Irish Invasion: O'Brien Trainees In Classic Sweep

As the sun set over Epsom Downs on Derby (Eng-I) night, it was hard to banish the feeling that an invading army had swept across leafy Surrey on June 8, and then come back to finish off the few survivors on June 9. It wasn't the foot soldiers, estimated at 150,000, by far the biggest Derby crowd in years, that did the damage, rather a dedicated mounted Irish strike force that had purists of the sport marveling at their skill and audacity.

On Friday, June 8, Imagine won the Vodafone Oaks (Eng-I) for 3-year-old fillies for owners Susan Magnier and Diane Nagle, trainer Aidan O'Brien, and jockey Michael Kinane, the same group who had connected three years ago with Shahtoush. Twenty-four hours later, Magnier, this time with Michael Tabor, was back in the winner's circle after the Vodafone Derby with Galileo, a first Derby winner for both owners and O'Brien but a second for stable jockey Kinane after Commander in Chief in 1993.

To emphasize the domination, Coolmore Stud stallion Sadler's Wells, Europe's perennial leading sire, fathered the first three home in the Oaks and Galileo, his first Derby winner.

"He (Galileo) has an incredible pedigree (out of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Fr-I, winner Urban Sea) which is exciting from our point of view," said Coolmore boss John Magnier. "It has been a fallacy about Sadler's Wells not being able to get a Derby winner. He has had endless Oaks winners and Coronation Cup (Eng-I) winners and if (his progeny) ever do start to act around here (the tricky Epsom layout), I don't know what they are going to do!"

The 12-furlong Derby field comprised a dozen 3-year-old colts, Galileo starting joint 11-4 favorite with Lord Weinstock's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) winner Golan, who had headed the market since his early May triumph over Newmarket's straight mile. Golan, a son of Coolmore stallion Spectrum, figured to get the trip, and his action suggested to trainer Michael Stoute that he would satisfactorily negotiate Epsom's downhill, left-handed Tattenham Corner. Pat Eddery picked up the mount when stable jockey Kieren Fallon was handed a three-day suspension for a minor riding infraction at Ayr in Scotland. His appeal led to the Jockey Club retaining Fallon's £400 deposit for the frivolity of the action. (Coolmore completed a Derby Eve deal for the breeding rights to Golan, but will have nothing to do with his racing career, according to Magnier.)

Stoute also gave breakfast to the 222nd Derby's fourth-favorite, Dante Stakes (Eng-II) winner Dilshaan, on whom rider Johnny Murtagh was hoping to duplicate his 2000 victory aboard Sinndar. Also in the mix was Godolphin's Tobougg, a last chance for the boys in "royal" blue--Susan Magnier's silks are "dark blue," Weinstock's "pale blue" with a white and yellow cap. Godolphin's other contender, Dante runner-up Celtic Silence, came up lame after working two weeks before the big day.

Trainer Barry Hills, a four-time runner-up in the Derby, also known as the "Blue Riband," sent out four runners in the race in search of his first win. Mr Combustible, sporting the silks of Canadian Dick Bonnycastle, proved best of the bunch while finishing fourth, beaten fewer than four lengths. What the British like to call the world's greatest race, like its Kentucky equivalent, isn't immune to no-hopers. Irish owner/trainer Luke Comer sending out 300-1 Cashel Bay to finish last after his 66-1 Chimes At Midnight had filled the same position behind Mutafaweq in the previous afternoon's six-runner Coronation Cup.

With Galileo and Golan the only undefeated runners in the field, the gates sprang open with an uphill six furlongs facing the field. Galileo raced in fifth along the rail for the first furlong before the field tracked across the course to the inside rail on the horseshoe-shaped layout. Now on the outside of three, behind pacemakers Mr Combustible and Perfect Sunday, Kinane was sitting quietly as his mount was manifestly having no problem attending the modest pace. Golan was tracking the eventual winner while Tobougg, the Two Thousand Guineas flop but backed from 20-1 to 9-1 on Derby Day, raced at the back of the field.

Reaching the crest of the hill with 5 1/2 furlongs to run, Kinane was poised to deliver his challenge on the outside and, to most observers, nothing looked likely to touch him in the final rush to glory. Mr Combustible drove clear into the 3 1/2-furlong straight, but Galileo moved smoothly down the outside to claim the lead a quarter-mile out. From there it was a procession, Galileo going away as first Golan and then Tobougg, both the subjects of a stewards' inquiry in the late stages, made passive bids.

Three and one-half lengths separated the winner and Golan, who was anything but fluent down the hill. It was another neck back to Tobougg. Then followed Mr Combustible, Storming Home, Perfect Sunday, Dilshaan, maiden Putra Sandhurst, Sunny Glenn, Chancellor, King Carew, and Cashel Bay. The smallest Derby field since a dozen ran in 1989 completed the 12-furlong course in the second-fastest time ever, 2:33.27, less than one second outside Lammtarra's 1995 record. Galileo earned £580,000 ($800,255) from the £1-million purse for his third win of the year.

O'Brien said Galileo's first two wins this term had been a "dawdle," but when his workload was increased in preparation for Epsom, "he improved 15 to 18 lengths to what he was doing before. I've never had a horse show me that speed before. This horse finds it very easy to go fast, and he has an action that he could gallop on water."

To some at the post-Derby press conference it seemed a touch of braggadocio when the trainer outlined his plans for Galileo.

"It has been my dream to run him at Sandown after this (Eclipse Stakes, Eng-I, 10 furlongs), then in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I, 8 furlongs), and then go for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)."

Giant's Causeway finished second in the Classic to Tiznow last year when Kinane lost his reins for a stride late in the Churchill Downs stretch. Bookmaker Coral make Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Point Given their 7-4 favorite for the Classic with Galileo second choice at 4-1.

Later the 31-year-old trainer admitted he could be talked out of the plan, and the following day Galileo seemed destined to follow the more traditional route to the Budweiser Irish Derby (Ire-I, July 1). It would give the 41-year-old Kinane a chance to win his country's greatest race for the first time. "I wasn't worried by the lack of pace today, I just always wanted to be handy," said the rider, who came out of stall 10 in both classics. "I knew as soon as I quickened that nothing would catch me unless it sprouted wings. He (Galileo) has serious pace and a drop back in distance won't bother him. Wherever he goes, I'll turn up and at least I won't have to pick which one to ride."

Kinane had chosen to partner Toroca in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) two weeks earlier, but Imagine was victorious when the Curragh course was softened by rain. O'Brien turned another classic double that weekend when Black Minnaloushe bagged the Irish Two Thousand (Ire-I) with Kinane aboard favored Minardi.

Continued . . .