Aidan O’Brien discusses his Epsom Derby contenders

June 1, 2021

Cazoo Derby record holder Aidan O’Brien spoke to the media today ahead of the Cazoo Derby Festival at Epsom, England, on Friday and Saturday 4 and 5 June.

The eight-time winning Epsom Derby handler currently has six horses among the 19 colts remaining in contention for the 1 mile 4 furlong race.

Among the O’Brien six are the first and second favorites, Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition, respectively. 

Bolshoi Ballet, an eye-catching winner of the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (1m 2f) at Leopardstown last month, is a son of Coolmore’s perennial champion sire Galileo out of the Anabaa mare Alta Anna. Prior to that, the Coolmore partners and Westerberg-owned colt won the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes (1m 2f), also at Leopardstown. 

“This has been Bolshoi’s target all the way,” explained O’Brien, who first landed the premier Classic with Galileo 20 years ago. 

“(His last piece of work) showed us that he is happy and well. The plan was always to travel him last year so we wouldn’t have to travel him in the spring/early summer this year and that went well. The plan was to do the two trials in Ireland, both at Leopardstown. Both of those went well. He came out of Leopardstown well last time and everything has been smooth since,” the Ballydoyle conditioner added.

The County Wexford-born trainer’s second major chance, on paper at least, of winning a ninth Cazoo Derby, is another son of Galileo, High Definition, a colt out of a Fastnet Rock mare called Palace. He is also owned by the Coolmore partners and Westerberg and was a winner twice last year, including in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at The Curragh. 

On his season debut this year, High Definition was a staying on third in the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York, England. Despite being beaten in the race, his handler was very happy with the result, considering the circumstances, as he explained:

“He didn’t have a clear passage to York. We were delighted to get the run into him as it looked like we weren’t going to get the run into him the week before. If that had have happened it would have proved a mountain to Epsom straight away.”

While High Definition may not have as much time between his final prep race and the Cazoo Derby as his stable companion Bolshoi Ballet, a blood issue is O’Brien’s primary concern ahead of this coming weekend:

“The little thing he got in his blood, we don’t know where it came from or where it went but it was there for four or five days. We will be a little bit on tenterhooks tomorrow when he is blooded in the morning to see which way that comes back.”

Describing him as “a horse with loads of class,” Aidan O’Brien feels the usual fast pace at Epsom will play to High Definition’s strengths:

“You very rarely get a Derby when it is not a strong even pace. He does make up ground very quickly on horses even though you might see the jockey starting to move on him.”

Van Gogh, by American Pharoah out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Imagine, is another possible runner for Team Ballydoyle on Saturday. The Coolmore partners own the 2020 Group 1 Criterium International winner at Saint-Cloud, France, with Diane Nagle of Barronstown Stud in County Wicklow. 

Running in the colours of Michael Tabor, Van Gogh could only manage eighth place on his 2021 seasonal debut in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, England, before taking a credible third place in the recent Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh behind the Jim Bolger-handled winner Mac Swiney (who will re-oppose in the Cazoo Derby next weekend) and Poetic Flare.

The Master of Ballydoyle explained that Van Gogh also has the option of running in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly over 1 mile 2 furlongs instead of the longer 1 mile 4 furlong Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

“Van Gogh has an option for France as well,” stated O’Brien. “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 (Tattersalls) Irish 2000 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. The lads (Coolmore partners) have an option of going to France with him. It will be very interesting wherever we go with him next time,” he added. 

The top trainer seems to have a concern about Van Gogh staying the mile and a half distance at Epsom:

“I’m not sure about the mile and a half. I thought he would get a mile and a quarter. He always works like a horse with plenty of class and with that type of horse you can never be sure (of the trip) until they go there. His dam (Imagine) won the Oaks and he is by American Pharoah so you couldn’t be sure about the mile and a half but you would think there is a real good chance he will get a mile and a quarter but he could get more.”

Two of the other colts O’Brien and Coolmore currently in the line-up were also briefly mentioned, namely Kyprios and Sir Lamorak. The former is by Galileo (the sire of five Cazoo Derby winners), the latter by Camelot. Kyprios is owned by Moyglare Stud Farm – which is based in County Kildare – with the Coolmore partnership, and finished in fourth in his most recent race, the Listed Lingfield Derby Trial in England.

Sir Lamorak is out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, Simply A Star, and carries the colours of Derrick Smith, one of the Coolmore owners. Though he has not contested races at the top level, he came to attention when impressing in a Leopardstown handicap in April. He missed his intended Epsom prep race, the Chester Vase, last month due to unsuitable ground conditions. 

Discussing the pair that would be considered Ballydoyle outsiders, O’Brien, who is responsible for six of the nine Irish-trained colts still in the Cazoon Derby, said:

“(With) Kyprios everything seems well, but both he and Sir Lamorak, have other options. He had a nice run at Lingfield and we think he has come forward for it. Sir Lamorak won a handicap last time at Leopardstown.”

The inexperienced, The Mediterranean, another Galileo colt, bred by Lynch Bages Ltd and Rhinestone Bloodstock, and also trained by O’Brien for the Coolmore owners, was not discussed during the half hour discussion with the media today.

With 19 colts confirmed at present for the Group 1 Cazoon Derby on Saturday 5 June 2021, the final declaration stage at 10.00am GMT on Thursday 3 June could possibly see a reduction in the final line-up for the premier Classic. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Jockey Club/ Epsom Downs Racecourse 

Contributing Authors

Breandán Ó hUallacháin

Breandán Ó hUallacháin lives in Ireland and writes specifically about Irish, British and French horseracing, both National Hunt and Flat. He has an interest in...

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