Russian Emperor, Mogul and possibly Vatican City look like forming the core of Aidan O’Brien’s challenge for the Derby a week on Saturday. Victory for the Irishman would break the trainer’s record of seven wins in the Epsom race, which has stood since Robert Robson was the first to reach that total in 1823, but O’Brien lacks an obvious star and the first three in the betting are trained in England.
The difficulty this year is that the three major European Derbys will take place over a period of just eight days, starting with the Irish version on Saturday evening. Speaking in a webinar organised by Curragh officials on Wednesday evening, O’Brien said it was unlikely that he would ask any horse to run in the Derby just a week after competing in Ireland.
Asked about his Epsom plans, O’Brien began by saying: “We’re thinking of running back some of the Irish Guineas horses in Epsom.” That race was just a fortnight ago and the trainer decided this weekend’s Irish Derby would come too soon for the likes of Vatican City, second in the Guineas. Though he did not mention them by name, he may also be considering Epsom for Armory, fourth in the Guineas, and the pacemaker Fort Myers.
Of Russian Emperor, a winner at Royal Ascot, O’Brien said: “He looks to have come out of it well. He hasn’t done a lot, one little bit, he seems to be in good form. Entries for Epsom are on Monday. We have him down to be entered at the moment. So far, he seems to be in good form.” O’Brien made no mention of the French Derby a week on Sunday, for which Vatican City is currently second in the betting and Russian Emperor third.
He appeared more concerned about the rushed preparation given to Mogul, a beaten favourite at Ascot. “He needed two runs, really, before the Derby but we weren’t able to get two runs into him. So we ran him in the toughest race over a mile and a half and we’re kind of asking that race to do two races’ job.
“We had worked him as hard as we could but some horses need racing to get them there. He was very vulnerable going to Ascot but we thought, going to Epsom, he probably had to have a tough mile and a half somewhere. We just felt that was as tough as we could give him and at the same time give him a chance to make it back.”
O’Brien named six horses as potential runners in the Irish Derby: Arthur’s Kingdom, Dawn Patrol, Tiger Moth, Santiago, Mythical and Serpentine. Adding spice to the rest of this weekend’s action at the Curragh, his intended runners include Magical, having her first race since winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, and Sovereign, not seen since his shock 33-1 success in last year’s Irish Derby.
He confirmed that Love, the impressive 1,000 Guineas winner, was on course for next week’s Oaks, so long as the ground does not go soft. Peaceful, his Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, is more likely to wait for the Irish Oaks later in July.
Meanwhile, English King, the Derby favourite, has had a getting-to-know-you gallop with Frankie Dettori, recently booked to ride him at Epsom. The colt’s trainer, Ed Walker, said: “Frankie just wanted to come down, get a feel for the horse and he really liked him. He really wanted to get inside the horse’s head and understand him, which is a mark of Frankie’s professionalism. He rode him for well over an hour, they got on great.
“He loves his personality, because he’s got a really big personality. He’s a playful horse, he’s not a boring horse, who just plods around the gallops. He’s a fun horse.”