In order to unravel this year’s Derby puzzle you’ll need to answer the following question: do you believe in Australia? That’s the horse, not the country.
A series of trials for Epsom have come and gone without revealing any other outstanding candidates while the main prep race, York’s Dante Stakes, produced a winner that is not even entered in the blue riband.
The result is that the Aidan O’Brien-trained runner is odds-on to triumph on June 7. Perhaps he deserves to be that price after two wins last season and a close third on his reappearance behind Night Of Thunder and Kingman in the 2,000 Guineas. Yet there are clearly other factors at play here.
Australia boasts the world’s best sire in Galileo, the Derby hero of 2001, while his brilliant dam, Ouija Board, won the Oaks three years later. Ouija Board’s previous progeny have all been unable to match their illustrious mother but she finally appears to have produced something special in Australia. Exactly how special is yet to be determined.
O’Brien believes this colt is the finest racehorse he has ever handled, which is some compliment bearing in mind the number of champions that have passed through his Ballydoyle stable. Taken with his breeding, it’s about as concrete as it gets.
Yet based on what he has achieved on the racecourse, Australia is no good thing in the Derby. He may well be the next superstar but it is unwise to celebrate a champion before he – or she – delivers champion performances. Which is why racing fans should be excited at the prospect of watching Treve make her British debut at Royal Ascot.
Treve’s victory in last year’s Arc was simply stunning and topped an unbeaten campaign for the daughter of Motivator. While she lost her perfect race record on her comeback in the Prix Ganay, a performance some thought was disappointing, her titanic struggle down Longchamp’s home straight with the battle-hardened Cirrus Des Aigles only enhanced her reputation in my opinion.
Criquette Head-Maarek, Treve’s trainer, certainly wasn’t despondent after the defeat. As she tells Julian Muscat in this month’s must-read feature, losing to a top-class rival on his preferred ground is not a disaster.
“This is what happens in racing,” she says. “Things went wrong but at least it will put everyone back on the ground. Some people were already on the moon, and wanting to go higher.
“That horse [Cirrus Des Aigles] is a champion. He wasn’t far behind Frankel at Ascot and you don’t beat him at Longchamp in those conditions. Many have tried.
“It’s a God-given thing to have Treve. Good horses make good trainers: when you come across one like her she takes you right to the top.
“I’m looking forward to running her at Royal Ascot, where I hope we have a good pace and fast ground.”
Also looking forward to Royal Ascot is Charles Barnett, though it will be his last in the role as Chief Executive, having moved to Berkshire from Aintree in 2007.
Barnett, this month’s ‘Talking To’, has achieved much in his 30 years working in racing, not least helping to establish British Champions’ Day, but will also be remembered as the man who told presenter Des Lynam, live on air, that the BBC would have to leave the track following the Grand National bomb scare in 1997.
The BBC, of course, no longer has to worry about being asked to depart a racecourse in a hurry, having left of its own volition a couple of years ago.
Channel 4 is now our sport’s sole terrestrial broadcaster, and in the second part of our feature on racing in the media, Richard Griffiths looks at how it has fared since assuming this responsibility and re-vamping coverage.