06/03/2017 2:42PM

Wings of Eagles pulls off a shocker in Epsom Derby

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Aidan O’Brien winning the Epsom Derby? No surprise.

Aidan O’Brien winning the Epsom Derby on Saturday at Epsom Downs with a horse named Wings of Eagles ridden by a jockey named Padraig Beggy? Big surprise.

Wings of Eagles was a 40-1 shot in England and paid $113.20 in U.S. betting after coming from second to last in an 18-horse field under the obscure Beggy to cut down his far more heralded stablemate Cliffs of Moher in the final strides. 

Wings of Eagles won by three-quarters of a length, with Cliffs of Moher a neck better than Cracksman, the favorite. Another three-quarters of a length back in fourth came Eminent, who raced in heavy traffic for much of the trip, especially through the final half-furlong, and ran well in defeat. In fifth was Benbatl, who was last even when the field rolled off Tattenham Corner into the long Epsom homestretch.

Benbatl’s close fifth and the surprisingly effective back-of-the-pack rally from Wings of Eagles spoke to the strong pace at which the Derby was run. O’Brien started six horses and covered all the tactical angles, with Douglas Macarthur going to the front and opening a clear lead over his stablemate The Anvil. Douglas Macarthur proved no wilting pacemaker either, staying on gamely until the final furlong of the 1 1/2-mile Derby before his early exertions caught up with him and he faded to seventh.

Leading the attacking group of stalkers was the inexperienced Cracksman, who had to be ridden along at a couple of points by Frankie Dettori but still appeared to hold a potentially winning hand a quarter-mile out. As Cracksman made the front, there came Cliffs of Moher on the far outside, making what appeared to be his own winning move – until the bomber came out of the clouds.

The 31-year-old Beggy rode his first winner in 2003 and had ridden in Australia until he was suspended for a year late in 2014 because of a drug positive. Returning to Ireland, Beggy found employment mainly as a work rider in the O’Brien stable and had race-ridden just a handful of winners during the last year. He did pilot Hydgrangea to victory April 8 in the Group 3 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown, Beggy’s first group-level stakes-winning ride. But that was nothing compared to Saturday.

Wings of Eagles finished first, fourth, seventh, and ninth in his four starts at age 2, the ninth-place finish coming in his lone group-level stakes try, the Criterium International last fall in France. He had raced once this season, coming home what seemed like a decent second to the O’Brien-trained Venice Beach in the Chester Vase on April 27. His résumé looked light; that is why Beggy was riding him.

Wings of Eagles had a touch of trouble at the start and soon found himself in 17th position during the long uphill climb through the first half of Epsom’s 1 1/2-mile course. Beggy made a wise choice to follow Cliffs of Moher and jockey Ryan Moore, who carried him up a few positions as the field looped around the race’s one left-handed bend. But after cornering into the straight, Wings of Eagles lost his lead horse as Moore was able to remain in the clear on the outside as Wings of Eagles got pushed inside and into traffic. Now, Beggy and his longshot mount had to find their own way, cutting back outside, just off heels, after finding room to maneuver with about a quarter-mile left. Back in the clear, Wings of Eagles resumed his relentless rally, reaching the tails of the leaders with a half-furlong to run and clipping past to victory.

“I said that I would follow Ryan and let the best horse take me into the race,” Beggy said. “A furlong down, I said that if I get a run, I would win. I had seen that Ryan had gone, and in fairness to this big horse, his best furlong in the race was his last, which makes a big, big difference. I don't get to sit on too many like this beast at the races.”

Wings of Eagles was timed in 2:33.02 over a course rated firm. Owned by Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor, Wings of Eagles is by 2011 Epsom Derby winner Pour Moi and out of Ysoldina, by Kendor. On Saturday, he became O’Brien’s fourth Derby winner in the last six years and his seventh overall – and surely the least expected of that bunch.