A dramatic game of jockey’s musical chairs for Saturday’s Cazoo Epsom Derby ended in unlikely glory for Adam Kirby on board Adayar.
Godolphin’s third-string upset the pecking order as the 16-1 outsider got a dream run up the inside rail to record a four and a half length success from the 50-1 shot Mojo Star.
Trainer Charlie Appleby was also responsible for the third, Hurricane Lane, while Mac Swiney did best of the Irish runners in fourth.
Aidan O’Brien’s 11-8 favourite Bolshoi Ballet proved a bitter disappointment and faded to seventh.
However, all focus was on Kirby who on Wednesday night was replaced by Frankie Dettori on the highly touted John Leeper.
That the 32-year-old Englishman subsequently availed of his lengthy association with Godolphin to replace Oisín Murphy on Adayar looked like meagre consolation.
Beaten in trials at Sandown and Lingfield, the son of Frankel was generally overlooked in pre-race calculations, not least because of stall one draw that usually manages to scupper Derby dreams.
Despite that, however, Kirby managed to secure a good position on Adayar just behind the pace-setter Gear Up with Bolshoi Ballet wide of him.
In the early stages Dettori was last on John Leeper, who got quite upset in the preliminaries, until making a dramatic outside move coming down the hill.
That quickly petered out as Kirby grabbed the initiative with a daring run on the inside of the weakening Gear Up.
Producing a turn of foot he hadn’t shown before, Adayar shot through and went clear to such effect the result wasn’t in doubt throughout the final furlong.
Since Appleby had to be persuaded by the Godolphin supremo Sheikh Mohammed a few days previously to allow Adayar even line up, Kirby could be forgiven for struggling to comprehend the nature of his breakthrough Classic success.
Perhaps not since Lester Piggott’s controversial replacement of Bill Williamson on Roberto in 1972 did the Derby fall-out focus so much on what jockey ended up on what horse.
Like ‘the Long Fellow’, Kirby’s unusual height for a jockey has meant his career has been a constant struggle with weight.
However, perseverance against the pressures of riding at 9st paid off in style on the biggest stage of all.
“There’s ups and down, it’s racing: but when it comes Charlie Appleby, he’s a top man. I can’t thank him enough. He’s a real gentleman and a great trainer,” Kirby said.
Having enjoyed a 16-length Oaks rout on Snowfall the day before, Dettori was an ‘also-ran’ this time as John Leeper beat only two home in ninth.
However, the most disappointed jockey had to be Murphy who endured watching the horse he had been booked to ride justify a canny gamble from 40-1 morning prices and became the first since Oath in 1999 to win from the inside draw.
That the champion jockey from Killarney was among the first to congratulate Kirby said plenty about him, as well as the winner’s popularity with colleagues.
It was a second Derby win for Appleby after Masar’s success in 2018 and characteristically he shifted credit to his employer.
“All the credit goes to Sheikh Mohammed. We spoke on Wednesday night after the horses did their breeze in the morning and I’ll be honest, I said to His Highness I couldn’t be happier with them all but I did feel this horse was more of a Leger horse.
“He said ‘Charlie run him: there’s only one Derby.’ As always he’s right. But from the team’s point of view, it’s fantastic. I’m delighted for Adam. It was a fantastic ride and it’s something all jockeys want to achieve,” Appleby reported.
O’Brien, pursuing a ninth Derby victory, and having granted the numerical edge to Godolphin with just a single runner, was left puzzled by Bolshoi Ballet’s performance.
“He just ran a bit lifeless. What the reason was, I’m not sure. It doesn’t work every day. That’s the way life is.
“I don’t want to make excuses because I don’t want to take away from the other horses. He was in the perfect position. He wants nice ground and maybe that was the reason,” he said.
Not surprisingly, bookmaker reaction, after rejoicing over a big-priced Derby one-two, was to make Adayar a 7-2 favourite for the Leger in September.
He is also a 10-1 shot for the Arc in Paris the following month, a race for which Snowfall is favourite.
The Classic focus switches to Chantilly on Sunday for the French Derby where O’Brien will try to land the Prix Du Jockey Club for the first time.
He is represented by both the favourite St Mark’s Basilica and Colin Keane’s mount Van Gogh.
“St Mark’s Basilica has been lovely since the [French] Guineas and it was always the plan to go back to France. He hasn’t run over that trip but we’re looking forward to seeing it,” O’Brien reported on Saturday.
“Van Gogh is a quality horse that won a Group One at the back end of last year and he had a very good run in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
“For him to run that well, as we took our time on him in not a strongly-run race, we were very happy with him,” he added.