Fortune favours O’Brien’s Soldier

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE led home a 1-2-3 for Aidan O’Brien in the Budweiser Irish Derby at the Curragh yesterday, in conditions which would not have been out of place at a National Hunt meeting in the depths of winter.

It was the son of Galileo, however, who was best equipped to cope, as he powered nine lengths clear, giving Seamie Heffernan his first ever win in Ireland’s premier flat race.

For O’Brien it was a fifth victory in the Derby, adding to Desert King, Galileo, High Chaparral and Dylan Thomas.

Heffernan, who has been a tremendous servant to Ballydoyle over a number of years, was enjoying a second classic success to go with Imagine, also trained by O’Brien, in the Irish 1000 Guineas in 2001.

Said Heffernan: “At the top of the hill, I was confident I was going to get a share of the money. When I went to the front at the two furlong pole, I knew I was going to get it all.’’

Heffernan made his move early in the straight, after Soldier Of Fortune had tracked the pace set by Spanish Harlem and Boscobel.

Once he set his charge alight, there was only going to be one winner. Soldier Of Fortune, fifth behind Authorized at Epsom, found huge reserves of speed and stamina and ran clear once allowed an inch of rein.

Eagle Mountain, runner-up at Epsom, was struggling a fair way out, but did loom up as a possibility early in the straight. He tried hard to close down the leader, but his effort was short-lived and was run out of second close home by yet another Ballydoyle inmate, Alexander Of Hales.

It was a remarkable feat on the part of O’Brien, having landed a 1-2-3 at Royal Ascot recently in the Group 1 St James’ Palace Stakes.

It was the fourth time in all he has had the first three in an Irish classic and the second occasion he has managed it in the Derby.

“He’s a great horse, who is improving with age,’’ said Heffernan. “I was always cruising and he galloped and quickened.

“He has come on a lot since Epsom and probably wasn’t a 100% for that race. To win this means a lot. I’ve been riding Derby winners for a long time at home and it is fantastic to get to ride one of them on the course.’’

Eagle Mountain may have started favourite, but Soldier Of Fortune was the big mover in the market. Well taken at 9-1 earlier in the week, he found 5-1, from 7’s, on track.

O’Brien admitted he wasn’t overly happy with the horse going to Epsom. “Physically he was fine,’’ said O’Brien.

“But his demeanour just didn’t seem right, he didn’t have a smile on his face. He has been completely different since Epsom.

“His demeanour has changed and there was a smile on his face every morning you saw him in the barn.

“He has come forward massively. He was working and eating the same as he was before going to Epsom.

“It is a massive achievement for everybody involved at home to have a 1-2-3.

“All Derbys are great and this is just as good as my first. This horse could be anything and it is possible he may come forward again.

“It is really a special day for Seamus, no one works harder than him. He has matured every single year since he came to us. He is now a world-class jockey.’’ O’Brien indicated he would sit down later this week with the Ballydoyle team, John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, and formulate a plan for Soldier Of Fortune.

The King George at Ascot was mentioned, but it will be a surprise should the colt, who was bred by Jim Bolger, challenge for that.

“We have the likes of Dylan Thomas and Scorpion for the King George,’’ revealed O’Brien. It will be no surprise should he instead decide to train him exclusively for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October. It is a race he has yet to win.

“That would certainly be possible,’’ said O’Brien. “It would be wrong to think he has to have soft ground.

“But the ground is often soft for that meeting and he wouldn’t be inconvenienced.’’ William Hill offered 10-1 Soldier Of Fortune for the ‘Arc, 8-1 for the King George and make him 11-4 favourite for the English Leger.

Regarding Eagle Mountain, O’Brien remarked: “I would say he doesn’t want the ground as soft as it was today.’’ Kieren Fallon said of Eagle Mountain: “To win a Derby you have to be travelling into the straight and he wasn’t. He’s only a small horse and the ground was too testing.”

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