European Race Report: High and Mighty

European Race Report: High and Mighty
Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant
High Chaparal, right, pulls away from Hawk Wing in the Epsom Derby. At left behind Hawk Wing is the American horse Coshocton, who fell before the finish and had to be euthanized.
Published in the June 15 issue of The Blood-Horse
By Richard Griffiths
Aidan O'Brien first, the rest nowhere. We are getting used to this scenario by now and it has never been better illustrated than in the running of the 2002 Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) on June 8.

After the Godolphin colt Moon Ballad and his jockey Jamie Spencer had attempted to steal the race from the front, the contest developed into what was almost a private sweepstake at the two-furlong pole. Only two horses had yet to feel the heat of their jockeys' whips at this point. Those horses were High Chaparral and Hawk Wing. Their trainer is O'Brien.

Ballydoyle's main jockey Michael Kinane had elected to ride Hawk Wing, the 9-4 favorite, leaving John Murtagh to deputize on High Chaparral, second best in the betting at a surprisingly generous 7-2. Yet even before the gate had opened and the 12 Derby runners set off for the uphill chase around Epsom's astonishingly undulating horseshoe track, Kinane probably knew he was on the wrong horse. He had made his choice two days before the race, unaware of just how much rain had fallen the previous day. The squelchiness of the course was exacerbated by the Epsom management's decision to water it earlier in the week.

High Chaparral was regarded as the more likely stayer, even if by common consent he lacked the class and potential of Hawk Wing. Both Kinane and Murtagh had ridden supremely professional races, nursing their mounts at the rear of the field early on as a strong pace unfolded up ahead. Murtagh was the first to kick for home, knowing he had the stamina advantage. Kinane nudged and nursed Hawk Wing as far as he could, proving that the best rides aren't always the winning ones. But to no real surprise, Hawk Wing's challenge fell flat when he was asked to go past his stablemate in the final furlong. High Chaparral held the call by two lengths at the line, with Moon Ballad a further 12 lengths back in third, with the 100-1 shot Jelani a length away in fourth.

Tragically, one of the 12 runners, Coshocton fell to the turf as he passed the finishing line, and was euthanized with a broken leg. His fate seriously marred the outcome of an enthralling race. And with another challenger, Fight Your Corner, sustaining a serious leg injury, too, Epsom is in danger of being burdened with an unwanted reputation as too stern a course and the Derby too stern a race for the increasingly brittle 3-year-old generation.

O'Brien was winning the Derby for the second year in a row, following Galileo's 2001 triumph, and became the first trainer since 1946 to saddle the first two home.

At 32, he was the youngest trainer with a runner in the race, yet once again he outclassed his seniors by producing both horses at their absolute peak. It can easily be said--and his critics do--that O'Brien would be a poor trainer indeed not to produce the results he does, such is the astonishing depth of blue-blooded colts at his disposal. But to decry his achievements would be absurd. Having access to such talent is one thing; having the vision, patience, understanding, and ability to ensure it reaches its optimum is another matter entirely.

Continued...

(Chart, Sporting Life)

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