Meet Derby favourite City Of Troy: ‘I’m not sure we’ve ever sent a horse with as much ability to Epsom for this race’

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  • The favourite for this year’s Derby at Epsom, City Of Troy, is one of the most talked about racehorses right now.

    The Aidan O’Brien-trained megastar colt was unbeaten as a two-year-old, being crowned champion juvenile and drawing comparisons with the mighty Frankel. However his highly anticipated seasonal return in the recent 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, resulted in an unexpected defeat.

    Had the colt not trained on into his three-year-old year, as sometimes happens? Had the atrocious winter weather affected his pre-season preparations? Or would he follow in his stablemate Auguste Rodin’s footsteps and bounce back from a below par Guineas run and win the Derby?

    In the aftermath of Newmarket, the Ballydoyle team went into overdrive behind the scenes, analysing and assessing. They have since come out extremely bullish about his chances at Epsom on Saturday 1 June and he has returned to the top of the betting market as favourite for this historic race.

    “I’m not sure we’ve ever sent a horse to the Derby with as much ability as City Of Troy,” said Aidan when H&H spent the day with the team at Ballydoyle recently.

    “He’s very good natured – unusually good for a colt. He has lots of scope underneath him, he’s very balanced and nimble, and he has an unbelievable mind – there’s a lot of [damsire] Galileo in him – and he gallops with his head very low and out, with a very long stride for not a very big horse,” says Aidan illustrating his “chinning” technique to measure his horses (pictured, below).

    Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O'Brien demonstrates his "chinning" technique to measure City Of Troy at just under 16.1hh.

    Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien demonstrates his “chinning” technique to measure City Of Troy at just under 16.1hh. Photo: The Jockey Club/John Hoy.

    “I know that my chin represents 15.3hh and if I put mine against City Of Troy, he’s nearly 16.1hh. That’s my measuring stick.

    “When you stand in to City Of Troy he’s big, but he’s not a big bulky sprinter, and he’s very balanced, he has a long stride and he’s a very nimble horse, whereas a lot of the those big strong bulky milers get lost round Epsom.”

    City Of Troy: “He’s so chilled out – very friendly and kind”

    The colt is ridden out every day by Ballydoyle work rider Dean Gallagher, while David Hickey looks after him. In 27 years working at Ballydoyle, David has looked after a star-studded cast including Camelot, Australia, Starspangledbanner and St Nicholas Abbey. David describes Troy as “such a gentleman”.

    “He’s so chilled out – very friendly and kind, and he’s always looking out his door,” he says. “Things didn’t go right for him in the Guineas, but I think you’ll see the real City Of Troy the next time.”

    The Aidan O'Brien-trained City Of Troy lines up as favourite for the Derby at Epsom on Saturday 1 June.

    The Aidan O’Brien-trained City Of Troy lines up as favourite for the Derby at Epsom on Saturday 1 June. He is put through his paces by work rider Dean Gallagher. Photo: The Jockey Club/John Hoy.

    Reflecting on the 2000 Guineas in which City Of Troy and Ryan Moore finished ninth behind victor Notable Speech, Aidan says a host of circumstances went against them.

    “He went into the stalls last, but the way it worked we might have been better going in earlier because he was revved up and the minute he went in, he spooked, he reared and as soon as he hit the ground again they were off and running,” says Aidan.

    “Usually when something like that happens, the heart rate goes up to between 120 and 150 beats per minute, so he started the race very high when it should have been way lower. Horses go into the red zone when they go over 200 beats per minute and City Of Troy probably got there before halfway in the race, so it was impossible for him to keep going.

    “We just accepted that sometimes things don’t work but really it’s my responsibility to try to make sure it does. We did our homework but we hadn’t done it properly – that’s where we’re looking at the Guineas.”

    Ryan Moore riding City Of Troy (dark blue) wins The bet365 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse.

    Ryan Moore riding City Of Troy (dark blue) wins The bet365 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse.

    “The Derby is the race I look forward to most each year”

    “I felt a huge weight of expectancy in the Guineas – I felt everybody was there to see City Of Troy,” says Aidan. “I probably expected too much of him and hadn’t done my preparation properly.

    “It’s our job to prepare him to go to the races for Ryan Moore to sit on, and when Ryan sits on him he has to be in the right frame of mind, he has to have all the things done and ready. I felt we let him down. Now Ryan would never say it, he never blames anybody but himself, but that’s what I would have felt. It was just a complete let down for everybody because we were all expecting it. But it all went against us and we have to accept that and try to get back to where we want to go.

    “The plan was always to start with the Guineas and go to the Derby, then go wherever after that, and we decided to stay with that plan – he’s done nothing since to make us change the plan.

    “The lads here are unbelievable and they take disappointment like that on the chin,” he adds. “We’ve been doing this for 30 years now. You have to believe and everyone has to know what we’re really thinking and what we’re dreaming.

    “So right now, we’re back dreaming again, we’re making a new start on City Of Troy’s programme. It will make the next race very interesting anyway. The Guineas wasn’t meant to be. What we would have learnt in the Guineas will help us to prepare properly for the Derby, hopefully.”

    Starting with Galileo in 2001, Aidan has landed the Epsom Classic a record nine times.

    “The Derby is the race I look forward to most each year,” he says. “It’s everyone’s dream, whether their horse costs €2m or €20,000, anything is possible, and we’re certainly back dreaming again.”

    You can read all about H&H’s visit to Ballydoyle, with insight on everything from a horse’s will to win to the importance of sleep in Horse & Hound magazine (30 May issue). 

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