Stone Age is the new favourite for next month’s Group One Cazoo Derby, after striking in some style for the Aidan O’Brien team in the Group Three Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown this afternoon – just half an hour after stablemate Luxembourg had been ruled out of the premier Classic at Epsom Downs.
The son of Galileo had shown some smart form without winning in five starts as a juvenile last term and he certainly seems to have progressed at a rate of knots since returning from the winter, taking control of matters here when kicking clear on the bend under Ryan Moore.
His five and a half-length margin of victory was enough to propel him into 3-1 favouritism for the Saturday 4th June showpiece, a market move which undoubtedly was assisted by the scratching of Luxembourg – who won’t head over the Irish Sea after suffering a setback on Friday.
O’Brien has enjoyed near domination of this year’s Derby trials and while tight-lipped about the current Ballydoyle pecking order for Epsom Downs, he certainly feels that Stone Age will head there with a live chance.
The master of Ballydoyle said: “He’s lovely. He’s a cruiser and tactical and keeps going. He came forward lovely and we thought he’d come forward a bit more from today. The plan was to give him two runs as he was a maiden when he started out at Navan.
“We’ve always felt that he was good, so we weren’t really worrying about his maiden tag too much. We don’t think there will be a problem at Epsom - his two runs this season were left-handed and he steps quick out of the gate and is very happy to get a lead. He’s got that class to pick up and push out so he never looks in any race to be getting weak to the line. He’s never run any further than this, but he’s always going all the way to the line.
“It’s impossible (to assess the pecking order). They were all running in their trials individually and because all the races were at different times they were all on different work schedules. I suppose what will happen is Ryan will talk to the lads and they’ll come up for a solution for the whole team, that’s usually what happens.
“I think you’d have to be very happy and we thought this fella would come forward again. He’s got plenty of pace and he never seems to be stopping. Every horse surprises me, he won very easy the first time this season but he was entitled to do it.”
Winning jockey Ryan Moore added: “We’ve always liked this horse and he was very impressive at Navan. I think today’s trial was a good race and I think he will improve again, so he is a very exciting colt.
“I wasn’t surprised how well he won. He gave me a very good feel at Navan and also gave me a good feel as a two year old. He ran over seven in the Lagardere on bad ground last year and wasn’t beaten far. He wouldn’t have been seen to best effect in those conditions but he’s always shown us plenty.
“He is growing up. Last year, he tried to jump the whole of the road here and today he still had a bit of a look, so he is still learning.
“We’ll take him to Epsom and find out if he handles it. I’d say this stacks up against the other Derby trials and I am very happy with what he done today.”
Luxembourg had been all the rage for the Derby after catching the eye when third in last Saturday’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, but O’Brien revealed that he would now be handed some box rest with the hope of returning in the autumn.
O’Brien added: “Luxembourg won’t run in the Derby. He has to have a month to six weeks box rest, so that will be him. That’s the way it is and that’s what they wanted to do with him and obviously if we’re doing that (we’ll miss the Derby).
“The scans just revealed that he needed to have some box rest to let it heal and then there was no contest then, we’ll do the best thing by the horse. Hopefully he’ll be back for the autumn, that’s the plan anyways.
“We do our best and that’s all we can do. It’s a muscular injury and rest is the only thing that is going to fix it.”