A shipper from Ireland was expected to win the 2021 Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 7 but not the Joseph O’Brien-trained 21/1 shot, State Of Rest. This son of Starspangledbanner owned by Teme Valley Racing chose a great time to achieve his second score, grabbing the lion’s share of the $1 million prize fund.
Joseph’s father Aidan saddled the 11/10 favorite, Bolshoi Ballet who finished a disappointing fourth. Ridden by John Velazquez, State Of Rest powered across the wire a length ahead of Christophe Clement’s Soldier Rising (15/1) under Irad Ortiz Jr in this grade 1 contest run over a mile and a furlong and a half on the firm turf track.
Bill Mott’s 10/1 shot Du Jour denied Bolshoi Ballet third place, three and a half lengths behind the winner. The patiently ridden UK trainee, Secret Protector (5/1), finished fifth for Godolphin under Mike Smith, narrowly beating Cellist (24/1).
Bolshoi Ballet looked a feasible favorite, coming into the race after scoring impressively in the Belmont Derby on July 10. State Of Rest’s only previous victory came on his debut as a juvenile in a maiden over six furlongs in June 2020 at Fairyhouse in Ireland. He started as the third favorite at 6/1 and beat another of Aidan’s more popular trainees on the unusually good to firm turf. It has been a fairly frustrating journey for him ever since.
State Of Rest’s five other runs as a juvenile yielded a second placing next time out in a small race in Ireland and it was the only time he started as the favorite. The highlight of that season was probably taking third place, beaten a length, in the group two Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in England over seven furlongs on good ground. This colt obviously has ability but, despite a fairly high knee action, appears unable to produce his best work in testing conditions. He ended his juvenile season with a disappointing effort in the group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes at Doncaster in October, the going was described as heavy and he was beaten nearly nine lengths into fifth.
State Of Rest had only been seen once this year, in a listed race over a mile in Ireland at the end of June. He was beaten half a length into third. He wore a tongue tie for the first time and it may well have helped him as he finished strongly suggesting a slightly longer distance could suit him. The good ground was also in his favor.
As a son of Starsplangledbanner, State Of Rest could have been expected to enjoy his first experience of firm ground at Saratoga. His Australian-bred sire produced his best performances when his hooves were rattling on a fast surface.
What happened in the race?
State Of Rest was the slowest to break from gate nine and found himself at the back of the pack and short of space as his path was blocked by the hindquarters of his rivals. Kenny McPeek’s King Fury (15/1) was slow to start from the outside berth of gate 11 and initially denied him access to a path out wide. Du Jour broke well from gate two under Joel Rosario and momentarily took the lead. Another Irish horse Cadillac, the 9/2 second favorite trained by Jessica Harrington, jumped sharply and eyeballed Du Jour before settling further back. Bolshoi Ballet also started well under Ryan Moore and raced into third. Cellist was ridden aggressively by Julien Leparoux for George Arnold and soon grabbed the lead, three wide of the rail going into the first turn.
As the pack went past the stands it was Bolshoi Ballet who momentarily had his nose in front of Cellist with Kelly Breen’s Yes This Time (22/1) in a leading row of three. Du Jour grabbed the rail behind them and had Cadillac at his flank. Velazquez settled State Of Rest in sixth, four lengths off the pace on the rail. Secret Protector and Soldier Rising were happy to watch the pack ahead of them as they shared last place, ten lengths behind the leaders.
Racing off the pace was a good strategy as the quarter mile was run in an unforgiving 21.96 seconds. Cellist had taken the lead after the first turn and maintained it with Bolshoi Ballet a length behind him as they completed three quarters of a mile. The running order up front was unchanged approaching the final turn as Cellist maintained a narrow lead on the rail and Du Jour was urged forwards.
The long-time leaders ran low on gas at the eighth pole and State Of Rest circumnavigated them to take the lead a furlong from home. Irad Ortiz managed to urge Soldier Rising through a gap that appeared on the rail inside the weakening horses but never looked likely to trouble the winner. State Of Rest won in a time of 1 minute 53.35 seconds.
O’Brien enjoyed considerable success on his father’s horses as a jockey but, at 1.8m tall, maintaining the weight of a flat jockey was never easy. It became increasingly difficult for him as he reached his twenties. He rode Camelot to victory in the Epsom Derby aged 19 in 2012 and won the race again on Australia in 2014.
In 2016 Joseph wisely decided to end his epic battle with the scales and diverted his attention to training. He had obviously learned plenty from his father and was not afraid to ship his horses in pursuit of significantly better prize money than he was ever going to get closer to home. Aidan is one of the most successful trainers in Ireland and has proved a potent force when shipping Ballydoyle’s strongest ammunition across the world.
His son thinks on a global scale when seeking valuable purses for his horses too and has already plundered huge prize funds in Australia. He has saddled the Melbourne Cup winner twice: In 2017 with the 14/1 shot Rekindling and in 2020 with Twilight Payment who was sent off at 25/1. In June this year he won the grade two Belmont Gold Cup Stakes with Baron Samedi who started as the favorite and succeeded in the style of one.
US bettors would do well to look at Joseph O’Brien’s horses carefully and not be discouraged from supporting them if most choose not to. This is a trainer who is sometimes underestimated when shipping horses. He is unusually shrewd for his age and travels his horses for a reason.