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‘I’m not sure we’ve ever sent a horse to The Derby with as much ability as this’ - O’Brien retaining full faith in Guineas flop City Of Troy

3 minute read

Aidan O’Brien is retaining full faith in leading Epsom Derby contender City Of Troy despite his seasonal reappearance flop in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

City of Troy.
City of Troy. Picture: John Hoy

Unbeaten in three outings over seven furlongs as a two-year-old, Aidan O'Brien's champion juvenile was all the rage heading into the 2024 Flat season and was subsequently sent off the 4/6 favourite to land Britain's first Classic of the campaign - the 2000 Guineas.

However, distress signals were soon on display and those who took the prohibited odds looked nervous. And rightly so, as City Of Troy only managed to beat just two rivals home, relinquishing his unbeaten record in the process.

With stablemate Auguste Rodin failing to beat a rival home in the same contest on his reappearance before going on to claim Derby glory next-time-out last year, there was a small sense of Déjà vu was in the air at Newmarket after racegoers had just watched O'Brien's poster boy trail home nearer last than first.

Just as he did twelve months ago, the maestro of Ballydoyle will have to work his magic if City Of Troy is to bounce back to winning ways in the biggest race of them all, but O'Brien remains upbeat about the chances of his Justify colt, who is still the general 7/2 favourite for Epsom's showpiece on the first day of June.

"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," said O'Brien, who was speaking during a media visit to his impressive training base organised by The Jockey Club.

"Sometimes it happens and obviously it happened in the Guineas… Sometimes things don't work. 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 in 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."

The Betfred Epsom Derby will see City Of Troy step up to a mile and a half for the first time, but O'Brien seems unphased by the prospect of sending his son of Justify over the trip. "I never thought any trip was a problem for him," explained O'Brien. "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.

Looking back at the 2000 Guineas, O'Brien was quick to suggest he had failed to prepare City Of Troy in the best possible way, something he seems certain not to let happen again.

He added: "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."

"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. We have to accept that, move on and try to get back where we hoped we would be."

One advantage O'Brien does have when it comes to preparing a horse for the Epsom Classic is the purpose-built equivalent Tattenham Corner on his gallops at Ballydoyle, and when 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 everyday 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."

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