Racing: Juggernaut of pure genius flattens the Classic occasion

By Stan Hey
Sunday 17 November 2013 04:43
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Aidan O'Brien confirmed his status as the major European trainer of his generation by saddling the first two horses home in yesterday's Derby, with High Chaparral holding off Hawk Wing in a thrilling drive to the line. The two stablemates more or less had the race to themselves for the last two furlongs as the rest of the 12-strong field laboured to keep pace with the Ballydoyle Two.

Although the result should take nothing away from the studied diligence which O'Brien beings to his job, he might well expect a visit from the Monopolies Commission in the near future, so dominant is he becoming as a trainer. Last year's Derby win with Galileo was only one of nearly two dozen Group One races won by the quietly spoken genius.

But behind his pre-eminence lies another: the Coolmore Stud breeding operation, owned and run by Sue and John Magnier, together with investment from the millionaire former bookmaker Michael Tabor, whose colours were triumphant yesterday. Beyond the people are the sires, with Sadler's Wells at the pinnacle of the operation.

The result had been pretty well predictable for the last few weeks, as the various Derby trials pitched up no obvious candidates to threaten the Irish duopoly. Only the identity of the winner was in doubt, with favouritism switching several times over the past week, and again on the day itself, as the ins-and-outs of the going were assesssed.

One bookmaker reported that they had "never been bigger than 10-1 on the winner, even last year", giving some idea of how strong the form line was for High Chaparral.

So, if there is one quibble about the O'Brien/Coolmore/Tabor operation, it is that it is crushing the life out of the opposition. This was literally so in the case of the gallant but doomed Coshocton who collapsed and fell as he gave a forlorn chase to Hawk Wing and High Chaparral.

Realistically, only Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team and the other members of the Maktoum family have the necessary ammunition to challenge the Irish juggernaut. Yesterday, the Maktoums had a hand in five of the runners, including two they recently bought, Bandari and Fight Your Corner, that were then supplemented for the race at a cost of £90,000 each.

O'Brien saddled three runners, meaning that two-thirds of the field were controlled by just two ownership elements. With the total prize money for yesterday's race swollen to a prize fund of £1.38m, and an astronomic stud value ascribed to the winning horse – Galileo stands at £100,000 a bonk – it seems that an even narrower section of the horse-owning classes can afford to get involved these days.

Of the other four horses competing, three were certainly owned by very rich people, and two were trained by one, Terry Mills, who made a fortune out of a waste management company he started after being demobbed from the army. This narrowing of ownership may be a welcome by-product of the ebb and flow of wealth, but it runs the risk of making The Derby look like those fairly ridiculous two-runner races staged annually at Newmarket for horses owned by Jockey Club Members only.

What was most telling yesterday was that neither the winner nor the runner-up did much damage to the bookmakers' accounts, partly because they had taken such defensive positions and partly because the prices didn't appeal to the punters on the day. "It was a good result for us," smirked one. "We were always on the right side of the both of them," gloated another.

Narrowing the competition in any sport, be it the Premiership where Arsenal or Manchester United dominate, or motor racing where Ferrari rule, risks losing the interest of the public.

Of course, domination and empires always decay in the end, but the sheer overpowering strength of the Ballydoyle product looks as though it will be leading the line for a long while yet. Just ask the bookies.

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