Wings Of Eagles swoops late to spring huge surprise in Derby
It looked like a scattergun approach but in one of the most open Investec Derbys in years Aidan O'Brien proved he is the sport's ultimate marksman.
Sending six runners into battle for Flat racing's most prestigious contest the Ballydoyle maestro had one number one and five evenly matched understudies.
And as Cliffs Of Moher hit the front with a furlong to run, he looked like he had put Ryan Moore on the right colt until, out of the clouds, flew 40-1 chance Wings Of Eagles who swooped on his stablemate four strides from the line to secure an unlikely victory for Padraig Beggy.
Beggy, aged 31, had never ridden in the Derby and with only eight rides this year had barely had a chance in an ordinary race. The Epsom Classic was only his fourth win since the start of 2015.
Because he had served a year's ban in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine in Australia it was only his second ride in Britain in five years.
Yet for such an unlikely choice for a race as prestigious and challenging as the Derby, Beggy showed no sign of race rustiness, nor panic, when Wings Of Eagles exited Tattenham Corner in the same position he had entered it, with only two horses behind him.
They met traffic when starting to close 2f out and were still lying seventh when switched with a furlong to go, but from there he positively rattled home to beat Cliffs Of Moher and Cracksman by three quarters of a length and a head in the most dramatic finish since the sire of Wings Of Eagles, Pour Moi, under another Derby first-timer Mickael Barzalona, got up to win by a head in 2011.
Wings Of Eagles, the longest priced winner of the Classic since Snow Knight scored at 50-1 in 1974, clinched a sixth Derby for O'Brien.
At the end of such a frantic finish O'Brien, whose other runners finished sixth (Capri), seventh (Douglas Macarthur), 12th (Venice Beach) and 17th (The Anvil), admitted afterwards, "I don't know what happened."
Yet he was less surprised by the identity of the winner.
"Last year when Colm [O'Donoghue] rode him as a two-year-old in France he liked him," he said. "Seamus rode him at Chester and was delighted with him. He is a horse that travels and quickens well. Padraig knew all about him. He knew what he wanted to do.
"We were very happy with all the horses. With Ryan's horse we were worried he was a little bit of a baby. We just barely got a run into him to be here and he just tired in the last fifty yards. Padraig gave his horse an absolute peach of a ride.
"Padraig is a world-class rider and always has been. We appreciate his work day in and day out. There was no question when we were doing the jockeys that this was the way it was going to be."
Part owner Derrick Smith said: "The fact that Ryan picked Cliffs Of Moher meant he was the favourite but other than that they all went there with an equal chance. We couldn't identify which was our second, third and fourth best."
He added: "Pour Moi was my first Derby win so this is quite something."
Beggy's only success of the year was on Hydrangea in the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial but had few concerns ahead of the Derby.
"I am not saying I was confident but I was happy he was going to run a good race," he said. "Some jockeys win races more than others but nine times out of ten if you're on the best horse you'll win.
"This means the world to me. I've rode many winners but I'd never rode a big winner. Big winners are Classic winners. I thought that had gone by me until Aidan started giving me the rides in those races."
"As soon as the ban was up I wanted to get back on a horse. Aidan took me to one side and said, 'If you keep working someday we will repay you'. I didn't think he meant the Derby."