Declan Rix

With Aidan O'Brien winning all four of last week's Derby Trials at Chester, Lingfield and Leopardstown, Declan Rix takes a closer look at the wins of Sir Dragonet, Circus Maximus, Anthony Van Dyck and Broome.

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It was a week of Classic Trials – where the Oaks and Derby are concerned – with racing from Chester, Lingfield and Leopardstown adding further clues in allowing us to try and unlock the winners of the third and fourth Classics of the British season.

Of the four recognised Derby trials at the aforementioned tracks, Aidan O’Brien was peerless, winning all four and strengthening his hand for the Derby.


Two Ballydoyle colts awoke from their respective but contrasting slumbers to book their tickets for the Derby at Epsom on June 2nd. Sir Dragonet, the winner of the Chester Vase last Wednesday and Broome, victorious in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown on Sunday, rose to the fore in the Derby betting after two impressive winning efforts.

The former was not even entered for the 12f Classic (still needs to be supplemented) and was a complete unknown and unraced quantity before the campaign kicked off while Broome had a much higher profile, but mentally, had been asleep for most of his career.

With just under three weeks to Flat racing’s most-coveted prize, the pair have awoken at the right time, with the distinct possibility of more to come.

An eight-length winner of the Group 3 Chester Vase now sees Sir Dragonet the new Derby favourite (7/2). Unraced as a juvenile, the son of Camelot is now making up for lost time incredibly quickly and, after just two starts must rate as one of the most exciting horses in training.

Sir Dragonet’s second dam, All Too Beautiful, is a sister to Galileo, making her a half-sister to Sea The Stars and it’s now clear this three-year-old is finally starting to grow into his illustrious pedigree. Galileo, Sea The Stars and Camelot all went off favourite or joint-favourtie and won the Derby, and the handy Sir Dragonet may well do the same.

While the unbeaten-in-two colt has got a huge pedigree, in stature, he looks just a nice size and clearly never stood out in Ballydoyle in any way shape or form. On the 25th of April he debuted at Tipperary and won a 3yo maiden in good style at 14/1, having been friendless in the market and opening on track at 8s.

There, it was near impossible to say he’d be favourite for the Derby on the back of his next effort, but here we are – he has surprised everybody it seems. It’s now plain and simple, Sir Dragonet saves his best for the track and those are the horses trainers love.

The Coolmore-owned performer ran on the same day at Chester as impressive Cheshire Oaks winner Mehdaayih, and it was noteworthy that his final circuit time on the Roodee was just under two seconds quicker, carrying the same weight, but running a furlong further.  

 Sir Dragonet wins the Chester Vase
Under Donnacha O'Brien, Sir Dragonet destroys the Chester Vase field

With regards staying the trip, handling the course at Epsom and performing on potentially quicker ground, there are no major worries for me in any department for the current Derby favourite. As stated, the son of Camelot is not an overly big horse so the demands of the track and firmer ground shouldn’t faze him.

One worry I do have however, is Sir Dragonet racing in a big field and among horses, especially more experienced and bigger types. In both races at Tipperary and Chester, Aidan O’Brien’s charge has felt no hustle-and-bustle, no bumping and barging and no racing in close quarters, and you just wonder how that could affect him if the Derby got rough and messy. Nothing a Ballydoyle army away day won’t fix, mind!

There still could be so much more to come from Sir Dragonet. Even in winning at Chester, he was green and still learning his trade; the likely sound gallop he had to go early looked a shock to the system before he was nursed into contention by Donnacha O’Brien, his class eventually taking over.

In the end, he ran out an eight-length winner from a horse (Norway) who was a close-up fourth in a backend juvenile Group 1, the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, and everything now points to him being a top-class horse and the right favourite for the Derby.

At 7/1, Derrinstown winner Broome shortened for the Derby too. This son of Australia has had five more starts than his aforementioned stablemate, but it’s only in his last two or three runs that he has started to put it all together.

An incredibly green and mentally backward juvenile, the penny is now beginning to drop with this sleepy chestnut colt and you get the feeling the longer the season goes on, the better he’ll get. On the evidence of his latest 10f victory at Leopardstown, the lengthier trip of the Derby is another variable that may bring out further improvement.

Even at this stage, I find it hard to get a proper handle on Broome, because in winning the Derrinstown he did beat a stablemate (by a going away 2½ lengths) who came into the race officially rated 86. Blenheim Palace, the runner-up, is a full-brother to Churchill and Clemmie and in rating this form solidly I am somewhat guessing and hanging my hat on the fact that Blenheim Palace is a similarly drowsy type to the winner and now growing into his pedigree.  

Broome in action winning the Derrinstown
Declan feels Broome in now becoming the full package

It’s the visuals of Broome that pull me in; it’s the knowing he competed to a decent level as a juvenile while still clueless, but now he races into the bridle that bit more, travelling that bit sweeter and picking up strongly for pressure – he is becoming more and more the full package. 

The way he galloped out through the line on Sunday was that of a good horse too, and it suggests there could be even more to come at the Derby trip.

I do have slight worries about him handling Epsom however. He’s a horse that changes leads quite a bit in his races and he seems to use himself nicely, so it remains to be seen how he will handle coming down a hill at pace, and make no mistake about it, Coolmore will ensure this year's Derby is run at a strong gallop.

Ballydoyle appears to be full of classy, sleepy sorts this season. Dee Stakes winner Circus Maximus is another that fits that bill for me, although he is - or had been - more streetwise than Sir Dragonet and Broome. In beating stablemate Mohawk (who was giving away 5lb) he just looked lazy, green and/or maybe wasn’t totally in love with the sharp track.

While the case, you always felt he was there for Ryan Moore if the going got tough and having picked up off the bend smartly at Chester, the son of Galileo put the race to bed comfortably before seeming to idle quite badly. He was never in any danger of getting beat however, he saved plenty for himself and the smoother trip he got over the runner-up helped.

Out of high-class race-mare Duntle who got better with age, Circus Maximus looks the type who will improve with racing. At Chester, he looked on the tubby side and he should come forward fitness wise. 

Strictly speaking, Mohawk comes out the best horse in the race though, as he was giving weight away to the winner. The combination of this and conceding a sizable early track position means you’d fancy him to turn the tables on the winner if they met again but given how idle and weak in the betting Circus Maximus was, you’d couldn’t be confident.

For me, this performance showed Circus Maximus (now a 20/1 shot for the Derby) didn’t need to improve on last season’s close-up fourth behind Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes at Doncaster to win, but it suggests Mohawk is an improved horse. Circus Maximus may now head to Epsom while Mohawk could be French Derby bound. 

I'm still not totally sold on Circus Maximus seeing out a strong-run 12f at Epsom so it would be no surprise to see the pair clash again in the French equivalent over 10f. 

In contrasting fashion to all of the above, Aidan O’Brien’s old pro Anthony Van Dyck got the job done in the Lingfield Derby Trial at the minimum of fuss. Unlike Sir Dragonet, Broome and Circus Maximus, this son of Galileo is a canny campaigner and a complete professional.

With seven runs under his belt as a juvenile, this game is now a piece of cake for Aidan O’Brien’s inmate. It’s simple; he jumps, he travels, he picks up and has a wonderfully straight-forward and genuine attitude.

All that said, we didn’t learn too much about him here, because this year’s renewal of the race was a level or two below the winner. We did learn that he stayed the extended 11f trip nicely and on ground likely to have been softer than ideal, but he always promised to stay as a juvenile.

His two-year-old campaign was a mess in some ways, because his level of ability and streetwise nature meant the Coolmore team had little choice but to pitch him in all the top end-of-season 2yo races because mentally and physically he was miles clear of the likes of Sir Dragonet, Broome and Circus Maximus.

The problem lay in the Vincent O'Brien National Stakes and Dewhurst Stakes were over 7f, but that was his bare minimum at the top level as a juvenile and it never showed him off at his best, but Coolmore need to be having runners in these races and he was chosen. Up in trip this season will allow Anthony Van Dyck to race more kindly, but whether he is as good as his official 118 mark remains to be seen. I have my doubts.

The other issue is horses who were behind him last year will now be closing the gap at a rate of knots. Given his professionalism however, he’d be a great ride to get in the Derby, for which he is priced up at 8/1. 

Declan Rix
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