Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Australia day: O'Brien horse can justify the favouritism

Top tip: Australia (right), with Joseph O'Brien aboard, wins at the Curragh and is favourite for today's Derby

Australia will finally get the chance to live up to his stratospheric billing in this afternoon's Investec Derby, but he will be joined in the historic Epsom Classic by five other raiders of real merit.

Such has been the degree of confidence and acclamation emanating from Ballydoyle since the chestnut son of Galileo thrashed Free Eagle at Leopardstown in the autumn, for a long time the sense prevailed that Australia would need only to turn up today.

However, the market has corrected this week and the general 6/4 now available more accurately reflects the strength of his opposition.

This has all the makings of a fantastic edition of the 12-furlong Group One, with the 4/9 on offer about an 18th Irish-trained winner of the great race reflecting the sheer depth of the cross-channel delegation.

Apart from Australia, Aidan O'Brien will team up with Seamie Heffernan for Orchestra, which produced an unexpected burst of acceleration en route to a decisive Chester Vase victory recently.

Ryan Moore prefers the unlucky Derrinstown Stud trial third, Geoffrey Chaucer, while the Dee Stakes winner Kingfisher is possibly the weakest of the travelling contingent.

Dermot Weld saddles the promoted Derrinstown winner Fascinating Rock, with John Oxx's demoted Ebanoran charged with adding to his handler's superb record of two wins and a third from three Derby runners.

It all amounts to a potent assault on the world's premier three-year-old race from three of this country's most decorated handlers, yet the local defence doesn't lack a touch of quality.

Roger Varian's Kingston Hill was far from disgraced in what was an unusually messy 2,000 Guineas.

He had runaway French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby behind then, just as he did at Doncaster in the autumn.

Andrea Atzeni's mount may appreciate the step up in trip and it has form on soft ground should the forecast rain arrive, though the combination of both might stretch his stamina somewhat.

Arod, which chased The Grey Gatsby home in the Dante Stakes at York, is another with scope to improve for the step up in trip under Jamie Spencer.

All told, then, it should be an intriguing affair, but on form, potential and pedigree, it all points to Australia justifying the Coolmore accolades.

Being by the 2001 Derby victor and out of an Oaks heroine in Ouija Board, the market leader may well need this trip to show his very best, so his effort in defeat in the Guineas was commendable.

Kingman, Shifting Power and The Grey Gatsby have all come out and confirmed the impression that it was a superb Group One, despite the way it unfolded, and Australia ran a race full of promise.

He has had plenty time to recover since, while the threat of soft ground shouldn't be a concern given his pedigree.

Critics have pointed to the fact that he has won just two of his four starts to date, but that would be three had he not entirely missed the break when second on his Curragh debut.

Had that not happened, Australia's profile would be especially precocious, so he is trusted to secure his brilliant trainer an unprecedented third successive Derby triumph.

Granted, the stable's runners have been a bit hit and miss, but O'Brien has an uncanny knack of having them right when it matters most, while Joseph O'Brien has a similar habit of delivering on the grandest of stages.

Classy performers Orchestra and Geoffrey Chaucer appeal as being well equipped to make the frame regardless of the ground conditions.

In the Coronation Cup, the evergreen French raider Cirrus Des Aigles is the one to beat.

However, there is value in the 14/1 that can be had about Varian's recent York scorer Ambivalent, as last year's Pretty Polly winner previously got to within half-a-length of the favourite in Dubai.

The five-furlong Dash is sandwiched in between, with Caspian Prince worth a look for Tony Carroll and Adam Kirby.

Second at Chester, he is a course winner that is capable of better still.

Meanwhile, Coral offer 33-1 that O'Brien saddles the first three home – from four runners – in the premier Classic today.

Coral are official betting partners for the meeting and expect turnover of upwards of £20million on the big race, which has a £1.25million prize pot.

However, despite the ground quickening up throughout yesterday under beautiful sunshine, the possibility of heavy showers meant likely ground conditions remained up in the air on the eve of today's big race.

"The presence of Australia in this year's Derby will ensure turnover remains healthy, as for all those punters who want to be with the favourite, there will be plenty looking to oppose him," said Coral's David Stevens.

"The market leader has been easy to back all week, and his price could yet drift further, particularly if Epsom is hit by the thunderstorms forecasters are predicting," added the spokesman.

It promises to be an intriguing encounter but first three in the Derby is a massive ask – though O'Brien is certainly the man for the big occasion.

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