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Auguste Rodin

The ratings tell you that Auguste Rodin was a good Derby winner. Timeform gave him a rating of 125p, “the benchmark of high-class form with Timeform and pretty much on standard for a Derby winner in the past decade.”  Racing Post Ratings have him on 124+, right in the middle of Aidan O’Brien’s nine Derby winners, not as high as High Chaparral, Galileo, Camelot or Australia, higher than Serpentine, Ruler Of The World, Wings Of Eagles and Anthony Van Dyke.

If Timeform rated trainers’ performances, this one might be off the charts. Not just because Auguste Rodin’s win on Saturday brought up Aidan O’Brien’s ninth win in the most famous race of them all, taking him further clear of Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling, who all trained seven, and level with Lester Piggott’s nine as a rider, but also because of the preamble.

On his debut this season, his last run before the Derby, Auguste Rodin finished 12th in the 2000 Guineas. It was a write-off run, lots went wrong for the Deep Impact colt both before and during the race. Even so, it cast his prospects into doubt. Top-class juvenile he may have been, winner of the Champions Juvenile Stakes and the Vertem Futurity Trophy, but talented juveniles don’t always carry the momentum of their first season through to their second.

Aidan O’Brien had no doubt though. Newmarket was a write-off run, he told us. Everything went wrong. You’ll see a different horse in The Derby.

Because The Derby was always the plan. Regardless of what happened at Newmarket on the first Saturday in May, Auguste Rodin was always going to Epsom on the first Saturday in June. Apart from the ground and the travelling and the run through the race, the thinking was that the one-mile trip of the Guineas was always going to be on the sharp side. That, if he was going to be a Triple Crown horse, if he was going to bid to become the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to win the Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger – and there was quiet Triple Crown talk at the start of the season – then the most difficult leg was going to be the first leg, the one over the shortest trip.

That said, it was still a brave move to stick to the Derby plan after his abject performance in the Guineas. Dr Devious won the Derby in 1992 four weeks after he had finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, but he is the only Derby winner in recent times who stepped up as significantly from his previous run to Epsom, and even the magnitude of that step falls short of the magnitude of Auguste Rodin’s. Usually, you finish 12th in the Guineas, beaten a total of 22 lengths, you lower your sights. In that instance, if it was ever on it, The Derby is usually taken off your agenda.

But Aidan O’Brien’s faith in his horse was unwavering. There was a conviction about it too during the Derby preamble, a quiet assurance that we would see the real Auguste Rodin at Epsom. Much more confidence than hope. And the market took note. It is probable that, if Auguste Rodin had been trained by any other trainer, his SP would have been a multiple of the 9/2 that was returned.

Ryan Moore had confidence in the Deep Impact colt too. He rode him with the surety that the best riders give the best horses. And when he asked his horse for his effort as the two-furlong marker flashed past, Auguste Rodin showed a turn of foot that only the top-class horses possess.

The Racing TV sectional times show that Auguste Rodin clocked 10.73secs for the penultimate furlong and 11.45secs for the final furlong, that he was faster than all his rivals through the final two furlongs, and through the final three furlongs. He got from the three-furlong pole to the winning line in 33.01secs, an average of a fraction over 11secs per furlong for each of the last three furlongs at the end of a mile and a half.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Aidan O’Brien’s horse is proving to be as good as he is, because he is bred for it, a son of seven-time Group 1 winner Deep Impact, who won the Japanese Derby by five lengths, out of the Galileo mare Rhododendron, herself a Group 1 winner at two, at three and at four. Rhododendron is the first daughter of Galileo to produce a Derby winner, and it is significant that she achieved that feat with a foal by the late Japanese champion, also sire of 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior and dual Oaks winner Snowfall, who are both also out of Galileo mares.

“He’s totally unique,” said Aidan O’Brien last week. “He’s out of one of the greatest Galileo mares and he’s by the greatest stallion ever in Japan. I think he’s the most important horse we’ve ever had, because he’s bringing two continents together. I think it’s so exciting.”

It will be exciting to see Auguste Rodin again now, wherever he goes next. Precedent dictates that he will go to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh on 2nd July. Of the eight Aidan O’Brien-trained Epsom Derby winners that have gone before him, only one of them has not run in the Irish Derby, and that was Serpentine, who won the behind-closed-doors Derby of 2000, when the Epsom Derby was run in early July, a week after the Irish Derby was run.

There is talk of the Eclipse though, and you can understand that talk. Hugely valuable and all as Auguste Rodin is now as a stallion prospect – a son of Deep Impact out of a multiple Group-1-winning Galileo mare, a Group 1 winner at two and now a Derby winner – his value would be further enhanced if he could win a Group 1 race over 10 furlongs against his elders.

It is probable that, given his Derby sectionals, he has the pace for 10 furlongs, and he would be a fascinating addition to an Eclipse picture in which the older horses are currently dominant. It may be, though, that Auguste Rodin will take up his engagement in the Irish Derby all right, and that his date with his elders is delayed until later in the season, perhaps until the Irish Champion Stakes in September. Either way, it will be fascinating to monitor the Derby winner’s trajectory from here.

© The Sunday Times, 11th June 2023