INVESTEC DERBY 2017
Redemption comes in many forms and for Paddy Beggy it arrived in the historic but pitiless final yards of the Epsom Derby course. From a seemingly impossible position he manoeuvred the big bay outsider, Wings of Eagles, into space and swept through for victory. And it was a double redemption, because Paddy’s life has come through from even further back.
At the start of the race Wings of Eagles sole victory in a small race at Killarney saw him start as a 40-1 outsider amongst an 18 runner field, and turning into the straight he only had two behind him. As Paddy Beggy was loaded into the stalls, he had just one winner to his name in Ireland this season, the same number as he had ridden in each of the last two seasons of a career which had begun with a promising success way back in July 2003. Neither situation, to put it mildly, looked anything like promising.
But he believed in the horse, and trainer Aidan O’Brien believed in him enough to have given him a job when Paddy came back from a two-year riding stint in Australia with his tail between his legs and a 15 month drugs ban on his passport. Wings of Eagles had actually run with real promise a couple of times, most recently at Chester, but had problems handling the track and looked likely to have the same as he faced the rolling camber of the Epsom straight. Paddy had shown promise and character enough in the long Ballydoyle morning for Aidan O’Brien to put him up on the classic filly Hydrangea. Promises about to be fulfilled by a jockey with just the sort of all round equestrian strengths to keep a horse balanced around Epsom’s testing contours, and the cheerful temperament to look on the sunny side.
“The main thing if you are riding for Aidan O’Brien in colours like these,” he said of the purple and white Derek Smith silks in which Joseph O’Brien won Derbies on Camelot and Australia in 2012 and 2014, “You don’t worry about the price because they always have a chance. I was a bit unlucky in running but I probably got there at the right time in the end. Two furlongs out I thought I would beat half the field and a furlong down I said that if I get a run I would win. I had seen that Ryan (Moore) had gone and in fairness to this big horse his best furlong was his last which makes a big, big difference. I don’t get to sit on too many like this beast at the races. I’m going to enjoy it! I have dreamed about this big time and to be honest I had probably given up on the big day. Aidan O’Brien, fair play to him, has made it happen.”
This is by many mountains the highest peak of Paddy Beggy’s little sung career and the room filled with frankness of his delight. In the squillion dollar pantheon of the flat racing game, comments as happily unguarded are as refreshingly unlikely as Wings of Eagles victory had seemed at the start. But in truth this was a big horse, well ridden to take advantage of a race in which the battle for the lead in Epsom’s brutally demanding closing stages put lead into flying feet and lifted the winner so decisively home.
“I was on a good horse and he looked a million dollars – a lot of the jockeys down at the start said he was the paddock pick. He’s a fine big colt. I knew I had a chance as Aidan always trains each horse for this race – some have form coming into the race, some improve all the time. My lad improved since his last run. It’s brilliant to win this. I can’t really describe it in words and it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ll go down in history though – I’ve won the Derby. I will be remembered for something at least.”
The sun shone, the crowds came and only a glumbucket would fail to be lifted by what remains one of Britain’s most atmospheric and engaging events. I first came here for the Coronation Derby in 1953 and have worked on every Derby since 1971. So for me, for the course, for the horse with the wonderful name, and most of all for the jockey who kicked away his past, it was the very best of days.