06/05/2014 3:17PM

Australia faces high expectations in Epsom Derby


If one is betting on Australia to win the Epsom Derby on Saturday at Epsom Downs in England, and the colt is the heavy antepost favorite, one is betting as much on trainer Aidan O’Brien and the reputation of his operation as the animal himself.

Australia, a son of Galileo and two-time Eclipse Award winner Ouija Board, has won 2 of 4 career starts. His “major” victory came last September at Leopardstown in the Group 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Trial Stakes over just three opponents. Australia has raced once at the Group 1 level, finishing third of 14 in the English 2000 Guineas on May 3 in his last out.

The arguments for Australia are powerful pedigree, the eye-catching nature of his victory at Leopardstown, the thought that the one-mile Guineas fell short of his ideal trip – and, of course, O’Brien.

O’Brien has won the Epsom Derby two years in a row, with Ruler of The World last season and the favored Camelot in 2012, and he scored back-to-back victories in 2001 with Galileo and in 2002 with High Chaparral. The trainer has never won three Epsom Derbies in a row.

Australia has long been tabbed as O’Brien’s leading Derby hope and has the services of his son, jockey Joseph O’Brien. By race time Saturday, the Epsom course is expected to be uniformly rated “good,” the going Australia reportedly prefers. Australia had a potentially useful prep in the Guineas, but it remains to be seen if his ability matches his hype.

No entrant is familiar with the horseshoe 1 1/2-mile left-handed Epsom course, and there is no better guide to the terrain right now than jockey Ryan Moore, who won his second Derby on Ruler of The World and rides Geoffrey Chaucer for O’Brien this year. Geoffrey Chaucer also has a great pedigree, a half-brother to Shamardal and a close relative to Street Cry. He encountered trouble finishing third last out in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, the race that propelled High Chaparral to his Derby victory.

O’Brien has two more entrants, Orchestra and Kingfisher, both of whom have less-encouraging form.

Arod and True Story, the two-three finishers in the Dante Stakes, got a boost when Dante winner The Grey Gatsby won the Group 1 French Derby on Sunday. True Story was slightly bothered by the drifting winner, while Arod finished strongly from the back.

Kingston Hill, the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy winner last fall, finished eighth in the 2000 Guineas but should appreciate Saturday’s longer trip. Western Hymn has won all three of his starts, the last in the Group 3 Bet365 Classic Trial, but ran greenly in a variety of ways that day.

Post time for the Derby is 11 a.m. Eastern, and betting on the race is widely available in North America, including at Belmont Park.

◗ Epsom’s second Saturday Group 1, the Coronation Cup, lost key player Ruler of The World this week, leaving Cirrus des Aigles a heavy favorite to win his third Group 1 in a row. The 8-year-old Cirrus des Aigles won the Prix Ganay in April and the Prix d’Ispahan in May, and though his previous English raids have brought him to Ascot, and this will be his Epsom debut, the gelding has carried his form to a wide array of racecourses around the world.