Serpentine gives O'Brien record eighth win in 'surreal' Derby

London (AFP) –


Serpentine sprang a huge surprise to give trainer Aidan O'Brien a record eighth Epsom Derby on Saturday in front of deserted stands due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although trainers are permitted on course 50-year-old O'Brien was not there to experience history in the making and watched from his stables in Ireland.

Serpentine led from start to finish to give Emmet McNamara his first win in the race at 25/1 leaving the better fancied contenders toiling in his wake.

O'Brien was typically humble about his achievement -- he had earlier won the Oaks with Love.

"The big races it is incredibly satisfying when they do win," said O'Brien via Zoom.

"They are so difficult to make them happen.

"It is such a long road from the breeding process to the present time.

"Everyone is so important and you never really expect anything.

"You do your best and when it happens you accept the result."

O'Brien said Serpentine's performance did not surprise him like it did those who had been able to watch on course -- a stunned silence greeted the winner as he passed the winning post.

"I was always convinced of his ability and that he would stay and young Emmett gave him a cracking ride," said O'Brien, who could round off a memorable weekend even by his lofty standards with the French Derby/Oaks double on Sunday.

McNamara had to pinch himself after passing the post 5 1/2 lengths clear especially as it was his first win since last October.

"Surreal empty stands and I did not hear a sound from behind me all race," said the 30-year-old McNamara.

"All I heard was the horse breathing.

"I think I am about to wake up from doing a piece of work on the gallops!

"I got a little bit of a freebie.

"Aidan said go your own tempo give him a breather and then keep going.

"He was right."

- 'Roared the house down!' -

McNamara, who comes from a racing family, had finished second in the Irish Derby last weekend but was more than delighted with the 'consolation' prize.

"I had been saving myself," he joked about his win drought.

As for his having to go into quarantine for 14 days when he returns to Ireland McNamara was not too concerned.

"They can make it 14 weeks I won't notice!

"I am not sure I would be able to do so at the family home as my father (Eric) has probably roared the house down!

"I hope my dad is OK at home, he hasn't died of a heart attack or anything!"

Two outsiders filled the other placings with 50/1 shot Khalifa Sat second and another of O'Brien's six runners Amhran Na Bfiann was third at 66/1.

Khalifa Sat's jockey Tom Marquand could have been forgiven for giving a cheeky wink at second favourite English King's trainer Ed Walker.

The 22-year-old had been replaced on him by the legendary Frankie Dettori because of the latter's greater experience.

In the end English King was left floundering finishing fifth one place behind favourite Kameko.

Dettori will have to wait another year to see if he can add a third Derby which would give him at least three wins in all the English classics.

"He was doing all his best work towards the end but he is just inexperienced," said Dettori.

O'Brien's first choice jockey Ryan Moore finished sixth on his selection Mogul.

It continued Moore's jinx since he took over as number one jockey in 2015 as this was the third Derby he had chosen the wrong horse finishing behind Wings of Eagles and Anthony Van Dyck.

Moore at least left an empty Epsom with the consolation of a stunning nine length victory on Love in the Oaks.

Love's victory was the 49th time a filly had achieved the 1000 Guineas/Oaks double -- but few have done so in such style.

"Absolutely privileged to train horses like this," said O'Brien.

"She is very special. Hard to say one could have a better filly than that."