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Derby review

Adam Kirby was the story, of course.  The humps-and-bumps journey that saw him with a good ride in the Derby, then with no ride in the Derby, then with a good ride in the Derby again, but not nearly as good – according to the market – as the ride that he didn’t have.  And then with the best ride of all in the Derby, the winning one, and stretching four and a half lengths clear and into the history books.

It was an unlikely story, of course.  Most of the good ones are.  A story with a credible plot and a twist at the end that was hidden from all but the most astute observers.  And the red cap on Adam Kirby’s head only served throw the viewer off the scent.  William Buick wore the blue cap on Hurricane Lane and James Doyle wore the white cap on One Ruler, and Charlie Appleby wasn’t certain if he should go ahead and run Adayar in the Derby or keep him for the Queen’s Vase and the St Leger, before owner Sheikh Mohammed made the decision easy for the trainer: there is only one Derby.

It was a second Derby for Charlie Appleby and a second Derby for Godolphin, on a memorable day for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation, as they also bagged the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday evening with Essential Quality, as well as fielding the 1-2 in the Grade 1 Longines Just A Game Stakes three hours earlier with Althiqa and Summer Romance.

Adayar had to overcome the worst draw of all too.  Stall one is on the inside of Epsom’s left-handed circuit, but it is on the outside of the right-hand kink that you have to negotiate about a furlong after the one-and-a-half-mile start.  It is not a coincidence that horses drawn in stalls one and two have a terrible record in the Derby.

The last horse drawn in stall one or two to win the Derby before Saturday?  Oath in 1999.  Before Oath?  Roberto.

Adam Kirby had ridden in the Derby just once before, in 2017 when he wore the same Godolphin blue and the same Godolphin red cap on Dubai Thunder, and finished 11th.  To watch him ride the race on Saturday though, was to watch a man ride with the confidence of a rider who had many Derbys in his satchel.

In one sense, of course, it is just another race, and you ride it as such.  Adam Kirby has been a top-class rider for years now, often not getting due recognition.  In another though, the Derby is the opposite of just another race.  Adam Kirby always said that, given a choice, he would rather win the Derby than be crowned champion jockey.

He used up his horse a little through the first two furlongs, but it was good use, it meant that he was able to secure a good position for himself by the time they crossed over and started to turn left, along the inside and just behind the pace that Gear Up set.  After that, he saved energy, tried to fill his horse up as they reached the top of the hill and started to wheel down around Tattenham Corner.

Then the crucial part of the race, just inside the three-furlong marker, Adayar trapped on the rail and needing an out.  Kirby angled to go outside the leader, but Tom Marquand was there on Youth Spirit and there wasn’t really a gap.  Then Gear Up rolled to his right a little, and the gap between him and the inside rail was wide enough.  It wasn’t going to be there for long, horses generally roll down the Epsom camber towards the inside rail and it is rare that gaps appear there.  Kirby was confident that he had the horse to take him there, so he took the opportunity, got between Gear Up and the rail before the gap closed.  Into the clear, and only a green baize then between him and the winning line.

In the end, Adayar won by daylight.  Nobody can argue that he wasn’t the best horse in the race on the day, and he did get the bounce of the ball.  But his chance of winning the race was maximised by the ride that he got, a ground-saving ride of maximum efficiency.  Of course, you have to stay a mile and a half if you are going to win the Derby, but you have to have that tactical pace too.  If Adayar hadn’t had the speed to get through the gap between the leader and the rail in the short period of time that it existed, the story of the 2021 Derby could have been very different to the one that is now etched in history.

So what’s next?  No matter how important the race or how great the achievement, savour the moment for sure, take the time to appreciate the enormity of it, but just know that you will be asked what’s next.  When Golden Miller won his fifth Gold Cup, they probably asked Owen Anthony what’s next.

Any hopes that Charlie Appleby had of winning the Queen’s Vase with Adayar have been dashed.  The Irish Derby looks like the right race for him now.  Camelot, Australia and Harzand have all completed the Derby double in the last 10 years, and Adayar would surely be a short price to emulate their feat.

After that, it’s a mile and a half all the way surely.  Adayar’s dam Anna Salai won a Group 3 race over a mile in France, and was beaten just a head by Bethrah in the Irish 1000 Guineas, but there is lots of stamina too in his pedigree and, by Frankel, Frankel’s first Derby winner, he obviously stays a mile and a half well.  You’re thinking, Irish Derby, King George, Arc, more than Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Champion Stakes.  And he could still be a St Leger horse.

Hurricane Lane could also be a St Leger horse.  Another son of Frankel, the Godolphin colt won the Dante over 10 and a half furlongs, but he shaped even then as if he wanted to go further.  He ran a big race to finish third behind his stable companion on Saturday, losing his two front shoes in the process, and his dam won three times over two miles.

Mojo Star ran a massive race to finish second.  Richard Hannon’s horse saw out the 12-furlong trip well, and he is surely the best maiden in training right now.

Mac Swiney ran well for a long way.  Jim Bolger’s colt travelled nicely through his race for Kevin Manning in a good position, and he picked up well at the top of the home straight to hold his place as John Leeper moved up on his outside.  He came back on the bridle then as they straightened up for home, but his run just flattened out from there, and he kept on to finish fourth.  The New Approach colt could drop down in trip now to 10 furlongs, as his sire did in 2008, following up his Derby win with wins in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes.

Bolshoi Ballet was obviously disappointing on the day, the sole Aidan O’Brien representative, fading to finish seventh, but it was subsequently discovered that he had been struck into.  He is deserving of another chance.  Aidan O’Brien said on Sunday that, having watched the video, they have concluded that it happened early in the race, so that would go a long way to explaining his lacklustre performance.  It was too bad to be true for sure.  The Galileo colt went into the race a worthy favourite on the back of victories in the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

Turn the page, and you see that Aidan O’Brien’s lone-Derby-raider strategy meant that St Mark’s Basilica was released to run on Sunday at Chantilly in the Prix du Jockey Club, which he duly won, providing the trainer with his first win in the French Classic.

St Mark’s Basilica holds entries in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and in the Irish Derby as well as in the Eclipse, but that’s another story for another day.

© Sporting Life, 7th June 2021