03 June 2023

So close but so far in the Derby for Varian and King Of Steel

03 June 2023

Roger Varian was left with a sense of Classic deja vu after his 66-1 outsider King Of Steel come close to becoming the first horse since since Shaamit in 1996 to win the Betfred Derby on their first start at three.

The Carlburg Stables handler had seen Kingston Hill suffer a similar fate when hunted down by Australia in 2014 and had to settle for a silver medal once again as this time it was Aidan O’Brien’s Auguste Rodin who showed his class to pass the imposing Amo Racing-owned colt in the closing stages. It was second runner-up finish for the Amo colours, too, after Mojo Star in 2021.

Varian admitted his mind flashed back to his Derby near-miss nine years ago when King Of Steel hit the front in the hands of Kevin Stott and although disappointed his charge could not hold on to give both trainer and jockey their first victory in the premier Classic, he took comfort from the fact his lofty opinion of the horse has been vindicated.

He said: “I knew he was good. I’m gutted, but that’s horse racing. Hopefully, he’ll come out of the race OK and he’s a very good horse. Credit to the winner though, who is a very good horse.

“I never thought I had it, as I’d been in the same position in 2014 with Kingston Hill, who was clear of the field but you could just see Australia coming to us. Again, I could just see Auguste Rodin coming to us. I hoped when he got to us we would find a bit more, but he ran huge – he’s a very good horse.”

The strapping son of Wootton Bassett failed to make the track prior to the blue riband having seen an intended outing in the Dante scuppered when he was withdrawn at the start, and he arrived at Epsom having had to pass a stalls test at Leicester on Monday.

“He was very well behaved at York until he got to the start, but he was just a bit fresh on the day,” continued Varian.

“I promise you could have led him across the Knavesmire in a head collar and rope. He wasn’t unruly, he was just fresh at the start and playful more than anything.

“You could only call it an unconventional route to the Derby, as we went to York without running and then we went to Leicester only on Monday for a stalls test. So he had two days out from the yard, and sometimes not having a hard race two and a half weeks out, as long as they get it out of their system and get a day away, can benefit them – look at Chaldean.

“We’ve always thought for the last 10 or 12 weeks he’s been very good, but he just wasn’t right for those early trials and so the Dante was our last chance, but he stood up in the gates and didn’t take part. Who knows, that might have made the difference. It’s ifs and buts, but he’s a very good horse – he proved that today – and I hope he comes out of it OK and we can enjoy him going forward.

“I don’t think we could have done much more, but it’s a long way to be in front. I thought Kevin gave him a fine ride, and if he hadn’t gone when he did they’d have rolled in on top of him and he might not have got a run.”

Despite Varian praising the ride given by Stott, the jockey himself was left pondering if he had hit the front too soon in his first ride in the race.

Stott said: “I think from every jockey’s perspective, you hit the front in the Derby and a few emotions and a few thoughts go through your head.

“I’m obviously kicking myself a little bit, thinking I might have gone a little bit too early on him, but then again he hasn’t had a run before this year and that might just have caught him out a bit in the last 50 yards.

“Listen, we were beat by a very good horse obviously, but I had faith in my horse from his home work. He’s a very nice horse and you can see from the size of him he’s absolutely huge.”

Meanwhile, connections of third-placed White Birch were delighted with his effort and will now bid to go two places better on home soil in the Irish equivalent.

George Murphy, assistant to his father, John, said: “We’re delighted with him and he stayed on really well.

“He just hesitated again at the gates and put himself into a difficult position, but it was a great run.

“I’d say it will be the Irish Derby next, Colin (Keane) gave him a great ride considering how it played out early on and he galloped all the way to the line, so all going well it’ll probably be the Irish Derby next.

“We didn’t have a lot of time after the Dante and we didn’t want to do too much, but he’s going to have to improve (around the stalls). I don’t actually think he’s too worried in them, he just gets a bit excited. We’re over the moon to have a horse like him and I can’t thank the owners enough. It’s a great day.”

Keane added: “It was a massive run. He got a bit worked up beforehand and was a bit anxious at the gate. I didn’t want to rush him up. It was a great run considering g the ground he gave away at the start. If we can work things out with him he could be a very good year for him.”

Fellow Irish runner Sprewell claimed fourth with Kate Harrington, representing her mother Jessica, also anticipating another crack at Classic honours at the Curragh next month.

It was his first time contesting that ground, so he’s only going to keep on improving. Roll on the Irish Derby

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted. He didn’t get the clearest of runs down the hill and into the straight, Shane (Foley) felt that if he got him out and got him rolling a bit closer he thinks he would have been third, but he’s run a cracker.

“It was his first time contesting that ground, so he’s only going to keep on improving. Roll on the Irish Derby.”

Foley said: “It was a big run. He didn’t come down the hill as well as you’d have liked, but he stayed on galloping and I think the Curragh will suit a lot better. I just got a check when I wanted to get going.”

There was no luck for Frankie Dettori in his final Derby appearance as the John and Thady Gosden-trained 4-1 favourite Arrest failed to handle the undulations of Epsom and finished down the field in 10th.

Dettori said: “The track didn’t suit him and he didn’t like the ground. We were done at the top of the straight.

“Back on softer ground there is a good race in him.”

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