It was typical of Aidan O’Brien that one of his first thoughts after a record-equalling seventh success in the Derby here on Saturday was to pay tribute to one of the team members that cannot speak for himself. Galileo was O’Brien’s first Derby winner in 2001 and has now, thanks to Anthony Van Dyck’s narrow defeat of Madhmoon and Japan, fathered three more.

“It’s a built-in thing with determination,” O’Brien said. “Their heads go down and it’s an inward thing in their minds. They won’t give up and it’s a very strange thing.”

Anthony Van Dyck is unlikely to be seen as one of the very best Derby winners. Time may show that he was not even the best horse in the race, in which the first five home were separated by less than a length and luck in running surely played a part. But determination, too, was a factor and Anthony Van Dyck had grit when it mattered.

He had an accomplished jockey as well in Seamie Heffernan, surely now the most successful back-up rider in turf history. Despite never riding as O’Brien’s go-to jockey, he has now ridden 30 winners at Group One level, the sport’s highest grade, and this was undoubtedly the crowning moment of his long career outside the glare and pressure of the spotlight.

Anthony Van Dyck still had plenty to do with just over two furlongs to run, with only four of the 13 runners behind him and definitely beaten.

Telecaster, supplemented for the race for £85,000 earlier in the week and the second favourite, soon joined the also-rans as he dropped away tamely past the two-pole to finish last eventually, just behind another fancied runner, Bangkok. But Sir Dragonet, the 11-4 favourite, was vying for the lead alongside another Irish-trained runner in Madhmoon, with Japan, Broome and Frankie Dettori’s mount, Circus Maximus, all on the premises.

Anthony Van Dyck made ground rapidly when Heffernan asked for an effort but he had to switch right and then, decisively, left towards the far rail to find enough room to deliver his final challenge. As four opponents fought their own battle in the middle of the track, Heffernan and Anthony Van Dyck, head down like his father, pounded up the inside and into the history books.

O’Brien is now within one success of sole ownership of the record for Derby winners, a remarkable achievement given how the scale and competitiveness of racing has grown since the days when Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling were winning the great Classic (which is as long ago as 1793 in Robson’s case). In addition to Galileo and Heffernan, he also paid tribute to the team at his Ballydoyle stable and “the lads” in the Coolmore Stud syndicate who supply his horses. But O’Brien, an obsessive who leaves no detail unconsidered, has worked for and earned every win that comes his way.

His attention to detail was there for all to see in the paddock beforehand, as he brushed and saddled his seven runners in turn. And as O’Brien conceded afterwards, while he could not be sure that Anthony Van Dyck was the best of his team, he had won a major trial for the Classic at Lingfield early last month and fully deserved his place in the field.

“We do not put any of our Derby horses together [on the gallops] at home,” O’Brien said. “We just try to have them at their best for when they get to the racecourse. The boss [John Magnier of Coolmore Stud] always says that the Derby is the Holy Grail and it is the backbone of the thoroughbred. This is the ultimate test, it tests them in every way. It tests their speed, their stamina, their agility and their mentality as well. That’s why we come here and try to compete every year but it’s very tough. I’m privileged to be a small part of a great team.”

Anthony Van Dyck is now likely to be steered towards the Irish Derby at The Curragh later this month, when Madhmoon and several more of Saturday’s runners could also be in opposition once again.

Madhmoon stumbled slightly at one stage according to Chris Hayes, his jockey, and then got to the front a little sooner than he would have liked, but the big disappointments in the race were the leading contenders from British stables as Irish yards supplied the first six home.

Hughie Morrison reported that Telecaster “ran flat” while Andrew Balding, whose Bangkok represented the King Power Racing operation founded by the late chairman of Leicester City, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, said that the colt “failed to act” on the undulations.

The switch to the broad, flat expanse of The Curragh could well be enough for one of the also-rans here to get the better of Anthony Van Dyck next time. On the the day when it mattered most, though, he got to the line in front.

 

 

 

 

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