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BETFRED DERBY NEWS: Aidan O’Brien “dreaming” of glory with City Of Troy after Guineas disappointment

Article 21st May 2024 Epsom Downs

Aidan O’Brien believes City Of Troy could be the most talented Betfred Derby contender he has ever trained.

The master of Ballydoyle admits he is “dreaming again” of winning the greatest Flat race in the world for a record-extending 10th time, having saddled the likes of Galileo, Camelot, Ruler of the World, Australia and Auguste Rodin to victory in the Epsom Downs showpiece.

And despite City Of Troy’s disappointing seasonal debut in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, which saw him lose his unbeaten record when trailing home ninth of 11 runners on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile earlier this month, O’Brien remains upbeat.

Speaking during a media visit to his impressive training base organised by The Jockey Club, he said: “Everything has been good since the Guineas. We just accepted that all these things just happened and went wrong on the day and we’ve decided to stay with the plan.

“He’s done nothing since to make us change the plan. The plan was always to start with the Guineas and go on to The Derby and then go wherever after that and that’s where we still are.

“Sometimes it happens and obviously it happened in the Guineas… Sometimes things don’t work and really I would always say that it’s my responsibility to make sure it works and when it doesn’t work, well we’ve done our homework but maybe we didn’t do it all properly. That’s the way I would look at the Guineas.

“When he went down to the start he should have been relaxed but he went into the stalls and he was revved up. He wasn’t flustered but obviously his mind wasn’t in the right place, because he’s a very good natured horse as you can see – unusually good for a colt. He’s very calm and relaxed but it all just happened at the wrong few seconds.

“It will make it very interesting the next day. For us, I’m not sure we’ve ever sent a horse to The Derby with as much ability as this. If we can get him to come out of those gates and everything to work properly for him then we can have him in the right place.”

City Of Troy won three times over seven furlongs as a two-year-old, before his disappointing run over a mile in the first Classic of the season.

However, O’Brien has no concerns about stepping him up to a mile and a half in the Betfred Derby. He said: “I never thought any trip was a problem for him. You’re never sure until you do it but he has a big long stride and he’s usually very chilled and relaxed. It will be a very interesting race now.

“I suppose what he did last year – everything he was doing last year the statistics were adding up. His times, everything. He never disappointed us in any way.

“But we all know horseracing and we all know life – no one knows what’s going to happen in the next half hour. The Guineas just wasn’t meant to be. I feel like, myself, I hadn’t got him prepared properly, so what we would have learned in the Guineas will hopefully help us to prepare him properly for The Derby.

“He’s obviously by Justify, who won a Belmont and all the other races … one thing you cannot stop coming out in anything is pedigree so hopefully if he’s well we can have him in the right place…

“Nothing fell and it all went against us (in the Guineas) but we probably always knew that even though he’d won a Dewhurst and he’d only run over seven furlongs, we always knew he was going to be a middle distance horse…

“We saw his potential very early, before he ran at the Curragh. He was half-speeding over four furlongs with two-year-olds and his pedigree always said middle-distance, no doubt.

“City Of Troy has an unbelievable mind. There is a lot of Galileo in him in that he gallops with his head very low and out with a very long stride for not a very big horse. He is very well balanced.

“We video all our horses and when he is in his box he is the most alert horse – every little thing affects him.

“There is a weight of expectancy with him. At the Guineas, everyone was there to see City Of Troy and I apologised afterwards because I felt I didn’t have him prepared properly and expected too much of him. It’s our job to have him prepared, to go to the races for Ryan (Moore, jockey) to sit on and the horse has to be in the right frame of mind and fit enough. I felt we let Ryan down – he wouldn’t ever say that because he never blames anyone except himself - but that is what I would have felt.

“The Guineas was a let-down because we were all expecting. It just went against us and we have to accept that, move on and try to get back where we hoped we would be.

“If you are not open and honest, you can’t progress. If you don’t say what you feel, you can’t tweak things to make it better. Everyone knows we do our best every day. If anyone has better ideas they are welcome to come here and join us!

“We have heart monitors, timing, weights, bloods and everything. When we are happy horses are in the right place mentally and physically, if all the other things add up you have a big chance. It’s hard to get all the ducks in a row and it has to be natural, you can’t force it.

“What you can’t measure is mind and determination and that is the most important thing – horse or human. Do they really want it?”

City Of Troy is the current 7-2 joint-favourite for the Betfred Derby with the race sponsor.

O’Brien is fortunate to have an equivalent of the famous Tattenham Corner to work his horses on, a replica of the world-famous bend which was put in by the legendary Vincent O’Brien decades ago.

Asked how important it is to his training operation, Aidan O’Brien said: “It’s vital. Obviously with Dr O’Brien everything was about The Derby and everything is really. Everyone can say whatever they want but the whole Thoroughbred generation every year is measured in The Derby and that’s just the harsh reality of it. "I know it’s very hard to get a horse good enough to run in or good enough to win it and some horses don’t go on from it. Because it’s the ultimate test some horses find it very difficult.

“But there has to be a barometer and that is the barometer so everything in Dr O’Brien’s time, everything was about winning The Derby so every horse that works every day canters around ‘Tattenham Corner’ every day and it’s repetition.

“What we have seen over the years is if a horse is not going to handle it today, very rarely will they handle it tomorrow. You’ll see very quickly the ones that have the ability and the balance to handle it.

“If you are not able to get into a rhythm, you’ll very quickly get blown out. You’ll get into the straight but you won’t get home. That’s what makes Epsom such a unique place – you need pace to come out of the gates, then you have the climb and you have to sit and relax across the top and then the ground starts falling away from you. If you’re not able to go with the flow you’ll get wiped out. Everyone talks about handling Epsom and Tattenham Corner – what makes you handle it is ability and class, you have to be travelling. That is what we have found.

“I think The Derby is the race that I and everybody most looks forward to. The build-up and on the day, everyone is just so fascinated about what is going to happen. There are contenders arriving from everywhere and it is everybody’s dream, whether a horse cost £2 million or £20,000.

“When you have a horse that’s gone through the trials and gets there then you have a chance as anything is possible. That’s what makes it fascinating for every breeder – a Derby winner can come from anywhere.”

O’Brien was also philosophical about the best way to deal with defeat on the racecourse, praising his owners for how they respond in the face of adversity.

He explained: “The lads are unbelievable because they take disappointment on the chin, that’s the truth. I suppose we’ve been doing it for 30 years now and, as you all know, an awful lot of stuff doesn’t happen.

“You have to believe that if you’re happy and you say what you’re thinking at the time – like we could be at home every day and not saying a thing and playing down everything every day. But that’s no good in life. Everyone has to know what we are really thinking or dreaming because every day is so important and we might not be here tomorrow, so there’s no point in keeping it all together today and going to the races, kind of thinking that something is going to happen that you’re not telling anybody else about.

“So we tell everybody our feelings and our dreams and get from today to tomorrow. Obviously when you get there sometimes it doesn’t happen, and we all think there’s a reason why it didn’t happen, we delved into what we thought the reason was. At the moment we’re back dreaming again.”

O’Brien also ran the rule over some of his other Betfred Derby Festival contenders. He added: “Really the most important race every year is The Derby and then they decide what we’re going to run, so are we going to let City Of Troy run by himself or are they going to let something go with him?

“All the horses that are running in all the trials is for that purpose. This year we purposely weren’t too hard on them for their trials because in other years we might have won loads of trials and run bad in The Derby so this year we felt that we’d use the trials as trials. Even though they haven’t won, some have progressed so we have to just get a feel for where they are.

“We were very happy with Los Angeles yesterday. The horse that made the running – that was the way it was going to suit him. Maybe we should have sat a bit closer to him if it had been a stronger race but Wayne (Lordan, jockey) was very happy with the horse.

“He’s a big relaxed horse. We always thought he would step up big time when he went to a mile and a half and we were very happy with the way that he won so he’s definitely a possible.

“He’s going to progress big time. I don’t know if you saw him yesterday but he was carrying plenty too. He’s a big, burly horse. He has a big chance really.

Capulet could go. There’s been a lot of interest in him from Hong Kong and all these places so it’s possible too. He was always a horse that was going to step up going to a mile and a quarter and we always thought he was going to step up even further if he went further. Ryan rode him positively.

“We went to the all-weather at Chelmsford. In case he was forward enough he would have gone to the Kentucky Derby but when we ran him he wasn’t forward enough and that’s why he went to Chester. Ryan was very happy with him. He’s got plenty of class, he’s lazy and finds plenty for pressure. He gave him a great ride too.

Diego Velazquez is in both (the Betfred Derby and French Derby). The reason for going to France was the lads were thinking of going to the French Derby and that’s right-handed. We could have gone to the Dante with him but we felt he wouldn’t have the experience if we decided to go to France so that was his reason.

“We thought if we finished in the first four in France then he would run a massive race in the French Derby but he has an option because he’s still in The Derby at Epsom as well. The lads will make that call as well. Christophe (Soumillon) rode him and he said he’s going to win a Group race very quickly, this horse, so he was very impressed with him.”

Asked about Henry Longfellow’s showing in yesterday’s French 2000 Guineas, O’Brien said: “That was a tactical error on my behalf. I said to Ryan to take his time on him because it was his first run and he hadn’t been away and he’d never been on that type of track.

“Ryan took his time but then found himself in a way that he couldn’t get out and to get out he had to keep coming back to get out but as he kept coming back they kept going by him and by him and by him and the next thing he ended up too far back off a slowly run race.

"He’s come in like he didn’t have any kind of race … he was very happy in himself so we just put that down to a lovely experience, he went right-handed and I’d say he felt it was only a piece of work.

“The plan with him was, if everything went well, was to go to the St James’s Palace so we’re going to stick to that plan. I’ll probably have more confidence in him the next day to tell Ryan to go forward with him in the St James’s Palace.”

O’Brien was also asked about two potential Betfred Oaks fillies. He said: “We weren’t sure whether Ylang Ylang would get the trip as she was keen and that is why her disappointing runs came in the middle. When we got her back and taught her how to relax she was like a middle-distance filly and that is what she was like in the Guineas as well.

“We were very happy with her in the Guineas. We thought going to the Guineas that she was an Oaks filly given the way she had been working and that is how she ran. Ryan was very happy with her. He let her find her feet and he felt she came home very well.

“She won her first two races and then on her next two runs was a little bit keen and disappointed. Her run in the Moyglare was a shocker. She was able to reverse it when she got into the right mindset and I imagine some of the fillies that were behind her in the Guineas were ahead of her in the Moyglare, so it’s amazing the way things can swing around.

Rubies Are Red is unusual in that she is a sister to Found (the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner). She had a run last year and surprised us – she was third and then this year she went to Leopardstown and one of Joseph’s beat her.

“The plan had been to go to Lingfield so rather than going for another maiden we stuck with the plan. Ryan said she was very green at Lingfield and he nursed her. Because of that, she got a long way back but when he straightened her up she really came home well

“She is definitely an Oaks-type filly. Her running style is like Found’s in that she takes her time and comes late.”


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