Patient Levey’s dream comes true with 1,000 Guineas triumph

Jockey who spent nine years at Ballydoyle delivers 66-1 winner Billesdon Brook

Aidan O'Brien's Kentucky Derby dream came to nothing on Saturday but he still emerged from the weekend with a Triple Crown prospect and a key role in Sean Levey riding the longest-priced QIPCO 1,000 Guineas winner ever.

Billesdon Brook's 66-1 success at Newmarket on Sunday put to bed any chance of O'Brien sweeping the British classics this year as the 11-4 favourite Happily had to settle for third behind the shock winner.

On the back of Mendelssohn finishing last in the Kentucky Derby, that outcome brought an unusual sense of anti-climax to a classic weekend that began in such style for Ballydoyle with Saxon Warrior giving the trainer a 300th career Group One in the 2,000 Guineas.

And it’s the power of Ballydoyle and flat racing’s other major operations that helped make Levey’s success in the fillies classic so remarkable.


Billesdon Brook’s ‘SP’ was inevitably the immediate focus but her jockey’s story has been one of beating the odds too.

Born in Swaziland, Levey, 30, moved to Ireland when he was ten. Both his parents started working at O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard and their son also rode out there. Levey has praised O'Brien as a "great influence" on his career but after almost nine years at Ballydoyle he moved to Britain in 2011.

So as an integral part of Richard Hannon’s team for some time, Billesdon Brook was an entirely appropriate way for Levey to break his Group One duck.

Levey admitted: “That’s a massive shock to me! I’ve come out and said she needs to find 17lbs. Where she’s found that from I don’t know.

"She ran in the Nell Gwyn and was a little bit gassy so she ran well to be fourth. I've had plenty of winners and have ridden in plenty of races. I've always needed a Group One, the good horse, and that's happened today," he said.

Billesdon Brook had less than two lengths in hand of Laurens (7-1) with Happily in third.

In Kentucky Mendelssohn’s Derby tilt was in trouble even before the race began. Torrential rain in Louisville turned the dirt track sloppy. The Irish hope then got a bump at the start and never looked happy as the favourite Justify won well.

Total extreme

“Everyone was of the opinion that if you don’t get a good start your race is over in those conditions. Because of the bad kickback, when it rains it’s demoralising for a horse,” O’Brien said on Sunday.

“Ryan even said when he cantered to the start he was uncomfortable because it was coming up underneath him. It was a total extreme and we weren’t prepared for that,” he added.

Ballydoyle's immediate focus will switch to Saxon Warrior's attempt on the Epsom Derby. The Japanese-bred colt gave O'Brien's 19-year-old son Donnacha his own first classic on Saturday and is now an overwhelming Derby favourite.

Ryan Moore will be in Naas for a valuable Bank Holiday Monday card where Cliffs Of Moher is joined by stable companion Yucatan for the Group Two Coolmore Mooresbridge Stakes.

Both were behind their stable companion Capri in last month’s Alleged Stakes here and Moore is on Cliffs Of Moher despite last year’s Derby runner-up finishing half a length behind Yucatan.

Ground conditions will be much better this time and while Cliffs Of Moher's overall profile has made him expensive to follow, Yucatan looks the most open to improvement.

Dermot Weld has Irish 2,000 Guineas ambitions for Imaging which probably require him to win the Tetrarch. His stable companion Yulong Gold Fairy looks an Athasi Stakes pick.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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