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O’Brien considering starting point for Derby favourite High Definition

Aidan O’Brien is favouring a Derby trial over a tilt at the 2000 Guineas with his unbeaten colt High Definition.

An impressive winner on his racecourse debut at the Curragh in the summer, the son of Galileo subsequently rocketed to ante-post favouritism for Epsom after storming home to win the Group Two Beresford Stakes in September.

O’Brien deliberately decided against running his charge in one of the end-of-season Group Ones and is excited to see what he can accomplish as a three-year-old.

Speaking on a press conference to discuss the European two-year-old classifications, O’Brien said of High Definition: “He’s a big, rangy horse with an unbelievably long stride. He’s uncomplicated and has a good mind and has done very well over the winter.

“In the Beresford it looked like he couldn’t win for most of the race as on the round track at the Curragh it’s tough to make up ground. It looked like he couldn’t win a furlong down, he had a chance half a furlong down and won very easy at the line.

“At the moment he’d probably be a shorter price to go to a Derby trial than the Guineas, but the lads (owners) will make a decision and see what they want to do.

“The Guineas is obviously a great trial for the Derby, but when we have other horses there for the Guineas, it’s very possibly that High Definition might go to a Derby trial.

“He might only have one run before the Derby if he was doing that, I think.”

St Mark's Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori
St Mark’s Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The three horses O’Brien currently has pencilled in as his chief Guineas contenders are St Mark’s Basilica, Wembley and Van Gogh.

St Mark’s Basilica, who has been crowned champion two-year-old in Europe for 2020, narrowly beat Wembley in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October, while Van Gogh rounded off his season with a Group One success in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

All three horses were beaten in their first two career starts before making marked progress – and O’Brien admits it is difficult to assess the juvenile crop overall, with the coronavirus pandemic meaning the season did not get under way until early June.

“The year was really a mess,” said the Ballydoyle handler.

“With St Mark’s Basilica, we kind of rushed him out to get a run into him and then rushed him back to run in the Heinz (Phoenix Stakes).

“It was all just happening too quick for him and he was on the back foot. In all fairness to him, he toughed it out and did man up.

“Wembley is another a horse we always liked. We thought he’d win at the Curragh first time and when he got to the front he was very green and babyish – he was like that a good bit.

“I suppose the form is open to question. Quite a lot of horses finished on top of each other, but Sir Mark’s Basilica and Wembley are two solid horses that are tough and learned a lot last season.

“Van Gogh is a big horse who was always going to be a big three-year-old – he could make an awful lot of improvement.”

The horse priced up as favourite for the Guineas with several bookmakers is Battleground, who won the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood before finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.

Battleground wins the Vintage Stakes at GoodwoodFestival – Day One
Battleground wins the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

However, O’Brien raised the possibility of the son of the yard’s Arc heroine Found sidestepping Newmarket and instead being trained with a return to the Royal meeting for the St James’s Palace Stakes as his chief objective.

He said: “He’s a Guineas horse as well, like the other three, but it’s very possible that if all of them are going to the Guineas, Battleground could go to Ascot and maybe have a run before, rather than them all going to the Guineas.

“He’s a lovely horse and Newmarket would suit him. I suppose it depends on how they’re all going to fall, and obviously we’ll have to look at the Irish Guineas and the French Guineas as well.

“The English Guineas is the first one, so I’d imagine he will be in the mix for that, along with the two Dewhurst horses and Van Gogh.

“Whether Battleground goes there or goes for an easier race and then goes for the St James’s Palace – I suppose it will depend on how the spring is going with them all really.”

Aidan O'Brien can be expected to be a major force again in 2021
Aidan O’Brien can be expected to be a major force again in 2021 (PA)

O’Brien was a notable absentee from British racecourses last season, due to the restrictions put in place to combat Covid-19.

He is keeping his fingers crossed the situation improves during the coming weeks and months to allow more freedom of movement, while he is hopeful the current travel issues being caused by Brexit will also be resolved relatively soon.

“We’re taking it one day at a time like everybody else,” O’Brien added.

“I think there might be some new quarantine rules coming in for people in Europe, which mean you’ll have to quarantine for one or two weeks when you arrive (in Britain).

“If that is the case, it will be like going to Australia. When we go there, we send the people down to do their two weeks quarantine and they stay there then.

“We had a team in Newmarket last year, so something like that could happen again, but it would be great if we could all be there.

“We’re lucky that the Brexit thing should be resolved before it comes our way. Hopefully, come Guineas time, it will all be a little bit more straightforward.”

Fire At Will silences big guns in Juvenile Turf

Aidan O’Brien’s Battleground had to make do with the runner-up spot as Fire At Will claimed a surprise victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland.

A son of War Front out of the yard’s Arc heroine Found, Battleground was strongly fancied to provide O’Brien with a fifth victory in this Grade One contest following the previous triumphs of Wrote (2011), George Vancouver (2012), Hit It A Bomb (2015) and Mendelssohn (2017).

Winner of the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood this summer, Battleground raced in midfield for much of the way and was still back in the field rounding the home turn, as Wesley Ward’s front-runner Outadore set sail for home.

Michael Maker’s Fire At Will reeled in the leader inside the final furlong before pulling nicely clear in the hands of Ricardo Santana Jr.

Battleground finished strongly for Ryan Moore to beat Outadore to second, with Jessica Harrington’s Cadillac not far behind that pair in fourth.

Ralph Beckett’s pair of New Mandate and Devilwala, as well as Michael Bell’s The Lir Jet, finished unplaced.

Maker said of the 33-1 winner: “I thought he was way overpriced – he’s done nothing wrong and is a very professional and classy horse.”

Moore said of Battleground: “He ran a lovely race, I like him a lot. He’s a horse with a big future.

“He ran on really well at the finish, but the winner had gone.”

Shane Foley was happy with Cadillac, and may have been closer with a shade more luck.

He said: “He got shuffled back on the first turn, but then ran on in the straight. He stays the trip very well.”

Frankie Dettori, meanwhile, felt the season had caught up with New Mandate.

He said: “I think he’s over the top, he ran with the choke out. It was one (run) too many.”

High Definition set to head into winter as Derby favourite

Aidan O’Brien is looking forward to a Classic campaign with High Definition in 2021, after confirming the unbeaten colt is finished for this campaign.

The son of Galileo heads the market on next year’s Derby, having followed up his Curragh maiden win in August with victory back at the Kildare track in the Beresford Stakes – finishing to great effect on both occasions over a mile.

O’Brien’s charge does hold an entry in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday week, but the Ballydoyle trainer said: “The plan always with High Definition was to give him two runs. That was his maiden and the Beresford, and we haven’t changed off of that.

“The plan was then to bring him back and train him for the Classics next year.

“We’re very happy with the way he has come out of his last race and that’s the way we are looking with him next year.”

Another high-class juvenile for O’Brien is Battleground, who has not been seen since adding the Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood to his Chesham Stakes victory at Royal Ascot.

By War Front out of O’Brien’s Arc-winning mare Found, he is set go to the Breeders’ Cup.

O’Brien said: “Obviously he didn’t go to the Dewhurst, so the plan at the moment is we’re thinking of going to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with him. He seems to be in good form at the moment.”

Battleground has looked a high-class colt in the making
Battleground has looked a high-class colt in the making (Hugh Routledge/PA)

O’Brien recorded a one-two in the aforementioned Dewhurst with St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley, and added: “I think St Mark’s Basilica is probably finished and we’ll make a decision on Wembley probably during the week, but it’s very possible they might be finished.

“We’ll see about Wembley during the week, but I’d imagine St Mark’s Basilica might be finished for the year.”

As expected, dual Classic-winning filly Love will not go to the Breeders’ Cup, but will stay in training next year.

O’Brien said: “I don’t think Love will go to the Breeders’ Cup. At the moment we’re thinking that she’s had a busy enough time and we trained her hard for the Arc.

“Obviously that was her big target in the autumn and she was trained hard for it, and with a view to keeping her in training next year I think the lads are maybe leaving her for this year.

“So there’s a strong possibility that she won’t run any more this year.”

Foley keen on Lucky Vega chance in National Stakes

Shane Foley expects the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes to be one of the races of the weekend as he prepares to ride Lucky Vega against Battleground and Master Of The Seas at the Curragh.

Lucky Vega arrives on the back of arguably the most impressive performance by a juvenile this season in the Phoenix Stakes, when Jessica Harrington’s youngster quickened away to win by three and a half lengths.

Sunday’s assignment represents a different task – with Aidan O’Brien’s Chesham winner Battleground and the Charlie Appleby-trained Superlative Stakes scorer Master Of The Seas in opposition – but Foley is feeling confident.

“From day one he’s always been a nice horse,” said Foley, speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview.

“He had a little hold-up after his maiden win, which meant it was a bit of a rush getting to the Railway Stakes. He got beat in that, but improved no end for it and showed what he was capable of in the Phoenix.

“He’s laid-back, so should have no problem going up to seven furlongs. Looking at it, it looks one of the races of the weekend – with Battleground and Master Of The Seas.”

Battleground followed up his Ascot win in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, and now gets to race closer to home.

“He’s a big, powerful horse and has done very well physically since Goodwood – and we’re looking forward to running him,” said O’Brien.

“He’s handled good ground and slowish ground.”

Appleby has won the last two editions of the National Stakes with the ill-fated Quorto and last year’s champion juvenile Pinatubo – so is bidding for a hat-trick.

Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby
Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He worked nicely during the week, and we’re very pleased with him,” said the Godolphin trainer.

“It’s going to be a good race. I saw Battleground at Ascot and I was at Goodwood when he won. I respect Jessica Harrington’s horse as well – he won the Phoenix well.

“Thankfully it’s a race we’ve had a bit of luck in in recent years, and it would be nice to continue it.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon bolted up on his debut, but lacks in experience compared to the others.

“Obviously it’s a big step up in class from a maiden straight into a Group One, but we didn’t have many other options,” said the Owning Hill trainer.

“He’s in at the deep end, but couldn’t have won his debut any easier.”

Ken Condon with Law Of Indices

Ken Condon, with Laws Of Indices (INPHO/PA)Ken Condon’s Laws Of Indices had Lucky Vega behind him when winning the Railway but was then only fourth in the Phoenix.

“He’s not ground dependent, and he’s a very straightforward horse,” said Condon.

“Physically, he’s doing very well.

“I’m very happy with where he’s at – he looks a picture, and I think he’ll give a good showing.”

Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney is another who has Group race-winning form to his name – over course and distance in the Futurity Stakes.