progressive and for now, his is the world to rule.
1913: What else happened in the race?
Though the 1913 Derby is now best-remembered for the death of militant suffragette Emily Davison, the sharp end of the race provided no less drama as seven horses flashed past the post virtually in line.
The 6-4 favourite, Craganour, was disqualified in favour of the 100-1 shot Aboyeur, with all the downsides of the human condition – jealousy, spite, injustice, and incompetence – along for the ride.
Craganour and Aboyeur had slugged it out through the final stages, barging and bumping each other and their challengers as they tired. It seemed the favourite had prevailed under Johnny Reiff, an American from Paris who had jocked off regular rider Bill Saxby.
Then came news of an enquiry – which included evidence from Saxby, on Louvois – and Craganour was disqualified for not keeping a straight course.
The identity of Craganour's owner was pertinent; the horse carried the colours of shipping magnate Charles Bower Ismay, whose family name was held in some opprobrium after the loss of his company flagship, the Titanic, the previous year. But the favourite's fate was truly sealed by the chief steward, Edmund Loder, with whose sister-in-law Ismay had been having a very public affair.
Loder had actually bred Craganour and sold him as a foal, but the circumstances of the race gave him the perfect opportunity for revenge over a man he hated, and he took it.
Aboyeur was promoted to first, in front of Louvois, Great Sport and Nimbus. To cap a rotten day's work by officials, the judge failed to spot Day Comet tight on the rails. The colt finished at least third but was never acknowledged.
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