TDN Horses of the Year: Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin goes nose to nose with King Of Steel in a sensational Derby performance  | PA Media

Continuing the profiles of the favourite horses of TDN Europe's editorial team in 2023, Tom Frary selects the horse he believes is the best of Aidan O'Brien's nine Derby winners.

Sectional timing wasn't around when Dancing Brave tanked down the outer to get within just under a length of Shahrastani in 1986. If it had been, we'd have been able to gauge just how unlucky he was (he was). Maybe if it had been there could also have been a proper assessment of whether El Gran Senor should have prevailed two years earlier, but hey ho. Now we have it, we know just what the elite of their generation can do in cold, clear figures and in particular during that last surging period of what is still the world's most exciting horse race.

This year's Derby was visually a lovely throwback to those wonderful ones of the 1970s and 1980s, with little between two sensational colts primed to the minute able to stamp their superiority on the rest during the last three furlongs. Unfortunately for connections of the gargantuan yet surprisingly nimble King Of Steel, who produced the fastest individual furlong of 10.66 seconds between the three and the two on what was remarkably his first start of the season, there was another in the line-up who had the ace up his sleeve.

Auguste Rodin (Ire), that melange of Japan's deity Deep Impact (Jpn) and one of the best of the faster Galileo (Ire) mares, took a while to get to fever pitch but on the first Saturday in June he caught fire. On the summer fast ground he would prove in time was essential, and granted the perfect ride from a jockey with the Epsom aptitude of the Longfellow, he thrust himself into the top of the charts of Derby heroes with an outlandish final two furlongs of 22.18 seconds. He almost broke 33 seconds for the last three! Upstaging his damsire in the process, he became to my eyes Ballydoyle's best Derby winner, under Aidan O'Brien's tenure at least.

He needed to do it again, of course, and duly did so in what was for me the race of the year in the Irish Champion Stakes. Luxembourg (Ire) killed everything bar the uber-talented Auguste Rodin, who had the audacity to idle once he had passed his truly on-song stablemate, much as his dam Rhododendron (Ire) tended to do in her day. The Leopardstown race was not for the faint-hearted, yet he found it all well within his capabilities much as he did next time in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Thankfully, he's going to be around in 2024 and by rights he should be even better. He may never win an Arc, as ironically the one year the ground rode fast he was already being routed elsewhere, but if the rains stay away he'll probably win the King George and another Breeders' Cup Turf, much as Aidan O'Brien's other brilliant colt High Chaparral (Ire) did. And then the Japan Cup perhaps? What a shame Equinox (Jpn) will not be around to stretch him more than his contemporaries did this year.

I think only in time will that Derby performance be truly appreciated as the benchmark it really was. It is up to those who follow now to meet the standard of that barnstorming finish. Horse of the Year 2023 unquestionably for me, but whether 2024 will follow the same tune remains to be seen. In a story reminiscent of that of Riva Ridge and Secretariat, it could be that his thunder will be stolen by the “special one” housed in his own barn!


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