US Army Ranger to spearhead Coolmore bid for sixth Derby win
Top handler Aidan O’Brien hints Guineas filly Minding likely to take chance in the Oaks
Aidan O’Brien with US Army Ranger: “It tests every fibre of their body; twisting, turning, having to stay, having to use their speed, that’s the Derby.” Photograph: Caroline Norris
John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith are the money behind Ballydoyle so Aidan O’Brien often appears to defer to “the lads” when it comes to big decisions. But at the world’s most famous racing stables his is the voice that literally counts.
The Ballydoyle motto, from when the legendary Vincent O’Brien first carved it out of Co Tipperary farmland, has always been one of progression and attention to detail. Fundamentals such as the maze of gallops which include a representation of Epsom’s Tattenham Corner famously allowed ‘MV’ train half a dozen Derby winners.
Less than four weeks out from the world’s greatest classic, his successor has a chance to emulate that Derby tally with a handful of classic prospects that mightn’t have convinced everyone so far but whose progress to potential glory is being supervised by racing’s most thorough operation.
The latest manifestation of that thoroughness is how each rider carries an earpiece which allows them to get instructions from the trainer even while galloping on half a tonne of thoroughbred. And it’s not just the riders.
“It’s useful and it makes everyone feel included.”
If it all faintly sounds like a combination of Big Brother and management-speak, there’s no arguing with the results produced by Ballydoyle’s ‘una voce’ in his 20 spectacular years at the helm.
Minding’s 1,000 Guineas success was ‘AP’s’ 250th Group One victory, the top-flight wins which define the sport but also the business of Magnier & Co’s Coolmore Stud which has dominated for decades on the back of a remorseless stream of potential stallions from their racing maestro.
Their greatest and most lucrative sire, Galileo, is the Coolmore ideal, an exceptional racehorse – O’Brien’s first Derby hero in 2001 – who retires to stud and produces a dynasty.
There is irony then in the suspicion that Ballydoyle’s outstanding three year old in 2016 could be Minding, a filly rated favourite for the Derby ‘with a run’ but whose participation could send out a commercially sensitive signal that her male stable companions mightn’t be up to much.
On the back of Air Force Blue’s 2,000 Guineas flop as an odds-on favourite this means the pressure is on in earnest, a pressure hardly helped by the Derby sponsors, Investec, landing a Monday morning media platoon on O’Brien.
He’s 46 now, his four kids either finished school or in college; the eldest, Joseph, already training himself; and O’Brien is in his 20th year of the most high-profile and pressurised training role in racing.
The 160 horses in his care this year are worth an estimated €200 million. Coolmore’s demand for new sires with a classic CV is remorseless. But if he’s feeling stress the trainer hides it convincingly, possibly because he reckons the hack pack have it wrong – again.
“I know everyone’s knocking this horse but they shouldn’t,” says O’Brien as he observes US Army Ranger pounding up the gallops.
“If we hadn’t run Port Douglas, he’d have won by eight lengths and everyone would have latched on to him,” O’Brien points out. “It was a big effort. The poor horse was so green he practically asked Ryan (Moore) afterwards what was after happening!”
The two races US Army Ranger has won are the same two Ruler Of The World scored in before winning the 2013 Derby. Another colt, Deauville, will try and earn a Derby spot in Thursday’s Dante after which “the lads” will decide who goes where and for what.
“In my experience, as the lads have got older, they’re not as commercial minded as they were. They want to be racing and with the best chance of winning,” O’Brien says before appearing to spike hopes that Minding might get the chance to be first filly in 18 years to try and beat the Derby colts.
“The lads like to win races and also do right by their horses so it mightn’t be the right thing by Minding to throw her into the Derby. I imagine that’s the way the lads will be thinking and she could go for the Oaks,” he suggests significantly.
So it looks like US Army Ranger will lead his trainer’s assault on a sixth Derby success.
“It tests every fibre of their body; twisting, turning, having to stay, having to use their speed, that’s the Derby,” O’Brien says. It’s said in a voice of classic authority.