Classic trials generate a lot of coverage and discussion, most of it focusing on winners and beaten favourites. This year's Group 1 Investec Derby hero did run in such a race but his performance did not attract much attention as he was a one and a quarter-length runner-up to his stable companion Venice Beach in the Group 3 Chester Vase.
Had his prior record been more notable then it is likely that he could have gone off at a single-digit price at Epsom rather than the 40/1 he returned on Saturday, but Wings Of Eagles had made the frame in just one of his four previous starts, and that was when winning an eight and a half-furlong maiden at Killarney in August.
He was unplaced over seven furlongs at Galway on his debut, was sent off at 10/1 when only fourth behind Coronet, Cunco, and Permian in the Listed Zetland Stakes over 10 furlongs at Newmarket, and then at 33/1 when ninth behind Waldgeist in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud.
This was more the profile of a Derby pacemaker than significant player, especially as each of Aidan O'Brien's other five runners had stronger claims. He was hampered at the start, had only two behind him at they entered the straight, but then crept closer while switching around those blocking his path, and produced the powerful run that saw him sweep past his rivals to take the classic by three-parts of a length in the hands of Padraig Beggy.
The O'Brien-trained Cliffs Of Moher, who looked set for victory when he put his head in front inside the final furlong, had to settle for second, a neck in front of the big-race favourite Cracksman, with Eminent another three-quarters of a length back in fourth.
The time of the race was very good – the fourth-fastest Derby – and it could be that hold-up tactics over 12 furlongs are just what this colt needs to show his ability. He holds an entry in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, as you would expect, but also in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse and Group 1 Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, which are over 10 furlongs.
In an aside, but interesting coincidence, the Group 3 Chester Vase runner-up also won the Derby 27 years ago. That was the Roger Charlton-trained Juddmonte homebred Quest For Fame (by Rainbow Quest), a Newbury maiden winner who chased home Belmez at Chester before beating Blue Stag by three lengths at Epsom, at 7/1.
Two years later, when trained by Bobby Frankel, he added the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Handicap over 10 furlongs, and although he never became a high-profile success at stud, he did get several Group 1 stars in Australia.
A stallion career awaits Wings Of Eagles whenever his racing career comes to an end but despite his classic success it seems likely that the support he will be afforded will depend on what he does between now and then. We need more true middle-distance horses at stud but all too often they quickly fall from favour, are exported or transferred to the National Hunt market.
Indeed, Wings Of Eagles is the son of such a horse. Pour Moi (by Montjeu) was also a come-from-behind winner of the Derby, getting up on the line to beat Treasure Beach by a head, but he never ran again, his early runners include the pattern-winning sprinter Only Mine and the New Zealand-bred Group 1 scorer Sacred Elixir, and he is already in his first year as a National Hunt sire at Grange Stud, with a Derby hero in his second crop.
Wings Of Eagles was bred in France by Aliette Forien and Gilles Forien, he is a €220,000 graduate of the Arqana Deauville August Yearling Sale, and he is one of three blacktype earners out of Ysoldina (by Kendor).
The full-sisters Gyrella (by Oasis Dream) and Torentosa have been listed-placed in France. Four-year-old Sweet Electra (by Sea The Stars) has won over nine furlongs at Chantilly, but that Pascal Bary-trained grey has been out of the frame both times she tried blacktype company.
Ysoldina also had ability and, although she did not win at stakes level, she was stakes-placed seven times. These included when runner-up to Divine Proportions in the Group 3 Prix de la Grotte at Longchamp, third to that same star in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas), and third behind Pride in the Group 2 Prix Corrida, as a four-year-old, on her final start.
She is among 13 winners out of a placed mare called Rotina (by Crystal Glitters) and that string of successful runners includes four pattern stars. Belle Et Celebre (by Peintre Celebre) took the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary, and the prolific gelding Valentino (by Valanour) won the Group 3 Prix Edmond Blanc, Group 3 Prix Perth, and Group 3 Prix Andre Baboin.
Whortleberry (by Starborough) notched up eight wins, most notably the Group 2 Prix Jean Romanet, Group 2 Premio Lydia Tesio, and Group 3 Prix Minerve, and her offspring include the Japanese Group 3 scorer Straw Hat (by Fuji Kiseki).
The fourth of the notable siblings is Appel Au Maitre (by Starborough), a champion at two and three years of age, and twice as an older horse – all in Scandinavia. He won the Group 3 Stora Pris at Taby, the Group 3 Marit Sveaas Minnelop at Ovreroll, the Listed Svenskt Derby at Jagersro, and two editions of the Group 3 Stockholm Cup International.
Unlike most horses racing in that region, the Wido Neuroth-trained chestnut was also campaigned abroad, mostly in Germany. He won a Group 3 contest, was runner-up to Campanologist in the Group 1 Rheinland-Pokal, and to Axxos in the Group 2 Oppenheim-Union-Rennen, all at Cologne, he was a three-quarter-length third to Getaway in the Group 1 Deutschland-Preis at Dusseldorf, and finished fourth to Adlerflug in the Group 1 Deutsches Derby at Hamburg. He went to stud in Denmark.
Rudolfina (by Pharly), the third dam of Wings Of Eagles, also had ability, notching up four wins that included a pair of listed contests at Longchamp. The races in which she was placed featured the Group 3 Prix Chloe, Group 3 Prix Fille de l'Air, Group 3 Prix Corrida, and Group 3 Prix Messidor, and she went on to produce seven winners from a dozen foals.
One was a pattern-placed listed-race winner, another was Group 3-placed, two earned minor blacktype over hurdles at Auteuil, and one of the non-winners – Rodelina (by Caro) – became the dam of the talented filly Red Rubin (by Hero's Honor), a triple French listed scorer at nine to 10 furlongs.
Wings Of Eagles has risen from relative obscurity to winning one of the world's most famous races in a style that suggests it was no fluke. Whether he stays at around 12 furlongs or goes the old-fashioned route of Derby to St Leger to Gold Cup remains to be seen, but he is clearly a fascinating prospect, both as a racehorse and as a future stallion.