Where do you even begin to describe Epsom Derby day 2023? So much about it was out of the ordinary and bizarre, but there was one constant.
An Irish master trainer called Aidan O’Brien. He wasn’t even there to witness an eighth success in The Oaks and setting a new Derby record on the same mark.
Nobody has trained more winners of the premier British Classic than Ballydoyle’s maestro now. O’Brien made an implicit criticism of the prize money by sending Epsom Oaks hope Peaceful to the French equivalent during the week.
More money is on offer for the Prix de Diane tomorrow. Yet O’Brien won The Oaks easily with Love following-up on her 1000 Guineas triumph in record time and an even greater margin of victory.
That Classic success for another O’Brien filly is a mere footnote, though. What about the Epsom Derby which quite possibly will go down in the annals of horse racing history as the weirdest ever?
Just seven days beforehand, Serpentine was breaking his maiden tag at The Curragh. He won that minor 1m 2f event by nine lengths, but going straight into Classic company looked fanciful.
Not a bit of it. Serpentine blazed his own trail under Emmet McNamara with a plethora of market leaders and fancied runners confident they could reel him in.
Pacemaker comes good again
It was just like Sovereign in the 2019 Irish Derby. They gave him too much rope and so it proved again with Serpentine.
Never have so many racehorses run below market expectation in a Classic. Serpentine was returned at 25/1 with bookmakers ahead of 50/1 chance Khalifa Sat ahead of 66/1 shot Amhran Na Bhfiann in third.
The market principals were out of the major money from fourth down to eighth. What chance did pundits and punters have?
It’s the kind of result you normally get in a handicap, not the Epsom Derby! Our Classics cannot afford to turn into farces, because that is a very slippery slope.
These races influence future bloodstock. More than just prize money and prestige are at stake. There are careers at stud for Epsom Derby winners.
Has a maiden winner made the most remarkable progress in the space of a week? No. Serpentine did nothing wrong in winning, but there are questions for most other jockeys to answer about the rides they gave their mounts.
If there is a betting lesson to learn here, then it’s just back every O’Brien runner in the Classics. You would still have got two of the first three home in The Derby this year.
No logic, no form study would have produced the winner. Perhaps in a way it’s only fitting in this most unusual of seasons that something like this happened.
The Epsom Derby result overshadows a fine achievement by O’Brien. He criticised the prize money offered on this historic day and still plundered most of it.