Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien odds-on for 14th Irish Derby win

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Aidan O'Brien

Aidan O’Brien has won the Irish Derby 13 times and it’s about -900.09 that he wins this year’s race at the Curragh on Saturday evening (19.15 GMT). The champion trainer accounts for eight of the top 10 possible runners in the ante-post betting, while his son Joseph trains one other of those horses. The only trainer that can potentially spoil the O’Brien benefit is Jim Bolger with Fiscal Rules, which is currently +1400 with BetOnline to win the most prestigious Flat race in Ireland.

O’Brien’s wins in the Irish Derby have been from 1997 and 2019. All the winning horses were owned by Coolmore and former associates. Several different jockeys have been aboard his successful runners, with Michael Kinane, Seamie Heffernan and Johnny Murtagh returning multiple wins. O’Brien kept things in the family in 2012 (Camelot) and 2014 (Australia) when Joseph was the jockey. Joseph trained the winner of the Irish Derby with Latrobe at +1400 two years ago when the rider was Donnacha, his brother.

You could be critical of an Irish Flat racing dynamic in which one trainer and his immediate family dominate the sport. When all but two of the 10 shortest-priced runners for the most important race come from the same yard, the sport is hardly competitive. The so-called ‘field’ is about +700 to win the Irish Derby and that could include 12 or more runners. The reality is that O’Brien’s main owners have the most money and by far the best breeding stock. Coolmore control the races and the sales.

Fiscal Rules has a best Racing Post Rating (RPR) of 108. The favourite for the Irish Derby is the O’Brien-trained Vatican City, which has run to a mark of 113. Tiger Moth for O’Brien can be backed at the same price as Fiscal Rules, but the colt has only run to a RPR of 85.

These numbers suggest the market for the O’Brien horses does not reflect their proven form on the track. However, online bookmakers can’t take too many chances because the owners love a bet on their fancied horses.

O’Brien knows the relative ability of his horses and for three-year-olds the bookies could be in the dark. Work watchers can compare times, but O’Brien is clever and may leave his best contenders undercooked. The Coolmore boys pay the bills, so they could get the inside track.

In France, horses from the same yard or in the same ownership are coupled. That means punters can’t back a named individual when the stable or owner is represented by more than one horse. If O’Brien entered eight horses for the French Derby, you would only be able to back one or more in a combined price. That rule takes away the intrigue of identifying the better animals from one stable.

The jockey plans could be seen as a clue. Ryan Moore is O’Brien’s best rider, but the combination has not won the Irish Derby. Heffernan and Padraig Beggy were the winning jockeys for O’Brien in 2017 and 2019 when Moore rode the beaten favourites for the trainer. Heffernan has now won three Irish Derbies aboard O’Brien horses, while Moore has no winners for his boss in the race.

The Irish Derby betting market does not always pinpoint O’Brien’s best runner in the race. Here are some trends related to the trainer’s 13 wins over the last 23 years:

  • Average price of winners: almost +600*
  • Range of starting prices: -800 to +3300
  • Number of outright and joint favourites: 6
  • Odds-on favourites: 5
  • Winners in double-figure odds: 2
  • Most common range of odds: 6 winners from +350 to +500

(*If you disregard the +3300 and +1600 winners, the average price drops to about +250)

The conclusion is that O’Brien’s odds-on favourites have an excellent record and his second and third strings should not be dismissed. However, he has won the race in two of the last three years with an unfancied runner. You should note Beggy’s rides for O’Brien when several of his other entries are shorter in the betting, although Moore is bound to get it right at some stage.

The Flat season in the UK and Ireland has been disrupted, so there is not a great deal of proven form for the English and Irish derbies. The Irish version usually takes place after the Epsom Derby and an O’Brien winner of that race is often the favourite for the Curragh contest a few weeks later. Vatican City can be backed at +450, which is a huge price for an O’Brien Irish Derby favourite.

We don’t yet know O’Brien’s jockey arrangements for this Saturday’s race. The trainer will want the best jockey at his disposal to ride the best horse. On ratings, Russian Emperor is only a couple of pounds behind Vatican City. If Moore rides Russian Emperor in the Irish Derby, that could be a bigger tip than in recent years. The horse fits the betting and form profile of several winners trained by O’Brien and owned by the Coolmore team. It’s +800 for Russian Emperor to provide the most successful Flat trainer in Ireland his 14th Irish Derby win.

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