The Derby: From abject to perfect for Aidan O’Brien as Auguste Rodin wins

Sunday June 04 2023, 12.01am

Excuses accepted. The road to the poorhouse usually beckons for those who believe elaborate explanations for wholesale big-race defeat. But not with Auguste Rodin in the 2023 Derby and not with Aidan O’Brien.

Exactly four weeks ago yesterday, Auguste Rodin had finished 12th of 14 runners in the 2,000 Guineas, a hopeless 22 lengths behind Chaldean, the Frankie Dettori-ridden winner. True, he had been buffeted around a bit in the race, but for a horse with a sky-high reputation his was an abject performance. But not for trainer O’Brien.

To anyone who would listen, O’Brien had a whole litany of excuses. Apparently everything that could go wrong before and during the race had gone wrong. Travel plans had to be changed, the horse’s normal routine went awry and the race itself had been a disaster. We should put a line through the whole day. Everything about Auguste Rodin was truly wonderful and he had every faith that the colt would show this at Epsom.

Now O’Brien has a bit of form in this department, especially when it comes to talking up the reputations of horses likely to take station on the Coolmore stallion roster. But he is also a master trainer, with eight Epsom Derbies already on his tally before yesterday, and the Ballydoyle training operation in Tipperary has the most advanced technical analysis of their athletes’ wellbeing. Yet some of us were still of little faith. It took only 2min 33.88sec to show that the trainer was right.

In truth, although the final result was not certain until the closing stages, it was clear from early on that this Auguste Rodin was a different proposition to the floundering failure we saw at Newmarket. What’s more, even before the start, the signs were ominous for Arrest and Dettori. The presence of the great Italian on his back had seen the big bay replace Auguste Rodin as favourite, but the pressure of Derby Day saw him in a muck sweat beforehand and, after being up with the pace for the first mile, he was eased right down to finish a distant tenth of the 14 runners.

Predictably, Auguste Rodin’s stablemates, Adelaide River and San Antonio, had set the gallop and Passenger was close behind them, with Auguste Rodin back in midfield. At the top of the descent into Tattenham Corner, Ryan Moore eased out to get a clear run on Auguste Rodin when the field hit the full three furlongs of Epsom’s distinctly cambered straight.

The Ballydoyle second-stringers still led, but then the massive shape of King Of Steel got a dream run up the inside of the pair to forge clear under an inspired Kevin Stott. Moore and Auguste Rodin were in pursuit and for perhaps 100 yards you wondered if King Of Steel could pull off a 66-1 shock in only his third race and his first this year. But there was a relentlessness about Moore and Auguste Rodin which was set to grind the leader down.

Half a furlong out, they had him and forged half a length clear at the line. In tribute to the second, and to the quality of this Derby renewal, there was then an almost five-length gap to the grey, White Birch, who had run home late. A couple more lengths back came Sprewell, with The Foxes, who had stumbled at the start, in fifth, while Dubai Mile was a disappointing ninth, and Passenger and Military Order only 12th and 14th respectively.

Afterwards, O’Brien was his usual pass-the-praise-around self, thanking all his staff by name, praising Moore for “a peach of a ride” on the great jockey’s third Derby success, and waxing unashamedly lyrical about Auguste Rodin without once scolding us doubters with: “I told you so”.

Incredibly, this was the ninth Derby for the man who has come a long way from the rookie trainer who looked so youthful when he had his first Cheltenham winner that the clerk of the course actually rugby tackled him in the unsaddling enclosure thinking him an intruder.

Auguste Rodin will now make the most sought-after addition to the Coolmore stallions, being one of the last foals from the Japanese champion Deep Impact, whose own white-blazed, dark bay sire, Sunday Silence, he most closely resembles.

Closer to home, Auguste Rodin’s dam was the Coolmore team’s top mare Rhododendron, and her dam, Halfway To Heaven, won three group ones in the same silks. So on a day when the much-feared protests amounted to one bearded idiot getting on to the track and being detained at the two-furlong marker, O’Brien was entitled to wax lyrical.

“He’s got an unbelievable, economical way of going,” the master trainer of Auguste Rodin said. “His action and his temperament and his breathing are incredible.”

Where we will see this paragon next is uncertain, but the need to show that his failure in the Guineas was not due to a lack of speed might well mean he drops back a couple of furlongs to run in the Eclipse. But wherever he goes, after yesterday, all is forgiven.

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