O’Brien banking on Bolshoi Ballet as he bids for ninth success in Epsom Derby

Third Realm might supply the home team with a rare riposte to recent Irish dominance

Aidan O'Brien will bid to equal Lester Piggott's haul of nine wins in Saturday's Cazoo Epsom Derby.

Twenty years after Galileo gave the Irishman a first success in flat racing's 'Blue Riband' event, that sire's son Bolshoi Ballet is set to start a hot favourite for a race due off at 4.30. Unusually he is O'Brien's sole representative in a race in which he has had up to eight runners in previous years.

Other Irish hopes rest on Jim Bolger’s entrant, Mac Swiney, named after the former Mayor of Cork, Terence Mac Swiney, who died on hunger strike 101 years ago, and the outsider Southern Light, trained by O’Brien’s son, Joseph.

The latter rode two of his father’s previous Derby winners during his riding career but it is the record tally of the most famous Derby jockey of all that’s in O’Brien Snr’s sights.


Piggott’s nine winners around the unique Epsom track stretched from Never Say Die in 1954 to Teenoso in 1983 and included other legendary names such as Nijinsky and The Minstrel.

O’Brien is already the most successful trainer in the Derby’s 241-year history after unparalleled dominance that has seen him win six times in the last decade.

Jockey Ryan Moore has picked the wrong Ballydoyle horse on the last three occasions but there is no choice this time as all hopes are pinned on Bolshoi Ballet.

Like his illustrious sire did, he has won both the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Trial en-route to Epsom and has a good draw in stall nine of the 12 runners.

A total of 22 Derby winners have been trained in Ireland, starting with Orby in 1907.

Victory for Mac Swiney, also bred by Bolger, owned by his wife, Jackie, and ridden by their son-in-law, Kevin Manning, would make for an evocative success in British racing's most coveted prize.

The colt is the only classic winner in the race having defeated his stable companion Poetic Flare in the Irish 2,000 Guineas a fortnight ago.

He is also one of just two proven Group One winners among the dozen runners. The other is Mark Johnston’s outsider, Gear Up.

Testing ground

Mac Swiney’s two top-flight successes to date have been on testing ground conditions and wet weather at Epsom on Friday could aid his chances.

The Bolger-Manning team won the Derby in 2008 with Mac Swiney’s sire, New Approach, himself a son of the pre-potent Galileo.

O’Brien’s decision to rely solely on Bolshoi Ballet prompted a chain-reaction of jockey switches, the most significant of which sees Frankie Dettori on board John Leeper.

The son of the 2011 Oaks heroine Snow Fairy is named after trainer Ed Dunlop’s father, John, himself twice a Derby winning trainer.

Dettori’s second Derby victory came in 2015 on Golden Horn but that is one of just two home-trained winners in the last 10 years.

Godolphin, successful with Masar three years ago, are triple-handed with jockey Will Buick opting to ride the Dante winner Hurricane Lane.

He is one of four sons of Frankel, also by Galileo, in the field while another top sire, Sea The Stars, has three of his progeny in the line up.

Ballydoyle putting all their eggs in the Bolshoi Ballet basket underline the favourite’s credentials although that is reflected in his odds.

Looking for betting value elsewhere could mean examining Third Realm who should handle the track given he won the Lingfield Trial on easy going.

Third Realm has a low draw in two but is likely to be ridden patiently anyway.

When he was in his Derby pomp, Piggott would probably have moved heaven and earth to get on Bolshoi Ballet.

Third Realm however might supply the home team with a rare riposte to recent Irish racing dominance.

Last year’s Derby was delayed by the pandemic and took place behind closed doors. Relaxed restrictions in England mean up to 4,000 people can attend this time.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column