When he was good, he was very, very good, and when he was bad, he was horrid. A famous saying originating in a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nursery rhyme, the phrase aptly sums up the exploits of one of the stars of the 2023 flat campaign.
Step forward, Auguste Rodin. Named in honour of a famous sculptor, this regally bred sort has produced a masterpiece or two at the track. However, in 2023, he has proven just as likely to cobble together an effort bearing little resemblance to that of a top-class racehorse – leaving connections scratching their heads, and punters thinking of ever more imaginative ways to destroy a losing betting slip. That unpredictability only serves to make the three-year-old all the more entertaining, and here we look at the rollercoaster career path of this racing enigma.
Two-Year-Old Season: A Star is Born
Making his debut in a maiden event at the Curragh, Auguste Rodin could manage only second – not too surprising, as many O’Brien stars improve significantly for their first outing. Improvement was indeed forthcoming on his second start at Naas, as he saw off his 12 rivals with the minimum of fuss.
Having broken his duck, a step up in class beckoned, and the colt made no mistake when coming home 1½l to the good in the Champion Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown. Next stop, Doncaster for the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes – a race O’Brien had won in the past with superstars including High Chaparral, St Nicholas Abbey, and Camelot.
Could Auguste Rodin follow in their illustrious hoofprints? He certainly could.
Classic Campaign: The Fun Begins
On the back of that impressive juvenile campaign, the hype machine began to move into overdrive, with Auguste Rodin hailed as potentially the greatest horse to ever emerge from the Ballydoyle yard – quite the statement! O’Brien did little to temper enthusiasm when touting the horse as a potential Triple Crown winner – a feat not achieved since Nijnsky in 1970 and rarely even attempted these days due to the greater specialisation in the Leger. First things first, a win in the 2000 Guineas…
The best in the field as a juvenile and expected to thrive on the soft ground, Auguste Rodin was duly sent off as the 13/8 favourite for the opening Classic of the season. In the race, his supporters barely had a moment of hope, as it immediately became apparent that their betting slips would soon be on a trajectory towards the dustbin.
When all was said and done, Auguste Rodin crossed the line fully 22 lengths adrift of the winner Chaldean, with only his equally woeful stablemate Little Big Bear and 40/1 shot Flight Plan in behind. This was very much a performance more Air Force Blue than Camelot, but what on earth had gone wrong? Suffering interference early in the race was put forward as a plausible explanation, but this surely wasn’t the same horse which drew such superlatives in 2022. Was it?
Excellent at Epsom
Following that complete no-show at HQ, it took a leap of faith to believe that Auguste Rodin would rebound in the greatest Classic of them all. The colt lost his long-held position as favourite for the race, but plenty of punters kept the faith as he was sent off the 9/2 joint second favourite. Could O’Brien work a miracle and transform the horse from horrible back to hero in just two races?
We should have learned not to doubt O’Brien by now, and on this Saturday in June, Auguste Rodin looked every bit as good as the hype. In keeping with his pedigree, the colt travelled notably better over this longer distance, and whilst King Of Steel gave him a fright in the straight, once Moore engaged overdrive, he always looked like getting there.
Derby Double at the Curragh
The Triple Crown may have come unstuck at the first hurdle, but Auguste Rodin had a chance to add to his Classic haul in the Irish Derby at the Curragh.
Odds of 4/11 suggested a one-sided event, and in the end, it was, as Auguste Rodin’s class, pace, and stamina came to the fore to lead home an Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3-4. Now firmly back on track, that Newmarket horror show was beginning to feel like a long time ago.
Awful at Ascot
However, this rollercoaster ride was far from over, and in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the dual Derby hero opted to display his ugly side – and in quite spectacular style. If the 2000 Guineas effort scored a solid 9 out of 10 on the awful scale, this display was off the charts.
In a red-hot renewal, it wasn’t the greatest shock that Auguste Rodin didn’t win, but no one expected him to come home last of the 10 runners, a gaping 68 lengths adrift of the ninth-placed finisher, and no fewer than 127 lengths behind the winner Hukum. “I don’t know what happened there,” said Aidan O’Brien, which possibly wasn’t of much consolation to those who had supported the horse into 9/4 favouritism.
Lazarus-like at Leopardstown
One blip is easily forgiven. Put in two such abject performances, and you begin to veer towards the racing rogues gallery. The pressure was on, and the jury was out ahead of the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, with phrases such as “I wouldn’t back him with stolen money” and “He’s clearly got a screw loose”, bandying around the racing press. Which Auguste Rodin would turn up in another electric Group 1 event was anyone’s guess.
Despite all of that, the memories of those Derby efforts were hard to shake for punters, who installed the mount of Ryan Moore as the 11/4 jolly at the off. Thankfully, this chapter of Auguste Rodin’s twisting tale had a happy ending. Clearly having gotten out of the right side of his stable and with all mental screws holding up, the increasingly lovable star showed both talent and heart to fend off the defending champ Luxembourg close home.
Next Stop America
If there is any pattern in Auguste Rodin’s three-year-old season, it could just be that the colt is now heavily ground-dependent. In two starts on ground containing the word soft in the description, he has been beaten by a combined 149 lengths. On good ground or better, he is a perfect three from three. With that in mind, a trip to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe seems unlikely, leaving a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the States as his most likely next assignment. Will it be an Oscar-winning performance or more Looney Tunes? Only Auguste Rodin knows the answer but we can’t wait to find out!