Connections Confident of Derby Double
Jockey Joseph O’Brien spoke exclusively to the Coral Champions Club about the pressure of riding a red hot favourite, renewing rivalry with Kingston Hill and reveals plans for some of Ballydoyle’s big battalions’ including a recent maiden winner destined for Group company!
They were bred for the day you could say. The horse by a Derby winner, out of an Oaks winner and the jockey the son of a multiple Classic-winning trainer.
But when Australia crossed the line in front in the Derby at Epsom earlier this month it was not just a huge sense of joy Joseph O’Brien felt on board the first home.
“There was a certain amount of relief,” O’Brien, 21, confesses. “It is an unbelievable feeling too, the stuff that dreams are made of.
“We never made any secret of how highly we regarded this horse. Nobody ever says something they don’t believe at the time. Sometimes we all get a little bit excited about this and that and that is just the way we are.”
Such is the way at Ballydoyle. The demand to produce champions – and to live up to the often bold statements made by trainer Aidan O’Brien – heaps the pressure on, so when the horse lives up to the hype relief is as natural as happiness.
Things had not gone to plan the time before when Australia was only third in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“I thought I should have beaten Kingman and Night Of Thunder at Newmarket and that shows the pace the horse has,” O’Brien says. “As a jockey every time you don’t win a race you are always looking to do something different.
“Nobody is more critical on a jockey than the jockey himself. A jockey always tries to find a way to improve the performance in a race. I do the same and it doesn’t make me any different to any other jockey. I have some great horses to ride and am unbelievably privileged to be in that position. Everybody wants to improve so I don’t think I’m different in assessing my own rides.”
If Newmarket went haywire then Epsom went perfectly and Australia will get the chance to add another Classic to his haul tomorrow when he lines up in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh where his opponents include Derby second Kingston Hill.
O’Brien says: “Australia hasn’t done much since Epsom and he is still in good form and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully we’ll have some nice ground and it is all systems go.
“Taking on Kingston Hill again is what the big races are all about. They look like the two best three-year-olds in the middle distance grade and it is good to see them take each other on.”
He added: “We have plenty to look forward to in the second half of the season as well. Without having spoken to anyone I would love to go back to a mile and a quarter or even a mile at some stage. I think a mile and a quarter will be his optimum distance and there are so many big races in the second half of the season at that sort of trip.”
Trip is something that is flexible for last week’s Gold Cup winner Leading Light with races from the Goodwood Cup to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under consideration.
“He could go back to a mile and a half or he could go to Goodwood or the Irish Leger, all those sort of races,” O’Brien says. “He stays well but I think one mile and six furlongs is his ideal distance. His best performance last year was winning the St Leger although he is not short of pace either.
“Things didn’t work out for him last year in the Arc and it turned into a sprint which didn’t suit him. He has got the class to run well in a race like that.”
Reflecting on Royal Ascot as a whole and looking to the future, O’Brien added: “War Command showed plenty to finish close behind Kingman [in the St James’s Palace Stakes] and I think I should probably have been second. Hopefully he has got a big race in him. Verrazano ran a massive race [to be second in the Queen Anne] and I am looking forward to him going a mile and a quarter.”
After the high quality action at Royal Ascot you might have expected a quieter week for O’Brien before the Irish Derby but there was an added bonus for the jockey on Wednesday at Naas when July Cup entry Cougar Mountain scored in stunning style on his debut.
“He is a very nice horse and has always shown a lot at home,” O’Brien says. “We thought he was out best two-year-old last year but he had lots of niggly problems. I don’t know how quickly they will step him up in class but he deserves to be running in Group company.”
Plenty more stars are set to emerge from Ballydoyle this season and beyond but first comes Australia at the Curragh tomorrow and another chance for O’Brien to back up the big words with a big performance.
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