Aidan O’Brien is no stranger to saddling well-fancied runners in Classics on both sides of the Irish Sea. So much so, that a lot of his 2-y-o progeny head the markets before even gracing the racecourse, such is their impeccable breeding.
It’s more of the same this year, as although things haven’t exactly gone smoothly during many Classic preparations, the well-regarded US Army Ranger arrives unbeaten and is likely to go off close to favourite along with Dante winner Wings of Desire.
The vibes have been strong about US Army Ranger and he was still rather green when just seeing off a rather carefully-ridden Port Douglas last time out. He is sure to improve for that run but he is short enough given any greenness will be punished on the unique undulations at Epsom.
O’Brien also had the option – well, he still does – of saddling recent French 2000 Guineas winner, The Gurkha. The manner in which he strode away in the French Classic was visually very impressive, yet he looks to be swerving Epsom where he will head to Royal Ascot.
On a side note, The Gurkha v Galileo Gold v Atwaad will be some race in the St James’ Palace.
Back to Epsom and O’Brien’s string. Beacon Rock landed a Group 3 last week but looks set to swerve Epsom (probably as he’s carrying my ante-post money from last year), while the consistent Deauville ran a nice enough race at York to suggest he could mount a challenge.
This in turn means Idaho may go into the race as AOB’s ‘third-string’.
There was plenty of confidence about the colt as he reappeared in the Derrinstown Derby Trial, a race in which AOB has sent out the winner on nine of the last 16 occasions, with subsequent Derby winners Galileo and High Chaparral among those on the illustrious roll of honour.
Ryan Moore didn’t ride the colt at Leopardstown as connections felt Shogun would have had a better chance had the ground remained on the quicker side, yet it may have been a case of given potential Derby rider Seamie Heffernan a chance to get a feel of riding the colt.
He certainly will have learned a lot as he gave the three-year-old too much to do that day, coming round the bend five-wide before staying on eye-catchingly well close home. He finished third behind Moonlight Magic and Shogun, yet if you ran that race again, it would be fair to suggest he would have solid claims of reversing the form with the winner, who had the run of the race.
Moonlight Magic, incidently, has been given very bullish reviews by Jim Bolger at Breakfast With The Stars, saying he wouldn’t swap his Derby charge with anything. A good sign for those perhaps unlucky in behind?
Four different jockeys have ridden Idaho in his four races, so a return to the plate for Heffernan would be a boost to his chances given he knows his style of running.
He is a son of Galileo out of a Danehill mare, so stamina is no issue and he has ran well on ground ranging from good to heavy, so conditions shouldn’t affect his chances too much.
After scoring on debut, which is somewhat of a surprising rarity for many of O’Brien’s major stars, he could only manage fourth on bottomless ground in a Group 1 at Saint-Cloud. He was subsequently put away for a break and made a nice enough reappearance behind the already race-fit Harzard in the Ballysax Stakes.
It was a nice performance given how uneasy he was at the start and after picking up the running a furlong and a half out, he looked set to stay there until the stamina-proven Harzand (who reappears at Epsom but could be more of a St Leger horse) ran him down close home. The pair pulled clear of the field and it suggested Idaho had retained plenty of ability.
He will stay better than most at Epsom and although he can get a little edgy at the start, he showed signs of maturity on his last racecourse visit.
Given his form figures of 1423, he may not strike as a typical O’Brien Derby horse but at a current 28/1, he is a big enough price to appear each-way value.
He should be finishing best of all down the straight and if he finds his rhythm early enough, he may well do more than run into a place.
Top Selection – Epsom Derby:
Idaho @ 28/1 (Betway, 25/1 Various)