Donn's Articles » Wings Of Eagles

Wings Of Eagles

So how does a 40/1 shot win the Derby?

It is not as if there has not been a shock winner of the Derby before.  Never Say Die was a 33/1 shot when he provided Lester Piggott with his first Derby in 1954.  Psidium was 66/1 when he won it in 1961.  Snow Knight was 50/1 when he won it in 1974.

But in recent times, while big-priced horses like Terimon and Blue Judge and Blues Traveller have gone close, there has been an air of relative predictability about the Derby winner.  Since Snow Knight sprang that 50/1 shock 43 years ago, the longest-priced winner before yesterday was High-Rise, who was sent off at 20/1 in 1998.  And after High-Rise, between the turn of the millennium and yesterday, remarkably, no Derby winner had been sent off at greater than 7/1.

There was always a chance that yesterday’s race would produce a shock result. The most open Derby in years, the pundits were saying.  And 18 runners, more runners than in any renewal since Sir Percy beat 17 rivals in 2006.

And if there was to be a shock result, it was always likely that it would be Aidan O’Brien who would provide it.  It has been more the rule than the exception in recent years that O’Brien is multiply-represented in the Derby.

Ballydoyle moves to the Derby beat more than it does to the beat of any other race.  Federico Tesio’s assertion that the thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended on a piece of wood, the winning post of the Epsom Derby, finds fertile ground at Ballydoyle.

It is a cycle.  The Derby prospects are sourced and grown and nurtured and primed for the first Saturday in June, and it works: Aidan O’Brien has now trained the winner of the Derby six times, and four times in the last six years.

Yesterday, there were six Ballydoyle horses in the Epsom Derby.  There is a notion that, if you think that you have six Derby horses, you probably have none, but that notion loses its potency when those horses are Ballydoyle horses.  In 2013, Aidan O’Brien ran five horses in the Derby, and he won it with Ruler Of The World.  In 2014, he ran four, and he won it with Australia.

If there are six Ballydoyle horses in the Epsom Derby, it means that there are six Balldoyle horses who are considered good enough to contest the Derby, who are considered good enough to potentially win the Derby.  Of course, there is a perceived pecking order, which you can have a go at determining using jockey bookings and market prices as a guide.  But, in the Derby more than most other races, you cannot know for sure how each horse is going to fare.  Five times in the last 10 renewals of the Derby, the perceived Ballydoyle number one has not done best of the Ballydoyle horses.

These are three-year-old colts, young relatively lightly-raced thoroughbred racehorses who are probably still improving.  It is impossible to evaluate their respective rates of improvement with certainty.

As well as that, these adolescents are encountering a set of circumstances in the Derby that they have never encountered before.  Unique track, unique atmosphere, and most of them stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time.  You cannot know for sure how each one will react.  That is why you run more than one.

Easy in hindsight of course, but Wings Of Eagles obviously deserved his place in yesterday’s line-up.  Winner of his maiden over a mile at Killarney last August as a juvenile, he had run once this season, he had run a fine race to finish second to his stable companion Venice Beach in the Chester Vase, when he did not have an ideal passage through the race.

It wasn’t certain that he would exact his revenge on Venice Beach yesterday.  Indeed, the market thought it unlikely, making Venice Beach a 12/1 shot, 28 points shorter than Wings Of Eagles.  It is not an exact science.

There was a synergy about yesterday’s result too.  Aidan O’Brien almost won the Derby in 2011 with Treasure Beach, a 25/1 shot, the outsider of four Ballydoyle horses in the race, beaten a head by Pour Moi.

Pour Moi is Wings Of Eagles’ sire.  And so the cycle continues.


© The Sunday Times, 4th June 2017