Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)
A race which harboured the hope of Dawn Approach continuing an exceptional unbeaten streak, it was instead Aidan O' Brien who reigned supreme and ruled the Epsom Downs as the twice-raced Ruler of the World impressed with a runaway victory in the Epsom Derby. Few could have expected the shock performance of the strong favourite, Dawn Approach. In a manner similar to that of his sire in his Derby year, Dawn Approach seemingly struggled to settled after some initial jostling for position in the early stages of the race. Pulling for his head behind the front runners, Dawn Approach was notably close up at the head of affairs with Kevin Manning left with little or no choice but to allow his mount to hit the front considerably early on in the race. As Dawn Approach hit the front, the cheers from the few were noticeable as they believed Dawn Approach would be able to pull away for a Shergar-esque victory, but most were clear in the knowledge that Dawn Approach would have a hard task to reign supreme after his early exertions. As the field exited Tattenham Corner and into the long, contour-ridden straight of the Epsom Downs, the writing was on the wall for Dawn Approach who began to drop back alarmingly as the majority of the field sped past him to throw down their challenge for Derby glory.
With Dawn Approach dropping out the back of the television, the Ballydoyle battalion looked perfectly poised to provide trainer Aidan O' Brien with his fourth Derby victory and Coolmore's fifth in the race, but which one would be the victor looked as open as ever.
With Battle of Marengo labouring in front with a furlong and a half to go, Ruler of the World began a wide sweeping move under Ryan Moore which eventually saw the son of Galileo hang all the way down the camber of the Epsom Downs from the middle of the track and towards the far side fail, blocking off Ocovango's chance to begin an early run in the process.
However, a superior being with a sublime turn of foot as the contours of the Downs became more violent with the rising ground, Ruler of the World was in a league of his own in the Derby and readily accounted for his rivals.
Libertarian, outpaced and towards the rear of the field for the majority of the race, would deliver an eye-catching run to gain second on the wire having been fifth with a hundred yards to go. Galileo Rock was a further place back in third. "It was a dramatic race" said Ryan Moore who was winning his second Epsom Derby, "I had no option but to go on when I did, I knew he'd stay the trip but I think I got there too soon. I knew the others were coming as I'd gone too soon but from there on he had to tough it out."
For Dawn Approach and his connections it was a case of what might have been. Vocal in previous interviews as to how Dawn Approach may be better over the mile-and-a-quarter distance, the decision to run in the Epsom Derby this season was taken after a breathtaking victory in the English 2,000 Guineas, but it was one which would not mirror the performance of his sire New Approach with the Bolger colt finishing last of twelve.
"I was a passenger and he took me completely by surprise" said jockey Kevin Manning, "He got a minor bump and for whatever reason he was lit up and it was all over. I tried to get cover and that wasn't working so we went to the front but the damage was done by then. I knew before he took me to the front it was all over."
Jim Bolger, the trainer of Dawn Approach whom was unbeaten in seven starts prior to the Epsom Derby confirmed that Dawn Approach will not be entered over the mile and a half distance again in the future.
Criticism has been high in the past of Classic winners that have faded away after a scintillating season of division-topping performances, but one perfect example of what can be achieved if a horse is allowed to grow into themselves and improve further with age was entirely evident on the very same card at Epsom.
With victory earlier on the card, St Nicholas Abbey had made history achieving three consecutive victories in the Coronation Cup at Epsom just two months after a superb performance when taking down the Sheema Classic at the Dubai Carnival in Meydan. A one-time favourite for the Epsom Derby in 2010, St Nicholas Abbey missed that engagement after a lacklustre performance in the English 2,000 Guineas of the same year, a performance that eventually lead to him missing the rest of his Classic season.
Three years on and St Nicholas Abbey has earnt his connections just shy of £5million with victories in America, Dubai, Ireland and England and a total of six Group 1 victories. This may prove to be St Nicholas Abbey's final season under the care of Aidan O' Brien, but boy has he earnt a life at stud now.
"He loves this place, he's never put a foot wrong here and he's a force to be reckoned with this year" said Joseph O' Brien who was build up a strong relationship with the colt, "On his blow at home the other morning he was exceptional, better than he has ever been, he's matured."
"He's an incredible horse" said Aidan O'Brien, "He has everything you want in a racehorse and is a joy to be around. What everyone forgets is how much speed this lad showed as a two year old, he had that class all the time. Obviously, the trainer destroyed him at three and it took him three years to get back!"
St Nicholas Abbey will now target the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot as his mid-season target, with a trip to Royal Ascot in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes still a possible stop en route.
On Ruler of the World, Aidan O' Brien was clear in his view that the three year old son of Galileo still has time on his side. "We'd love to go back to the Curragh [Irish Derby] but he's still a baby. This horse was impressive in the Chester Vase and has won like a very good horse. We're very lucky that we get these incredibly bred horses."
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)