O’Brien dampens expectations that Santiago could run at Epsom

Trainer is looking to make it an eighth win in the big race after Irish Derby success

Santiago and Seamie Heffernan after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at Curragh Racecourse. Photo: PA Wire

After a 14th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby victory with Santiago at the weekend, Aidan O’Brien turns his attention towards a potential record-breaking eighth success in this Saturday’s Investec Derby at Epsom.

The Irishman shares a record seven wins in racing’s ‘Blue Riband’ with a trio of legendary English trainers from the past – Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling.

However, O’Brien can carve out a unique status for himself should one of his apparently burgeoning team of runners emerge victorious at Saturday’s unprecedented behind closed doors Derby.

The shape of that team will become more clear at Monday’s acceptance stage although Santiago seems unlikely to figure.


Having indicated it was “not impossible” that Saturday evening’s Curragh hero might try and double up at Epsom, O’Brien nevertheless didn’t appear enthusiastic about it later on Sunday.

Having dutifully said the decision will be for John Magnier and the other Coolmore Stud partners, he also pointed out how Santiago is “only flesh and blood” and has already had two races in the space of just eight days.

However, horses that finished behind him on Saturday, such as runner up Tiger Moth and the third, Dawn Patrol, might enter the Epsom equation.

That’s despite O’Brien having previously indicated he didn’t think any of his horses would be asked to run in both Derbies.


However, the rare scenario provoked by the coronavirus pandemic has so many parameters, to the extent that even Saturday’s impressive nine-length maiden winner Serpentine might also now be in the Epsom Derby mix.

Considering Vatican City, Russian Emperor, Mogul, Mythical and Amhran Na Bhfiann, are already committed to Epsom there is the potential for a bumper Ballydoyle lineup on Saturday.

O’Brien saddled seven of the 13 runners in last year’s Derby won by Anthony Van Dyck. His largest ever amount of Derby runners however came in 2007 with eight.

“It’s possible that some of the horses that ran yesterday could be put into the Derby tomorrow and that’s including the horse that won the maiden (Serpentine.)

“Mogul, Russian Emperor, Vatican City and Armory are all possibles although Armory may go to France (for Sunday’s Prix Du Jockey Club.)

“Mogul was the (Derby) horse all winter and we were only going to get one run into him so we put him in the toughest trial (King Edward VII Stakes.) He was going to be exposed a little more and he’s come on a lot since.

“Whether he’ll be ready in time or not I don’t know. He’s lazy at home and is a big round horse.

“Vatican City is a brother to Gleneagles and you couldn’t be sure about him getting the trip. The (Irish) Guineas was a slowly run race and he was going to the line like a tiger.

“Ryan (Moore) will be given all the information that we can give him to make a decision (on what to ride),” O’Brien said .

For the first time ever Epsom will host both the Oaks and the Derby on the same day.

If the colts race appears wide open then there is bookmaker unanimity that O’Brien’s Love is the one to beat in the Oaks. Her biggest danger, in a likely battle of the 1,000 Guineas winners, might even turn out to be her stable companion, Peaceful.

O’Brien and Seamus Heffernan added to their Curragh Derby victory on Sunday with a hat-trick highlighted by Magical’s Group One winning return to action in the Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes.

Paying off

Having been retired to stud at the end of last season the decision to bring Magical back into training looks like paying off in style.

The 2-5 favourite made all against four rivals to win with ease and backed up O’Brien’s subsequent assertion that the five-year-old mare transformed and improved physically over the winter.

A clash with her old rival Enable in next Sunday’s Eclipse will probably get skipped – allowing Japan to take his chance at Sandown – but the King George is likely to be the first in a familiar series of top races leading back to another tilt at the Arc.

“She’s very exciting and always has been but she’s got stronger this year and that’s why the lads decided to leave her in training.

“You usually see a big change between three to four but something really strange happened the way she changed over the winter to this year. It’s very obvious the power she has now.

“She had been working brilliantly but we knew that she could come on plenty as well,” O’Brien said.

Earlier, Heffernan had guided the two-year-old Hudson River to a winning debut while Napa Valley made it two from two in the three-year-old conditions event.

The Derby-winning rider enjoyed less luck in the opener however as the 4-7 favourite Snowfall was lucky not to come down when appearing to clip heels with the eventual winner Aunty Bridy.