When Santiago crossed the finish line first in the Irish Derby (G1), he led a sweep of the first four spots for trainer Aidan O’Brien, who was winning the Curragh classic for the 14th time. It was an embarrassment of riches for the Ballydoyle contingent; six of the 14 runners were trained by O’Brien, whose sons Joseph and Donnacha also trained three more of the entries.
Attacking the classic races with as many horses as possible has been O’Brien’s modus operandi, and it has gotten results. He also finished first, second, and third in the 2019 Irish Derby, and has swept the top three spots seven times.
Now he will take aim on the 2020 Epsom Derby – officially known as the Investec Derby – to be run July 4 over 1 ½ miles. 19 of the 48 possible entries hail from the O’Brien outfit, with names like Russian Emperor, Mogul, Vatican City, and Armory among the possibilities. He has also mentioned that Santiago may wheel back as well, as of today he is not on the entry list however.
With seven wins in the world’s oldest classic horserace, O’Brien is already tied as the winningest Epsom Derby trainer of all time. He seeks to hold the record on his own after Saturday’s contest.
The Irish trainer’s Derby prowess began in 2001, when he campaigned Galileo to victory. That mighty runner has gone on to sire four more Derby winners himself; three of those were trained by O’Brien.
While seven wins seems like a staggering amount, O’Brien has started 71 horses in the race since 2005. That is by far more than any other trainer; runner up John Gosden has started 17 in the same amount of time. There have been 210 total runners in the race since 2005, with O’Brien holding 34% of the entries over the last 14 years.
That said, O’Brien is certainly beatable in this edition of the Epsom Derby. He typically ships horses over from Ireland for Derby trials at Chester, Lingfield, and York; but only Lingfield was able to run their prep race in 2020 owing to British racing being shut down for the coronavirus pandemic, and O’Brien did not send a runner. Some of his horses are a bit behind those that were able to get a prep in, and the recent Royal Ascot meeting showed that horses who were able to have a run or two in 2020 did better than those making their first starts of the year.
O’Brien has lost with the Epsom Derby post time favorite four times, with Fame and Glory missing to Sea the Stars, Jan Vermeer running fourth behind Workforce, US Army Ranger second to Harzand, and Saxon Warrior finishing fourth to Masar. In 2019, O’Brien started favored Sir Dragonet to be fifth, but ultimately won the race with Anthony Van Dyck.
Much like trainer Bob Baffert in the United States, O’Brien has shown his “other” runner often cannot be dismissed at a price. He won the race in 2017 with 40 – 1 Wings of Eagles, and finished second at 100 – 1 with At First Sight in 2010. Dylan Thomas was third at 25 – 1 in 2006, and Japan finished third last year at 20 – 1.
Some horses who might be able to defeat him Saturday are English King and Kameko. English King is the likely race favorite after taking Lingfield’s Derby Trial June 5 by nearly three lengths. American-bred Kameko, by Kitten’s Joy, has won his last two starts including the first leg of the English Triple Crown, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas (G1) on June 6.
Many eyes will be on Ocean Atlantique for Andre Fabre. The American Pharoah colt was an eight-length maiden winner in France last year, and won a listed French stakes race on May 31.
I am personally going to back Pyledriver, who won the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot as an 18 – 1 surprise, defeating O’Brien runners Arthur’s Kingdom and Mogul, both of which could be entered in the Derby.