East met west over a seismic Derby weekend and the consequences could reverberate through elite flat racing far into the future.
After securing a ninth Betfred Epsom Derby through Auguste Rodin on Saturday, Aidan O’Brien was unusually expansive about the significance of a colt he characterised as the most special horse he’s ever had through his hands.
That’s quite a statement since in the 30 years he’s had a licence to train O’Brien has rewritten the old game’s record books umpteen times over.
It could have been put down to post-race exultation on the back of a victory that ranks as one of the 53-year-old’s greatest feats considering Auguste Rodin’s rejuvenation after a dismal effort in the previous month’s 2000 Guineas.
That Ryan Moore’s mount started a 9-2 shot reflected the significance placed in O’Brien’s bullish faith, and the consequent credibility invested, rather than actual racecourse evidence this season.
Other sceptics might even have filed it in a bulging folder of previous Ballydoyle champions that attracted similarly useful plaudits to the Coolmore publicity machine.
A day later however and O’Brien’s sense of overall perspective on the significance of a Derby that means he equals Lester Piggott’s nine as a rider was intact.
Crucial to it is the increasing power of Japanese racing and breeding in the global arena.
An industry that in half a century has grown from a comparative backwater to becoming a model towards which racing’s traditional powers look enviously has become a power player to rank with any other jurisdiction.
As a son of the late Deep Impact, perhaps the finest racehorse seen in Japan and a prepotent stallion until his death in 2019, and out of a Galileo mare, Auguste Rodin is a rare symbiosis of the best from either side of the globe.
He’s not the first such classic product for Coolmore. The 2018 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior was a similar mix. He failed in the Derby whereas Auguste Rodin failed in the Guineas. There’s no getting away though from how the inter-continental mix has delivered spectacularly from a small sample.
“Anything we’ve ever had to do with Deep Impact has been extraordinary. The capabilities that they have, the way they travel, the distance they’re able to get over, the class they have. They’ve unbelievable minds and are very easy sound horses to train. You see what’s been happening in Japanese pedigrees the last few seasons,” said O’Brien on Sunday.
He recalled Coolmore’s supremo John Magnier, who sent Auguste Rodin’s dam, Rhododendron, to Japan for the mating with Deep Impact, describing their product as the most important horse to enter Ballydoyle.
Sieve some hyperbole out of that and there remains a prospect of Japanese sire lines becoming dramatically more important to Europe’s most powerful bloodstock operation in the coming years.
On Sunday, O’Brien and Moore’s hopes of a Derby double in France came up short as Continuous failed to make the frame in the Prix du Jockey Club behind a spectacular winner in Ace Impact. The significance of Continuous being bred in Japan, a son of Heart’s Cry out of another of Coolmore’s massive band of Galileo mares, wasn’t lost on bloodstock experts.
Such an influence might spell good news for Europe’s traditional mile-and-a-half classics.
Japan has largely followed its own path and focused on breeding for middle distances rather than playing along with the speed obsession that has dominated bloodstock decisions in Europe and the US for so long.
Coolmore has been central to that, while also being the Derby’s staunchest supporter; it’s a curious mix, perhaps one that ultimately resolves in the sport’s greatest commercial enterprise always pinning their faith in whatever delivers them the most lucrative success.
That could spell good long-term news for the Irish Derby which may be on Auguste Rodin’s radar next.
O’Brien has won the Curragh classic 14 times and that support has been crucial to a race that’s no longer an automatic option for Epsom winners with connections often opting to drop back to more commercially fashionable 10-furlong tests.
In the shorter term, it might also help Moore finally fill in the one remaining blank on his Irish and English classic CV.
The abiding impact of the 244th Epsom Derby however could be expanding influences on how best to win the world’s most famous classic.
“I’d say he’s the most important horse ever for us because he’s out of Rhododendron. She was one of the best Galileo mares and he’s out of the best Japanese stallion ever and we all know what is happening in Japan and we’re connecting that with the best of our breeding,” said O’Brien.
“This horse has everything. He has temperament, he has movement, he has a personality — he’s probably the most important horse we’ve ever had I’d say, because he brings the two continents together. And it’s not fake ability, it’s pure ability. It’s so exciting, really,” he added.