RacingOdds and Sods

Aidan O’Brien invests a lot of credibility in City Of Troy as Guineas flop goes for Derby glory at Epsom

Record-breaking trainer doubling down on Justify colt who failed to live up to billing at Newmarket

Is there anyone anywhere with the brass balls to try to second guess Aidan O’Brien on horses? Exactly.

So, when he says City Of Troy is the real deal, and maybe the most talented horse he’s ever sent to the Epsom Derby, then only the truly egotistical can argue he’s talking guff. All of which suggests there’s a lot of self-absorption out there, and that we have been here before.

In the near two weeks since City Of Troy’s dismal failure to live to his billing as the next coming of Pegasus – or least the next Frankel – in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, O’Brien has been in full firefighting mode.

Apparently, he was too much in awe of the colt to properly drill him during the winter. A placid paragon of temperament all his life, the couple of seconds where City Of Troy reared in the Guineas starting stalls set his heart racing far too much. In fact, such has been O’Brien’s self-criticism one might wonder how City Of Troy finished at all rather than just out with the washing.


No expertise is required to recognise a performance more wooden than Trojan. And by most measures it would have left the vast majority of Guineas also-rans as outsiders for Derby consolation in just over a fortnight. Instead, City Of Troy is favourite and O’Brien is falling over himself making the right noises about a redemptive victory that will give the Irishman a record 10th Derby.

Despite the old adage of forgiving any horse one bad run, and how Auguste Rodin’s Epsom victory a year ago proved O’Brien’s capacity to turn Guineas disaster into Derby glory in just four weeks, the depth of scepticism directed towards City Of Troy is remarkable, proportionate perhaps to the reputational fireball that was his Guineas flop.

This was the next generational talent à la Frankel and Sea The Stars. Part owner Michael Tabor famously labelled him “our Frankel”. Neither was O’Brien shy about fanning the hyperbolic flames. The Guineas was going to be the opening leg of a first Triple Crown since Nijinsky, with wedged in between a sideways midsummer jaunt to Saratoga to kick some dirt in the eye of America’s best.

Part of O’Brien’s brief as he closes in on almost 30 unparalleled years at the helm in Ballydoyle is promotion. He is in the stallion making business for Coolmore Stud. It means that almost annually, the newest blue-blooded star performer gets acclaimed as beyond compare. Some of the claims have had a foundation. Others might have been transcribed directly to the glossy stallion brochure.

And just as the best of Ballydoyle are seldom without speed, defeat rarely comes without an excuse.

It is perhaps inevitable then how O’Brien’s indulgence towards City Of Troy has been taken with a lot of salt in some quarters. Indiscriminate hard sell always risks making people dubious. This is a beat in which one US hack famously warned there is nothing to be encountered that justifies a superlative. But the reality when it comes to stallions is how the publicity game lives and breathes them.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt O’Brien’s sincerity when it comes to this latest exemplar. Even by the usual promotional standards, his view on City Of Troy has gone beyond simply taking care of business. He has gone all in on the colt, doubling down in a big way. Some warn it’s the market talking as he’s by the US stallion Justify who is Coolmore’s big hope of taking over from Galileo as the world’s prepotent sire. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of credibility being invested in getting this right.

O’Brien’s judgement as much as City Of Troy’s reputation will be on the line in this Derby. There’s little other reason why he’s favourite. Some of the Coolmore ownership are big punters but the ante-post market is mostly cosmetic these days. Having performed a minor miracle in transforming Auguste Rodin a year ago, odds are being totted on a similar unlikely turnaround this time. If he pulls it off it might just be the ultimate vindication.

Even the most sceptical can’t ignore how adamant O’Brien is about this, especially considering how, on the face of things, he has a much more conventional Derby candidate on his hands.

Ballydoyle ended last season with a trio of unbeaten two-year-old Group One winners in Europe. City of Troy was one. Henry Longfellow, beaten in last weekend’s French Guineas, was another. In comparison, Los Angeles barely rated a mention in the profile stakes. But he’s still unbeaten after winning Leopardstown’s Derby Trial on Sunday and has grown into an outstanding-looking colt sure to relish a mile and a half.

Yet there’s no shaking City Of Troy’s status as golden child. For the wary and the weary, no amount of reassurance from O’Brien will be enough, just as steadfast fans will put their faith in City Of Troy coming good. It’s what the 245th renewal of the race that matters most will revolve around – has O’Brien got it right or is it all just another myth of what might have been?


Just a sixth career start at the age of eight indicates how FARMERS LODGE (7.55) has been less than straightforward but Barry Connell’s patience could be rewarded when he makes his handicap debut at Kilbeggan on Friday evening.

Chantilly is an eye-catching Ballydoyle runner in Newbury’s London Gold Cup. He could wind up significantly better than a handicapper although a value alternative may be BRIONI (3.00) ridden by Jamie Spencer for the first time.