Adam Kirby’s gaunt features tell the story of his constant battle with scales to pursue his career as a rider on the Flat, and his voice was close to cracking with emotion as he talked through his winning ride on Adayar in the Derby here on Saturday. “I’m not really a person to get overly excited about things but I was then, it was a real buzz,” he said. “I hope my kids were watching. At least they know that when people call daddy an all-weather jockey, he’s not an all-weather jockey.”
He had every right to feel a little dazed after Adayar’s smooth four-and-a-half length defeat of 50-1 outsider Mojo Star, with the winner’s better-fancied stable companion, Hurricane Lane, back in third. Until Wednesday evening, after all, he had expected to be riding John Leeper for Ed Dunlop, a horse with a much better chance on paper than Adayar, who was the apparent third-string in Charlie Appleby’s Derby team.
But when it became apparent on Wednesday evening that Frankie Dettori was struggling for a ride in Saturday’s race, Kirby was swiftly “jocked off” by Cristina Patino, John Leeper’s owner. A jockey-go-round then ensued which left Kirby on Adayar and Oisin Murphy, who had been offered the ride by Appleby, sitting on the sidelines.
“I was asked to ride John Leeper, which was an exciting moment,” Kirby said. “Five minutes later, Charlie rang and asked me to ride [Adayar] but I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve just put my name to John Leeper’. Mr Dunlop said, if you’re going to ride him, put your name to him, and I’m a man of my word, and I did. And it’s worked out great that I lost the ride on him.
“I spoke to Charlie quickly and he had his jockey booked and he was a champion jockey, but he was kind enough to let me ride him. Full credit to him, he’s a great trainer, a great man, and I can’t thank him enough. Mad, crazy. What goes around, comes around.”
John Leeper might have been the better ride on paper but on turf, he never threatened to give Dettori a third Derby success. Adayar, by contrast, was settled not far off the pace after a slight stumble at the start from stall one, made easy progress against the far rail approaching the two-furlong pole and swiftly went clear in the final furlong.
Kirby is hardly a stranger to Group One success and this was his ninth victory at the highest level, belying the “all-weather” tag which sprang to his mind immediately after Adayar’s success, and his description of himself as “a run-of-the-mill jockey”. But this was his first Classic winner, and his first Group One for Appleby despite an association with the yard that stretches back several years.
“It [only] bothers me on days like today because now they can keep their opinions,” Kirby said. “I’m good on the all-weather because I ride on the all-weather and I get horses with chances on the all-weather. You can’t win these big races unless you’re in them for starters, so it was great to pick up a ride in it, let alone win it.”
Appleby said afterwards that “once Adam became available, I was always going to offer the ride to him”, adding that Murphy had been “a true sportsman and very professional” when he called him to break the bad news.
“I’m delighted for the whole team to be in this position again [after winning with Masar three years ago],” Appleby said. “He is home-bred as well, and Frankel’s first Derby winner and it is great for Adam. Once he hit the rising ground, it was never in doubt.
“I think if you win an English Derby you don’t have to call yourself an all-weather jockey, but Adam is far from an all-weather jockey. I’m just delighted he is part of the team and that he has had a winner.”
Adayar was a late springer in the market before Saturday’s race, having been available at 50-1 on Saturday morning before money arrived to force his odds down to 16-1 at the off. The maiden Mojo Star, 150-1 a few hours beforehand but 50-1 at the off, was the only runner at bigger odds overnight.
Despite the late support for the winner, this was still a Derby to leave the bookies purring, as Bolshoi Ballet, the 11-8 favourite to give Aidan O’Brien a record-breaking 41st British Classic, found nothing when asked for an effort three out and trailed home in seventh place.
O’Brien said afterwards that his colt had run a “lifeless” race, but the veterinary officer reported that a post-race examination had shown evidence that Bolshoi Ballet had been struck into on his right hind leg in the early stages.