Aidan O’Brien calls the Irish Derby ‘the ultimate test’ and it was aced by Capri back in 2017, writes Tom Harle.
One of the outstanding descendants of Ballydoyle super sire Galileo, Capri landed an excellent renewal of the race and O’Brien’s 12th Derby win - 20 years on from his first with Desert King.
It was also a third triumph for pilot Seamie Heffernan, joining the likes of Lester Piggott, Johnny Murtagh and Christy Roche as jockeys to have dominated the Derby in the modern era.
Heffernan was at the wheel for most of Capri’s impressive two-year-old season, starting off at the Curragh and taking in impressive wins at Tipperary and Galway
He didn’t bring the house down at the start of his crucial three-year-old campaign, eased to fourth in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown and third over the same course and distance a month on
So it was with measured expectations that Capri joined Wings of Eagles, Cliffs Of Moher, Douglas Macarthur and Venice Beach in O’Brien’s five-strong raiding party for the Epsom Derby.
Sent out at 18/1, he came into the straight and stayed on reasonably well to finish sixth. Wings of Eagles nabbed victory by less than a length from Cliffs Of Moher for an Ballydoyle one-two.
Capri didn’t feature in too many headlines when attention shifted from Surrey to the Curragh for the Irish equivalent. But Heffernan fought his corner and in the days leading up, rain came.
Wings of Eagles was 2/1 to do what Harzand did the previous year pull off the Derby double, with Capri 6/1 in a field that featured Epsom second-placer Cracksman and Andre Fabre’s Waldgeist.
The Anvil shot out of the gate and was three lengths in front at the halfway stage with stablemates Douglas Macarthur and Taj Mahal disputing.
It felt like a strategy to set up Wings Of Eagles but Heffernan pushed Capri along as the two-furlong mark came and went, surging clear of the field.
The colt’s move sparked Wings and Cracksman into life as Moore, desperate for a first-ever Derby win, and Pat Smullen asked for plenty from their horses.
Capri knew exactly what he had to do and dug deep, warding off blow after remorseless blow to triumph by a neck from Cracksman.
“Seamus gave him a lovely ride, he had a lovely position throughout and timed his run perfectly,” said O’Brien, toasting yet another Derby day success.
“What he did wasn’t easy, the pace was on up front and it was strong and he was in the eye of the storm all the time. He had a choice and he knew all the fancied horses were behind him.
“It was a masterclass, really.’