MARK JOHNSTON could not hide his disappointment after Permian’s 10th place finish in the Investec Epsom Derby.
Just the prolific trainer’s fifth runner in the blue riband race, it was ironic that the Derby was won by the fast finishing Wings Of Eagles – one of the least fancied of Aidan O’Brien’s six entries – who was ridden by little known jockey Padraig Beggy, who served part of his apprenticeship in this county.
With the 40-1 winner, the longest priced Derby winner since Snow Knight in 1974, sired by 2011 victor Pour Moi, the outcome was further reaffirmation of the dominance of the Coolmore breeding operation, which is allied to O’Brien’s all-conquering Ballydoyle stables in County Tipperary.
Yet, as Permian attempted to become Yorkshire’s first Derby winner since Dante in 1945, William Buick’s mount broke well as two of the Ballydoyle battalion set a scorching pace on quick ground.
However, Johnston’s charge did not appear to handle the descent to Tattenham Corner despite his 10 previous races including Epsom’s own Derby trial in April.
Permian’s performance did not match his second to Cracksman in the aforementioned Epsom race or his victory over Benbatl in York’s Dante Stakes last month.
“He was disappointing obviously,” said Middleham-based Johnston after former hurdler Soldier In Action’s win in the subsequent mile-and-a-half handicap provided some compensation.
“It’s difficult as he had form with Cracksman (who finished third) and everyone was expecting him to improve but the horse who finished second to us in the Dante (Benbatl – who finished fifth) was well in front of us as well.
“I don’t think he’s run up to the form he showed in the Dante. Why that is, I’m not sure. William’s comment was that, although he’d run well here in the trial, he didn’t seem to handle the course as well today.
“Thinking about it, though, there was some give in the ground that day and there was also give in the ground at York for the Dante as well, so it could be that he needs it softer to show his true form.”
As for the race, the most open Derby in years looked like it would be a battle in the final two furlongs between Frankie Dettori on Cracksman and Ryan Moore’s mount Cliffs Of Moher.
Here were, arguably, the best two jockeys in the world locking horns 40 years after Lester Piggott and Willie Carson’s epic battle on The Minstrel and Hot Grove, respectively.
However, as the Ballydoyle first string Cliffs Of Moher appeared to be asserting, stablemate Wings Of Eagles lived up to his name and emerged from a ‘different county’ – the colt was that far back – to spring a major surprise.
A sixth win for O’Brien, it was a redemptive ride for Beggy, who was riding in the race for the first time and who previously worked for Malton’s John Quinn amongst others.
Banned for a year after testing positive for cocaine while riding in Australia, the 31-year-old was offered salvation by O’Brien, who rated the jockey’s horsemanship.
Beggy is one of the key work riders at Ballydoyle and the bond that he has formed with Wings Of Eagles, now favourite for Doncaster’s St Leger in September, meant he was the obvious choice to ride the horse in the most iconic Flat race of all.
“They go very quick in the Derby all the way from the start and I ended up behind Ryan on Cliffs Of Moher so I was happy enough but I was a little bit further back than I wanted to be,” he said.
“I was waiting for Ryan to get a split so I knew that when Ryan got a split, I could go with him. I knew I was going to pass most of the field but I didn’t think I was going to pass them all like I did.”
Asked about his past, Beggy said: “I started off riding in Ireland then went and rode in the North of England for a little while and then I was in Australia.
“I got into a little bit of trouble in Australia – it was a little mistake and look, I was knocked down and I had to come back fighting and I have proved that today so I am very happy. I gave a positive test for cocaine, I had to pick myself back up there and I had either had to get back riding there or come back to Ireland.
“You are riding the best horses day in, day out and look, the likes of that colt (Wings Of Eagles), I would never get the leg up on a big strong, three-year-old colt like him without being at Ballydoyle, so I’ve won the Derby!
“I can’t say much more. I got into Ballydoyle and Aidan had a chat with me and said if I keep working, that someday we will repay you and there you go! I don’t think he meant the Derby!”