European Race Report (Cont.)

"They are two very, very good horses and they had both been trained with the Derby in mind from a long way out," O'Brien said. "We thought that maybe at one time in their final preparations, one of them might tell us that the Derby was not for them, but they have been training superbly since they last ran. I honestly could not split the two of them coming into the race."

While High Chaparral has the natural next option of the Irish Derby (Ire-I, June 30) at the Curragh, the route for Hawk Wing is less clear, and will test O'Brien's skills considerably. Hawk Wing's hopes in the Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) had been scuppered by an unfavorable draw, and his Derby chances undoubtedly suffered because of the soggy ground. O'Brien said the son of Woodman could stick to 12 furlongs, drop down to the 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I, July 6), or even take a 50% cut in trip to tackle the six-furlong July Cup (Eng-I, July 11).

Whatever option is pursued, Hawk Wing badly needs a win to cement the view that it is not talent that he lacks, just luck. His reputation has been somewhat knocked by the renowned bloodstock writer Tony Morris‚ view that: "Woodman's progeny tend to do well what comes easily to them, and to fall short when demands become tough. It may well be that Hawk Wing provides the prime example."

It is sad to say that it hardly matters what happens now to any of the 10 horses behind High Chaparral and Hawk Wing. This was not a race that had any strength in depth.

Which is not a criticism that you can level at the Ballydoyle team. Winning the Derby must be a mixed blessing for its head, John Magnier. While it guarantees the lucrative arrival of another new stallion at his Coolmore empire (High Chaparral is, almost needless to say by now, a son of Sadler's Wells) it also means he has to face the media spotlight. You suspect Magnier views this task with the same enthusiasm as having his teeth fixed without an anesthetic, so shy is he of personal publicity.

"We like to run our horses in big races as much as possible. These are expensive horses and we don't want to keep them to small tracks in Ireland and the like," Magnier said. "As the year goes on, things unfold and we learn more about the horses.

"Perhaps the trials don't tell us as much as they used to. Perhaps the Guineas has taken the place of the trials. We certainly look at it that way."

Magnier said it was a "possibility" that High Chaparral and Hawk Wing could race at four, although on past form that seems highly unlikely. "Michael (Tabor) is very keen," Magnier said. You would imagine that O'Brien is, too. He has been given few chances to prove that he can keep the fire burning, or even yield improvement, when a top 3-year-old is kept in training.

A second Derby win in three years had squared a neat circle for John Murtagh, who was champion Irish apprentice in 1983 but saw his early promise nearly destroyed by drink and subsequent weight problems. The victory that marked his renaissance came on Ridgewood Pearl in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). That filly's breeder, Sean Coughlan, bred High Chaparral after buying his unraced dam Kasora for 270,000 guineas as an intended mate for his own-bred stallion Ridgewood Ben, a somewhat inferior option than Sadler's Wells.

It seems bizarre now that in the countdown to this season O'Brien had talked of Hawk Wing as a candidate for that increasingly rare triptych of the Two Thousand Guineas, Derby, and St. Leger (Eng-I, Sept. 11) over 14 furlongs.

Yet ironically we may yet have a Triple Crown candidate this year in the Godolphin filly Kazzia, who followed up her One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) success with a staunch, defiant victory in the Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) on June 7.

The German-bred filly was spotted by the Godolphin team when they were at San Siro racecourse in Italy last season to watch their older horse Slickly run. Kazzia has proved to be an inspired purchase, for she is physically not an eye-catcher. She was described unflatteringly by her jockey Frankie Dettori as a filly with masculine characteristics, the type who "has tattoos and shaves every morning."

The step up to 1 1/2 miles suited Kazzia as did the soft ground, and Dettori set off the win from the front. The 100-30 favorite was joined initially by her nearest market rival Islington but soon shrugged her off. The O'Brien-trained Quarter Moon, who would have preferred better ground, kept on surprisingly well to finish only a half-length behind in second. The gruelling nature of the race was demonstrated by the third horse, Shadow Dancing, finishing 14 lengths away.

"The ground and the distance were a big advantage for her, and although some people were inclined to rubbish the Guineas form, the way in which Gossamer and Quarter Moon ran in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) in Ireland afterwards made it look a very big race," Godolphin's racing manager Simon Crisford said.

"The big idea is to try for the fillies' Triple Crown with her, with the Irish Oaks (Ire-I, July 14) and the Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I, Aug. 21) the races we would look at on the way toward the St. Leger."

Godolphin had high hopes of winning Epsom's other group I race, the Coronation Cup, but their runners Marienbard and Kutub could only finish fourth and sixth (and last), respectively, behind Boreal. Boreal is a soft-ground lover trained in Germany by Peter Schiergen on what was a memorable day for that country's racing and breeding industries.