Before events even began on the Downs we saw shots of Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien conversing in the Epsom parade ring. While small talking, little did Bolger know what had been plotted up by his former apprentice, in the hope of unshipping the unbeaten Dawn Approach. Hope from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle team quickly escalated once the four o’clock showpiece got under way. After the opening seventeen or so strides Dawn Approach’s chestnut head could be seen thrashing about running free– an early bump from Mirsaale not doing his chances any favours. From here, it steadily got worse for the 2000 Guineas winner and his followers as his ‘head banging’ now resembled a deadly predator in attack mode, a Great White Shark.
In essence, it was the exact opposite the Godolphin runner wanted to do. Equine instinct had now kicked in and he was running on ‘fear’ – it was fight or flight and with horses, the majority of the time it’s the latter. While he was battling with Kevin Manning it probably looked quite horrific to the non-racing type, viewing. Even some of the professionals felt he was ‘out of control’. Very few of the game’s most loyal watching, would’ve liked seeing it either. Even Aidan O’Brien himself. But as the race progressed some felt from very early on O’Brien knew what was taking place. Ryan Moore, the winning jockey had the Birdseye view of the plan in progress though. Ten furlongs from home he could see the protracting tug of war between Dawn Approach and Manning continuing as he looked on from rear.
For the first time in a number of years a tug of war, a battle, call it what you will, didn’t take place for the early lead. I was surprised, but it eventually dawned on me what was in operation. I will admit it though, at first, I was completely oblivious to the Ballydoyle tactics. Once the opening climb was complete Joseph O’Brien on the stable’s number one Derby hope were leading. I couldn’t believe it. “Madness” I exclaimed. Where was the Ballydoyle pacemaker I asked? In third, with the handbrake on was the answer.
Meanwhile my questions regarding the pace were being answered by the on course commentator. “Galileo Rock in fourth place, as the pace steadies down”. Now, finally, I knew what was taking place before me. It was brilliant, masterful and surprisingly going perfectly. Battle Of Marengo was leading off a slow pace, the very position you should be in, in such circumstance while Dawn Approach continued to run out his own puff. It was perfect, but unheard of nearly. All the talk pre-race was how the Derby field and in particular Ballydoyle, would run the sting, the stamina out of Dawn Approach, but the plan was always to let Dawn Approach run the sting out of Dawn Approach. It was working a charm.
In race credit I gave to Kevin Manning too. He let his uncontrollable mount go to the lead before coming down Tattenham Corner. It’s was a justified decision as the favourite, still a little keen, settled much better when taking up the running. Maybe he was getting tired too mind. Granted it was far from ideal, it was a last roll of the dice by Manning in the hope of bagging his second British Classic of the year. It wasn’t enough though. At the three pole it was all over for Dawn Approach. He had now been re-headed by Battle Of Marengo and was back peddling as now the 2013 Epsom Derby started in earnest. And it did so without its favourite.
The main Coolmore objective had now been achieved, through Ballydoyle. Winning the race itself merely would’ve capped off a fine day at the office for the Tipperary based organisation. Godolphin not winning the Derby with their already 2000 Guineas winner is exactly what John Magnier and co would’ve taken pre-race, if offered to them. This, regardless of a Coolmore owned runner winning. What eventually prevailed in the final three furlongs was just deserts for a master plan.
Hitting the two pole Ballydoyle horses now held the first two in running and three of the first five. Battle Of Marengo just led from Ruler Of The World with 66-1 stable rag, Flying The Flag still pitching. The latter’s position a further testament to how well his stable’s plan had gone.
The one pole came and still the Ballydoyle big two held sway, but now Ruler Of The World, the eventual winner had hit the front. He stuck on gamely, quickened well in fact and ran out a nice winner. It’s a shame other events from the race have brushed his win somewhat under the carpet. In truth it’s grossly unfair as he’s won the race, the Derby for God’s sake, on merit.
The son of Galileo, a half-brother to the classy Duke Of Marmalade hadn’t even seen the racetrack as a juvenile. He had his first run in a Curragh maiden on the seventh of April and 56 days later, with just one run in between, won the greatest flat race of them all. Not only did he win it though, he did it the hard way. Held-up off a slow pace and wide throughout he still managed to score in impressive fashion while eighty percent of the first five home all raced far more prominently than he.
While many leading figures in the media have already moved to call it ‘a poor Derby’, which I find a preposterous call at this stage, I do hope Ruler Of The World goes on to prove his worth. The unfortunate circumstance of the race, regarding the favourite and the master class tactics employed by his trainer mean Ruler Of The World has been somewhat overshadowed. He will now have to continue winning top level prizes to get further recognition.
While I have recognised the winner’s feat there were many more winners on the day. Aidan O’Brien and his team deserve huge praise for how they went about claiming the race. Some will probably find it underhand and sneaky, but that brilliant plan met more than its objective. In getting their biggest rival’s horse beaten in the world’s greatest race they too managed to secure victory. It was a double result for Coolmore and a stroke of genius by Aidan O’Brien. He may well have just laid the blue print to getting horses beaten in future races under similar conditions. It all seems so easy, but it’s the first occasion I’ve seen it done and come off and it was achieved on the biggest stage of all.