December 1, 2023

Anthony Van Dyck hands trainer O’Brien, sire Galileo record-tying Derby victory

Anthony Van Dyck is the second straight Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf participant to take the Epsom Derby (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

With a seven-strong posse in Saturday’s Derby (G1), trainer Aidan O’Brien had a terrific chance of earning a record-tying seventh victory in the Epsom classic. Those probabilities increased as four of his runners were involved in the cavalry charge to the finish, but Kevin Prendergast’s Madhmoon was proving tough to pass – until 13-2 chance Anthony Van Dyck dove to the inside late and prevailed in a blanket finish.

Under inspired handling by veteran rider Seamie Heffernan, who was winning his first Derby, Anthony Van Dyck was also making history for sire Galileo. O’Brien’s first Derby hero in 2001, Galileo has now sired a record-equaling fourth winner. That feat has been accomplished by such sires as Sir Peter Teazle, Waxy, Cyllene, Blandford, and most recently by fellow Coolmore sire Montjeu.

O’Brien has trained three of Galileo’s winners, with Ruler of the World (2013) and Australia (2014) preceding Anthony Van Dyck. (The other Galileo winner, New Approach, was trained by Jim Bolger.)

All seven on O’Brien’s honor roll descend from the Sadler’s Wells sire line. High Chaparral (2002) was by the great patriarch himself, while Camelot (2012) is by his son Montjeu and Wings of Eagles (2017) is a Montjeu grandson (by 2009 Derby winner Pour Moi). The record of seven winners, first set by trainer Robert Robson, was matched by 19th century legend John Porter and Fred Darling in the 1922-1941 time span.

Madhmoon was the only rival preventing an O’Brien clean sweep. Japan (by Galileo) was a nose away in third, edging stablemates Broome (the 4-1 second choice by Australia) and Sir Dragonet (the 11-4 favorite by Camelot).

O’Brien was humble and self-effacing as ever, deflecting praise to the Coolmore partners and the entire training operation at Ballydoyle.

“I am privileged to be part of the team with everybody,” O’Brien said. “The lads put so much in – John and Sue (Magnier), Michael and Doreen (Tabor), Derrick and Gay (Smith) – they put so much in day in, day out.

“Everyone that works in Ballydoyle and Coolmore – there are so many people. If I mention everybody, I will forget but there are people from the ground right up to the riders, the people in the office, the farriers, the vets, the people that do the stables day in and day out, that do the farms. There are so many people involved that I would like to thank.

“Patrick rides this horse (Anthony Van Dyck) out all the time and does a great job, Andrew is in charge of him, Sumi, who leads him up, and John – they are incredible people. I am so privileged and delighted and grateful to them.”

So deep was the Ballydoyle team in the 240th Derby that it was difficult to rank them by merit. Anthony Van Dyck, once the antepost favorite on the strength of a fine juvenile campaign, had been supplanted in the market by the upwardly mobile Sir Dragonet and Broome. As his stablemates burst to the fore, Anthony Van Dyck appeared to slip in the pecking order, an impression that stuck despite his comeback score in the Lingfield Derby Trial. The Epsom riding assignments – Ryan Moore on Sir Dragonet and the trainer’s son Donnacha on Broome – only reinforced the idea.

Yet as O’Brien said afterward, the variables that come into play on raceday provide the real test.

“We do not put any of our Derby horses together at home. We just try to have them at their best for when they get to the racecourse.

“You don’t know what horse is going to handle the track, the preliminaries, whether they will have the stamina.”

Anthony Van Dyck rose to the occasion, perhaps benefitting from his juvenile foundation. The odds-on winner of last summer’s Futurity (G2) and Tyros (G3), he was runner-up to Godolphin’s Quorto in the National (G1) and third to John Gosden’s Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst (G1).

Those results indicated that Anthony Van Dyck wanted to stretch back out to a mile, the distance of his Killarney maiden win. Clearly sire Galileo was exerting more of an influence than his dam, Australian Group 3-winning sprinter Believe‘n’succeed. The Exceed and Excel mare, herself a full sister to Group 2 speedster Kuroshio, produced New Zealand champion sprinter Bounding (by Lonhro).

Shipped to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Anthony Van Dyck was compromised by post 14 and wound up ninth behind Line of Duty. He wasn’t seen again until the May 11 Lingfield Derby Trial, where he exploded any concerns about his stamina.

“Anthony Van Dyck is a very solid horse,” O’Brien noted. “He danced every dance last year and did everything we asked of him. He ran a very good trial when winning at Lingfield. He passed all the tests to be fair to him.

“Seamus gave him a great ride….Seamus has been placed for so many times. He has been working for us for so long and is such a special fellow. He has always been a world-class rider. We are so privileged to work with him and grateful every day, day in, day out. I am so delighted for him.”

Heffernan, who’d finished second aboard Fame and Glory in the 2009 Derby and aboard longshot At First Sight in 2010, deserves all the accolades for working out the winning trip here. Reserved off the pace set by stablemate Sovereign, who was chased by fellow Ballydoyle runners Norway and Circus Maximus, Anthony Van Dyck wasn’t traveling conspicuously well rounding Tattenham Corner or in upper stretch.

In contrast, Sir Dragonet was advancing smoothly into contention, along with Madhmoon, who recovered from a stumble clipping heels, and the two grappled for command. Anthony Van Dyck, under a drive behind them, didn’t find his best stride until past midstretch. Heffernan adroitly steered him to a gap on the inside, and he suddenly took off to get up by a half-length in 2:33.38 for about 1 1/2 miles on good-to-firm ground.

Madhmoon, who’d never raced beyond a mile and had some stamina doubts, bravely fended off the rest of the Ballydoyle battalion to take second in the photo. Sheikh Hamdan’s colorbearer must have inherited that staying power from paternal grandsire New Approach, something sire Dawn Approach didn’t express on the track.

Japan gained traction wider out, but a fraction too late, to grab third by a nose. Broome loomed for much of the stretch without ever quite getting there in fourth. Sir Dragonet wilted in the final yards in fifth, his lack of experience in this third career start possibly telling in the end.

Given the tight finish, and the unique circumstances of each of the top five, it would be no surprise for the order to be shuffled if they renew rivalry in the June 29 Irish Derby (G1). Japan in particular stands to move forward mightily off this near-miss. Sir Dragonet has every right to be toughened up from his first real battle, and soft ground would help at the Curragh. Madhmoon’s class nearly got him home, so he’s worth trying again at the trip, especially considering his trouble. But he ought to excel in majors around 1 1/4 miles.

A similar point applies to Circus Maximus. A further 4 1/2 lengths back in sixth, the son of Galileo and Duntle fared best of those in proximity to the pace. His effort was all the more commendable since he took a nosedive out of the gate, and jockey Frankie Dettori reported that he wasn’t handling the track.

Since Anthony Van Dyck had come across the path of Circus Maximus when altering course, the stewards handed Heffernan a two-day suspension. That move didn’t have much of an effect on Circus Maximus, but it was the key to victory for Anthony Van Dyck.

Gosden’s Humanitarian punched above his weight in his stakes debut, finishing seventh, and it’s onwards and upwards from here for the King Edward VII (G2) entry. Norway, a full brother to Ruler of the World, faded after racing prominently, but he’s always hinted of being a thoroughgoing stayer – the St Leger (G1) might suit him better. Line of Duty, yet to recover his juvenile form, checked in ninth, and jockey James Doyle suggested he wants “easier ground.” Next came pacesetter Sovereign; 100-1 shot Hiroshima; and the two disappointments of the race, Bangkok and Telecaster.

The second straight Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf alumnus to capture the Derby, after Masar (2018), Anthony Van Dyck is the first Lingfield Derby Trial winner to follow up at Epsom since High-Rise (1998).

Heffernan was delighted to be a team player for Ballydoyle.

“I am probably lucky I don’t have the choice (of which horse to ride)! When you have to make the choice, if you get it right 51 per cent of time you are winning. There is no other yard in Ireland from which I would have gone around in the Derby 12 times. I am just happy to taking part on very well-bred horses.

“I’m always confident riding for Aidan,” Heffernan added. “It doesn’t matter if they are favorite or a big price – he trains them all for the big day. Aidan trains them all for the Derby and some of them handle it and some of them don’t. That’s just the way horse racing is.

“I wouldn’t be able to win it if it wasn’t for the firm I am with. I had to take a hold from two down, which probably helped as it’s hard pushing the whole way down the straight. He’s a Galileo, so I knew that he would be with me when I needed him.

“I was happy enough to be comfortable. I was following Ryan (Moore on Sir Dragonet), which I thought was the big danger, but it was a big ask for him on only his third run. My lad has danced every dance and been running up the back ends of horses over seven furlongs. I am happy.

“I haven’t had to take a pull going to the two pole and wait for a run in a long time, so I was confident I was going to get to them.

“It means a lot as I’m into the last 10 years of my riding career,” the 46-year-old observed. “I’ve been around plenty of Derby winners and I rode his father in a trial and won it. I’ve seen plenty of them and I’ve ridden in plenty of Derbys, so it means a lot to win it.”

O’Brien underscored what the Derby means to Coolmore, whose partnership permutations boast a total of eight wins (his seven plus the Andre Fabre-trained Pour Moi).

“The boss (John Magnier) always says that the Derby is the Holy Grail, and it is the backbone of the Thoroughbred. This is the ultimate test.”


The Coolmore empire came close to sweeping the three Group 1s during the two-day Derby Festival, only to suffer tough beats on Friday.

The Oaks (G1) appeared at Pink Dogwood’s mercy as the O’Brien pupil cruised to the front the stretch. But Meon Valley Stud’s homebred Anapurna came again for the Gosden/Dettori tandem, and forced her neck in front in 2:36.09. The first European classic winner sired by legendary Frankel, she joins his 2017 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) victress Soul Stirring.

“I had a great run, I got a nice split to the inside,” Dettori said after his fifth Oaks win. “For a moment I thought, ‘God, I’m not good enough’, but when the stamina kicked in she won really well.”

Anapurna, who romped in the Lingfield Oaks Trial in her stakes debut, was kicking off a classic double for Lingfield completed by Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby.

“She’s completely different to Lingfield,” Dettori commented. “She traveled a lot better today. She was all at sea at Lingfield, but that taught her a lot. She’s a very good stayer and she proved it today.”

Note that Anapurna’s inside thrust was followed by O’Brien’s third-placer Fleeting, who finished with a flourish once she switched to that part of the course. Two other Frankels – William Haggas’s Frankellina and Gosden’s 11-4 favorite, Mehdaayih – reported home sixth and seventh. Frankellina hung a bit wide out, and considering that Haggas didn’t have the two-prep scenario he wanted, she remains one to monitor closely. Mehdaayih endured a checkered passage in seventh, and eighth-placer Maqsad likely failed to stay the trip.

The inside path was also plowed successfully by Defoe to upset Friday’s Coronation Cup (G1). The Roger Varian trainee has hinted of his ability to break through at this level, and finally did so by mugging O’Brien’s Kew Gardens.

Salouen, the near-upsetter of Cracksman a year ago, was a further five lengths back in third. Gosden’s favorite Lah Ti Dar lost position, apparently unhappy with the track, and plugged on in sixth. Godolphin’s Old Persian also failed to run up to form in seventh.

Although the inside pattern was noteworthy in the marquee events at about 1 1/2 miles, both of Saturday’s Group 3s went to closers powering down the outside.

Anna Nerium, runner-up in last year’s Princess Elizabeth (G3), went one better to give trainer Richard Hannon Jr. his 1000th victory, and Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive Zaaki set a new course record of 1:40.46 in the about 1 1/16-mile Diomed (G3).