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Irish Derby report

In the end, it was easy. Australia swaggered to victory, as his pre-race odds told you he would. It might have been different had Kingston Hill not defected from the race, but it probably wouldn’t have been any different at all. In truth, so complete was Australia’s dominance of his rivals in yesterday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh, it is difficult to think that any of his contemporaries could have got close.

Kingston Hill was the only horse who could give Australia a race in the Epsom Derby, and in his absence, yesterday’s race was unquestionably a lesser contest. Trainer Roger Varian walked the track early in the morning and determined that the ground needed a drop of rain in order to soften it up sufficiently for his horse to take his chance. Alas, the drop of rain did not arrive, and the son of Mastercraftsman was scratched.

With Kingston Hill, the re-match between the Epsom Derby 1-2 would have been a contest worthy of a significant pay-to-view fee. Without him, yesterday’s race was a lopsided contest between a top class racehorse and four good racehorses. To put it into context, Australia’s official rating of 123 going into yesterday’s race was just 3lb superior to Kingston Hill’s, but it was 11lb superior to his next highest-rated rival’s.

But that was not Australia’s fault. You can only ever beat what they put in front of you, and Australia has done so now at Epsom and at The Curragh. In winning yesterday’s race, he joined an elite band of dual Derby winners, just the fifth in 20 years and just the second since High Chaparral in 2002.

And it was easy. His odds told you that the Galileo colt was eight times more likely to win that he was to lose and, sure enough, just as at Epsom, there was no point in the race at which you really thought that he wouldn’t win.

He settled nicely in third place through the early stage of the race, with a nice break between him and his two pace-setting stable companions Kingfisher and Orchestra. As they rounded the home turn, rider Joseph O’Brien gave him a little squeeze and asked him to close the gap, which he did with minimal fuss.

Moved towards the outside as they straightened up, he joined Orchestra a furlong and a half out and, after his rider had allowed himself the luxury of a little look around, cleared away to put two and a half lengths between himself and his closest pursuer Kingfisher, with another two and a half back to Orchestra in third.

“We feel very privileged to have him,” said winning trainer Aidan O’Brien. “From a very early age he was a special horse. Everything about him suggested that he had a lot of speed, for a horse bred as he is bred, by a Derby winner out of an Oaks winner. There were only five runners today, but it was a high-quality race, the second and third were two good Derby trial winners, they are highly-rated three-year-olds.”

This win continued the remarkable association that trainer Aidan O’Brien has with the Irish Derby. Australia was his 11th winner of the race, and his eighth in the last nine years. Also, with his other two runners in the race filling the places, it was the fifth time that the master of Ballydoyle has fielded the 1-2-3 in the Irish Derby, one of Ireland’s flagship races.

A drop down in trip now could be in store for Australia.

“I think that 10 furlongs is very much on his agenda,” said the trainer. “We will all give our points of view and the lads will decide where he will go next. We went to the Guineas very happy and very hopeful, but Joseph would have loved to have had the whole field stay together there. This horse would have no problem dropping back down to a mile or 10 furlongs. He is so relaxed in his mind. You can sharpen him up as much as you want at home, but he’d still be very relaxed. You’d love to think about the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and all those types of races.”

John Magnier, inducted into the Hall of Fame at The Curragh yesterday, has been associated with Irish Derby winners for the best part of four decades now, but he still gets a kick out of top class horses like Australia.

“It is a pity that the French Derby has been reduced from a mile and a half to 10 furlongs,” said Australia’s part-owner, “because it used to be that the French Derby winner and the Epsom Derby winner would come on to The Curragh and it would be winner takes all. But there’s no doubt, I get excited by a horse like this. Watching Joseph sitting up on him there, it was like watching Lester in the old days on some of those real racehorses.”

“Aidan told everyone what he thought about the horse from early,” continued Magnier, “and now he has gone and done it.”

And he might just do it again soon.

© The Sunday Times, 29th June 2014