It was some evening for Aidan O’Brien at Leopardstown, as team Ballydoyle racked up a five-timer from only five entrants which included the impressive colt Fields Of Athenry.
This has not been a stellar season for the most powerful yard in Ireland, despite the best efforts of Gleneagles, yet O’Brien still tops the Irish Flat Trainers’ Championship both in terms of winners and prize money, and has the firepower to ensure that Dermot Weld’s challenge is kept at arms length.
A 24% strike rate is proof enough that Ballydoyle remain dominant at home even in a year when many major prizes have slipped them by. Interestingly, the man who has appeared to prosper domestically, John Gosden, has an identical strike rate, as he tops the British Trainers Championship.
Gleneagles has been the yard’s shining light during the summer. Victories in the 2,000 Guineas both at Newmarket and in Ireland were followed by a stunning win in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. But the fillies Qualify and Diamondsandrubies remain the only other Group 1 winners. The colts have failed to make an impact at middle-distance, a division that O’Brien has ruled over in recent times.
Last evening’s success for Fields Of Athenry gives hope that the team have a live contender for the St Leger at Doncaster. Many firms cut the colt to 10’s after his impressive run in the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes. Aidan was not available for comment, but his son Joseph said: “He's done nothing but improve all season. He goes some gallop and keeps finding when he has to and stays very well. Dad says he will probably go to York for either the Great Voltigeur or the Ebor on his way to the St Leger.”
Ballydoyle may also have another classy stayer on their hands with Ivanovich Gorbatov storming home to win the 1m7f handicap. He needed to impress at this level, but the son of Montjeu could not have done the job any easier. He looks sure to be stepped up in grade next time.
The concluding maiden provided a four-timer for Joseph O’Brien when Hallmark cruised to victory on debut. Yet another son of Montjeu, this three-year-old also looked a promising type.
O’Brien will be looking to York for his next opportunity of sending out the winner of a major prize. Races such as the Great Voltigeur and the Juddmonte International are usually high on the Ballydoyle hit list, indeed they have won four of the last seven Juddmonte’s. This year’s renewal looks likely to be beyond them, and the Yorkshire Oaks could prove to be the stables best hope of Group 1 success.
It’s proving to be a very interesting season, with the slight dip in fortune for O’Brien and his team set to become an intriguing postscript. When the dust settles at the end of this latest flat campaign we may be surprised to see a slight shift in power, maybe only temporary, but a shift all the same.
No doubt Coolmore and the guys at Ballydoyle will refrain from hitting the panic button. Not just yet.