Master of Ballydoyle and perennial Champion Trainer in his native Ireland, Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore empire he serves registered a record equalling seventh Derby victory when Anthony Van Dyck landed a thrilling renewal of the 1m4f Blue Riband of British racing, and Seamie Heffernan finally had his day in the Derby sun. Seven of the 240th Derby’s 13 runners represented the Ballydoyle team, and so did five of the first six horses past the winning post. With the Kevin Prendergast-trained Madhmoon taking a marvellous second, this was a contest in which Ireland exerted total domination over the humbled British defence. A horse blanket would have separated O’Brien’s first four finishers, the minuscule margins that divided Anthony Van Dyck, Japan, Broome and Sir Dragonet underlining just why their trainer once again entered Derby battle ‘mob handed’.
O’Brien quite simply did not know which of his blue blooded team would prove best; Ryan Moore was on favourite Sir Dragonet but he was not on the right one. Nor was the trainer’s son Donnacha aboard Broome. That left the way clear for 46yo Ballydoyle squad member Heffernan, who on his 12th Derby ride, and having twice finished second, provided Anthony Van Dyck with typically flawless assistance, delivering him from off the pace with the irresistible charge that gave him the finest moment of his racing life. “It was only a matter of time,” observed the normally deadpan Heffernan, tongue firmly in cheek, when asked about the lengthy wait to break his Derby duck.
That triggered much laughter in the press conference, during which O’Brien said with pleasure and pride: “As a horseman and jockey Seamus is second to none. I can’t tell you how delighted we are for him.” For Heffernan’s employer this was a day when he caused another rewriting of the record books. Exactly ten years to the day former Ballydoyle legend Vincent O’Brien passed away; the man who now rules racing’s most celebrated Thoroughbred training establishment moved past his predecessor’s tally of six Derby triumphs to take a share of the record for Derby wins. Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling, whose Epsom honours were spread out between 1793 and 1941, also sent out seven winners of the premier Classic.
They will be record holders for not much longer, for as certain as night follows day is the inevitability O’Brien will turn seven into eight. Helping him do that will be sire supreme Galileo, who became O’Brien’s first winner of this iconic sporting jewel in 2001 and has now produced four subsequent winners. Galileo’s latest brilliant boy bagged a Derby in which stable companion Sovereign made most of the running until the home straight, first giving way to Norway, who then conceded to another stablemate Sir Dragonet, by which point chief British hopes Telecaster and Bangkok were both already well beaten. Sheikh Hamdan’s Madhmoon fought hard to give 86yo Prendergast a first Derby success, but while he and Chris Hayes beat six members of the Ballydoyle septet, Anthony Van Dyck was too hot to handle.
“I knew he would do it when I needed him,” said Heffernan. “I decided to go down the inside and I needed a bit of luck, but I was always happy. “I was beaten in this race with a favourite, Fame And Glory in 2009, and then finished second on a 100/1 shot the next year. It means a lot to win it; I wasn’t going to give up without winning one!” O’Brien knew neither jockey nor horse would give up in the final stages of what became a pulsating Derby denouement. He also knew the Lingfield Trial winner would not be failed by a jockey who began his racing career picking up stones and dock leaves for Arthur Moore. “Seamus is an unbelievable fella and a genuinely world class jockey. He always has been,” said O’Brien.
“We have known each other a long time and we worked with each other before Ballydoyle. He has ridden so many placed horses, so many big horses and won many top races all over the world. He puts it all in, day in, day out, and he is incredibly experienced as a horseman and jockey.” O’Brien was keen to hand out the plaudits to Heffernan, as were the winning owners, but Heffernan and those owners also know no cog is more vital in the remarkable Ballydoyle operation than the trainer. “It is incredible really,” said O’Brien, when asked about winning the Derby seven times in the space of only 18 years. “We never thought we would be in the position we are now. We have to pinch ourselves every day. We’re working with the best people, the most incredible horses with the unbelievable pedigrees and physiques, and in the best facilities. Everyone is totally involved in it.
We feel in a unique position.” Earlier, Zaaki graduated to Group Three glory as he produced a determined display for Ryan Moore in the Diomed Stakes over an extended mile. Sir Michael Stoute’s charge was placed at this level last term, including at Royal Ascot, and registered a narrow Listed success over Barney Roy on his seasonal bow at Ascot last month. Sent off hot favourite, Zaaki appeared to have plenty still to do at the top of the hill sitting a handful of lengths off the leading trio, with Bye Bye Hong Kong setting the pace. However, when Moore gave the signal with a couple of furlongs to run, Zaaki started to extend himself and hit the front inside the final furlong. Oh This Is Us tried to launch a final bid down the outside, but Zaaki had him covered and went on to triumph by a length. Richard Hannon was out of luck with Oh This Is Us but still celebrated a ‘red letter’ day for the trainer as he saddled his 1,000th winner.
Anna Nerium chalked up the landmark success as she swooped late in the Group 3 Princess Elizabeth Stakes, also over the extended mile but restricted to fillies and mares. Hannon said: “It’s great. I’ve had a lot of seconds lately and it’s great to do it on a day like this.” Ornate was never headed in the big handicap of the fixture, the 5f ‘Dash’. Having been in good form on the allweather during the winter, the David Griffiths-trained 6yo made a winning return to turf action at Newmarket in April. However, having since finished out of the places in the Palace House at Newmarket and the Duke of York Stakes, Ornate was among the outsiders for what is traditionally one of the most competitive sprint handicaps of the year but he belied his odds with a tremendous display. A fast start enabled jockey Phil Dennis to navigate his mount from his low draw to the centre of the track and he was soon leading the chasing pack at a furious pace.
Several rivals threw down challenges deep inside the final furlong, but Ornate was not for passing and had enough in hand to hold the runner-up Dark Shot at bay. Griffiths said: “I’m delighted. We probably fancied Duke Of Firenze, who was seventh, a little bit more because of the draw, as he was drawn on the nearside rail which is the place you want to be, and we were right on the other side with Ornate. “I thought he was seriously well handicapped off 99. He has so much speed, but I didn’t expect him to be tanking along that fast as it is a quick 5f here.”