Watch an interview with Aidan O'Brien after he saddled the first four home in the Dewhurst at Newmarket on Saturday plus the reaction of Ryan Moore
By Andy Stephens at Newmarket
Like all the greatest magicians, Aidan O’Brien has yet to lose the art of surprise.
The Darley Dewhurst at Newmarket on Saturday was supposed to be all about the unbeaten Expert Eye but as the 4-7 favourite vanished from view it was left to O’Brien to pull four rabbits out of his seemingly bottomless hat.
As the nine runners powered towards the finish the only dilemma for the master of Ballydoyle was which part of his procession to focus on.
U S Navy Flag (5-1), who had won the Middle Park Stakes on his previous start, had the race in safe keeping some way out and crossed the line two and a half lengths clear in a course record time.
O’Brien, 48 on Tuesday, watched from his customary position via the big screen in the paddock in the company of Paul Smith, son of owner Derrick. The latter swiftly relayed to O’Brien he had swept the board and the trainer, not prone to great shows of emotion, smiled broadly and let out a deep breath.
We have grown accustomed to him saddling the first three home in big races - last year’s Arc, 1000 Guineas and Fillies’ Mile spring straight to mind - but his one-two-three-four in Britain’s most prestigious two-year-old race was something else.
Of the £500,000 prize money on offer, he left just £17,150 crumbs of comfort for his trounced rivals to pick up.
They should be grateful for the small consolation prizes, too, because his main Dewhurst candidate, Gustav Klimt, did not travel over after suffering a minor setback.
We would surely have been in the realms of Michael Dickinson and the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup had the Superlative Stakes winner been fit, or O’Brien had carelessly not declared the stable cat.Aidan O'Brien was winning his sixth Dewhurst with U S Navy Flag (Racingfotos)
Only the previous day, John Gosden had told Racinguk.com that “when you take them on [O’Brien runners], you are taking on the very, very best. You have to be be completely on your game or you ain’t going to belong.”
Those words proved prophetic as Expert Eye trailed home last after getting restless in the stalls, racing keenly and finding nothing when push came to shove from two out. Sir Michael Stoute, his trainer, was unable to offer an explanation and revealed a scope after the race had come back clean.
One place in front of him was Gosden’s well fancied Emaraat (6-1), who had won in taking style at Newbury on his previous start.
O’Brien received endless congratulations afterwards and shook numerous hands. In a series of post-race interviews he constantly deflected the praise away from himself, as he always does.
Have you had the first four home in a Group One race before? The question was asked time and again and each time he responded in similar style.U S Navy Flag made all and kept on resolutely for his Dewhurst victory (PA)
“I’m not sure, but it’s great for everybody,” he said. “It’s a big team effort all the way along - from the people that are involved very early with those horses as foals, and before they are even born, all the way to along to the people directly involved today.
“It’s great satisfaction for everybody, a massive team effort with lots of cogs in the wheel.”
O’Brien was achieving his 24th Group One win of the year - his best haul - and now needs just one more success to draw level with the world record achieved by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003.
He can count himself unlucky not to have already passed him.
September was desperately unlucky when beaten a nose in the Fillies’ Mile on Friday and early on Saturday his Johaness Vermeer was beaten a head in a Group One contest in Australia after being asked to engage top gear too late.
On Sunday, he is represented in two more races at the highest level in Canada. Nowhere in the world is beyond his reach, it seems.
"It would be massive for everyone [to achieve the record] but we don't think about it really,” O’Brien said.
“We take one race at a time but it would obviously be a massive achievement for the hundreds of people in our team. We would be very honoured, but we will take one day at a time.”
As for U S Navy Flag, he stood subdued in the winner’s enclosure with his head bowed afterwards.
He is clearly a horse who leaves everything on the racecourse but O’Brien was not unduly concerned by what he described as “sleepy” behaviour.
The bookmakers are puzzled by the 2000 Guineas and you can get 10-1 the field if you look around.
It will probably be wise to not look too far from the O’Brien camp. The Magic Man among the training ranks has plenty more tricks left up his sleeve.