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Champions Series stars: Australia

26 Jan 2017

On #AustraliaDay, we reflect on the career of the two-time Champions Series winner

Joseph O’Brien and Australia storm to Derby success. Pic: racingfotos.com

Any trainer in the world would consider themselves fortunate to train one Derby winner in their lifetime, let alone the five that Aidan O’Brien has saddled throughout his glittering career.

And yet, despite the embarrassment of riches he has had at his disposal, it was the very last of the quintet which led O’Brien to declare as the best of the bunch – Australia.

A son of the mighty Galileo out of the 2004 Oaks winner and two-time European Horse of the Year, Ouija Board, Australia was always bred to be a classy operator. Expectations were high and despite the pressure, the chestnut did not fail to live up to them for owners Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor, Sue Magnier and Malaysian Teo Ah King.

Sent off the even money favourite for his first ever race, a 7 furlong contest at The Curragh in April 2013, Australia was beaten a neck by Jim Bolger’s Renaissance Art. Whilst this proved to be the latter’s only ever career win, Australia’s time in the sun was just about to get going.

Back-to-back wins in Ireland – including the Breeders’ Cup Turf Juvenile Trial Stakes at Leopardstown – earmarked Australia as very much one for the following year, and he arrived at Newmarket for his Champions Series debut as the second favourite for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas behind the John Gosden-trained Kingman.

Both, however, were beaten in an almost blanket finish by 40/1 outside Night of Thunder, with Australia finishing third, a head behind Kingman who was in turn half a length back from the winner.

Speaking to the BBC afterwards, O’Brien said: “He’s still a baby and the Derby trip should not be a problem. On pedigree, you’d say he was a Derby horse, but he was working like a Guineas horse.”

Unsurprisingly, Australia’s next assignment was indeed the Epsom showpiece, for which he was sent off the 11/8 favourite, with seemingly only the threat of rain preventing him from following in the footsteps of stablemates Ruler of the World and Camelot who had won the historic race for O’Brien the two previous years.

Positioned perfectly throughout, Australia began to make his move with three furlongs to go and as he swept past his pacemaker, Kingfisher, it was a straight shootout between he and the future St Leger winner Kingston Hill. By the time they had reached the furlong pole, though, Australia had pulled clear and never looked for catching, with Joseph O’Brien pumping his fist in celebration as he crossed the line.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, he admitted: “Horses don’t come any easier to ride than this one. He’s the best.”

Having followed up in the Irish equivalent later that month – when O’Brien saddled the first three home – Australia’s next assignment was another Champions Series race – the Juddmonte International at York.

Held up at the back of the field for much of the race, Joseph – who had made his lowest riding weight for two years in order to partner the horse – took control of the race with two furlongs remaining when Australia loomed up alongside his rivals before pulling clear and winning what on paper looked like his toughest assignment to date very comfortably.

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With all eyes now focused on the QIPCO Champion Stakes on British Champions Day, Australia was next seen in the Irish equivalent where he suffered a shock defeat at the hands of The Grey Gatsby who had previously won the French Derby and had chased him home for second at York.

As retirement loomed for O’Brien’s colt, he was prepared for a swansong at Ascot in the Champion Stakes before disaster struck a week before the race.

Reports of soreness in his heel led to farrier Jeff Henderson discovering an infection which had blown up and would need at least two weeks of recovery, meaning Ascot – and Australia’s final hurrah – would be off the agenda.

With the prospect of one final big prize gone, connections decided to call time on his racing career, with O’Brien leading the tributes: “From very early days we thought Australia was as good as any horse we have ever had here and nothing has happened to change our view. He’s unique.”

Having amassed prize money of a shade over £2m – he was sent to Coolmore stud for the next chapter of his life as a stallion, where he stands alongside his sire.

Just like the his trainer and jockey, the story of Australia is very much a family affair.