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Irish Champions Weekend 2017: The Best Gets Better

Aidan O’Brien has had an unusual last couple of weeks, writes Tony Keenan. Rather than concentrating on preparations for Irish Champions Weekend, he’s been defending Ballydoyle work practices at the Labour Court and the decision there could yet have wide-reaching consequences for Irish racing. On the track however, it’s been business as usual for O’Brien with none of his rival Irish trainers causing anything like as many problems as the labour lawyers; so it seems sensible to expect a good number of winners for the trainer this coming weekend.

In truth, Irish Champions Weekend hasn’t been the best meeting for the yard since it took its current form in 2014. In that time, O’Brien has had nine winners in total with the other Irish trainers having 23, Dermot Weld doing best with six, and the now retired David Wachman next on three. UK-based trainers had 15 winners while Almanzor was the sole French success in last year’s Champion Stakes. Despite these historical figures I’m inclined to drink the Cool(-more) Aid and expect a massive weekend for Team Ballydoyle in light of what has been going on with the other main Irish trainers this season.

Excluding O’Brien, 2017 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for Irish trainers winning good flat races in the UK. Consider the following table which totals the record of non-APOB Irish trainers in UK races worth £10,000 or more since 2011:

 

Irish Trainers in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more (excluding Aidan O’Brien)

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 4 69 5.8%
2016 7 156 4.5%
2015 17 158 10.8%
2014 21 135 15.6%
2013 17 150 11.3%
2012 21 135 15.6%
2011 11 101 10.9%

 

This season is far from over of course but with roughly two months of it left it is going to be a struggle to beat even last year’s total of seven winners which itself was well down on previous years. Even the quality of the four winners has been below-par; two were handicap winners, The Tartan Spartan at Salisbury in April and Thomas Hobson at Royal Ascot, while the other two were Ken Condon-trained winners on soft ground, Elusive Beauty at Carlisle and Success Days at York, hardly the most competitive contests.

One could ask what this has to do with events at home but I would counter quite a lot. Irish trainers have long gone to England for better opportunities with their best flat horses but if you can’t win at home you are unlikely to start looking away for possible targets. Perhaps the most revealing figure above is greatly reduced number of runners in the better UK races, just 69 so far in 2017 with the previous five seasons all comfortably breaking three figures. Some major Irish trainers haven’t even been trying in the UK this year with Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger being notably absent with one and four runners respectively.

It has been an entirely different story with O’Brien. As you can see below, his tally of UK runners continues to grow. He looks certain to outstrip his previous highs in terms of runners with the winner total likely to follow and the last two seasons have basically seen a 35% increase in the number of horses he runs in England. O’Brien seems to have more good horses than ever before and he needs to find more good races in which to place them.

 

Aidan O’Brien in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 96 17 17.7%
2016 108 22 20.4%
2015 59 9 15.3%
2014 64 8 12.5%
2013 69 11 15.9%
2012 62 12 19.4%
2011 68 13 19.1%

 

This would be less of a concern to the other main Irish trainers were they succeeding in battening down the hatches at home, maintaining levels of success for upcoming seasons when better horses come along. This has not been the case however. Here we have a table of O’Brien’s record in Irish group races over the past five years and note how not only his percentage of runners in these races has grown but also how his percentage of winners has gone into the stratosphere in 2017.

 

Aidan O’Brien in Irish Group Races

Year Runners in Irish Group Races Total Runners % Runners in Irish Group Races Winners in Irish Group Races Total Group Races Contested % Wins in Group Races Contested
2017 (to date) 100 375 26.7% 23 50 46.0%
2016 117 484 24.2% 24 66 36.3%
2015 84 481 17.5% 20 65 30.7%
2014 112 474 23.6% 23 63 31.7%
2013 98 460 21.3% 22 62 35.5%

 

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The evidence again points to him becoming more dominant in terms of runners and winners but the question is where this improvement has come from. An obvious answer is that it is a by-product of a down year for Dermot Weld and he has just picked up the races that would typically go to Rosewell; but a barely remarked upon point has been the retirement of David Wachman and the relocating of the horses he had in training as well as the ones that might have been destined for his yard.

I’m sure there were a few trainers with Coolmore associations – Fozzy Stack and Joseph O’Brien perhaps – that might have hoped for some of those runners but all of them seem to have finished up in Ballydoyle. Wachman may have had a nightmare time in his final season, finishing twenty-fourth overall in the championship and having only 118 runners, but this was by no means a small operation: the previous three years yielded 261 runners (sixth overall), 265 runners (ninth) and 293 runners (fourth) respectively. Nor was Wachman short on quality, training the likes of Legatissimo, Curvy and Again in recent seasons.

So a good-sized yard with well-bred horses was basically subsumed into Ballydoyle over the winter with Winter herself the obvious standard-bearer. O’Brien has had some strong crops of juvenile fillies in recent campaigns but this season’s might be the deepest which makes sense if he has gotten extra inmates from Wachman; that trainer was often given a sizable number of well-bred Coolmore fillies and had a good record with them. Despite his skill with such runners, it is hardly unrealistic to expect O’Brien to extract more from them: not only is he a better trainer than Wachman, he is a better trainer than anyone else too.

All of this could lead to a record-breaking year for O’Brien in terms of prizemoney won in Ireland. Below is a table of prizemoney earned by the big four Irish trainers of O’Brien, Bolger, Lyons and Weld over the past five seasons. I’ve included a figure for each yard for the current season along with a projected total that they might reach. The projected figure is simply a fast and loose calculation that pro-rates what they have done already across the rest of the season; in a typical Irish flat season running March to October/November, there will be roughly 940 races and we have had 720 to this point so we are just past the three-quarters point of the season.

 

Trainer 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 (to date) 2017 Projected
A. O’Brien 3,867k 4,878k 4,039k 5,190k 4,619k 6,077k
J. Bolger 2,204k 1,556k 1,790k 1,711k 1,217 1,601k
G. Lyons 737k 935k 1,579k 1,324k 1,148 1,510k
D. Weld 1,345k 2,232k 2,298k 2,886k 752k 989k

 

Obviously these projections are subject to error as trainers like Weld that have done poorly up to now may improve over the final two months of the season while others could regress. But what they do reveal is that a €6 million figure is very much in play for O’Brien which would be more than €800,000 ahead of his previous best. Some of that might be down to prizemoney inflation in a rising economy but not all of it can be put down to that.

The vagaries of training race-horses means that their form ebbs and flows but the increase in the number of O’Brien runners suggests there could be something more going on as he takes his career up another level. Certainly a look at the top 20 flat horses in Ireland per Horse Racing Ireland’s race administration website is a sobering experience for other trainers; O’Brien trains 17 of them with the other three – Jet Setting, Awtaad and Heartbreak City – either retired or deceased.

So where is Irish flat racing as we go into Champions Weekend 2017? Weld has had a down year and Jim Bolger has basically spent recent seasons flat-lining in terms of achievement. The interesting one – and the one who has hardly been mentioned yet – is Ger Lyons. As a younger man, he might be more ambitious than Weld or Bolger and there is a chance that he finishes second overall this season though how meaningful that achievement would be can be questioned as it would have come when the usual runner-up Weld was having a bad time.

The reality is however that there is a ceiling on what he can achieve as his yard is currently constituted. Subjectively, I view him as at least as good a trainer as Weld and Bolger in how he goes about his business but he needs a major patron that can take him to the next level. That opportunity has not presented itself yet but a winner or two over Irish Champions Weekend would hardly do him any harm though the going will not be easy with O’Brien in total control. That said, owners doing shocking things and moving horses wholesale from champion yards is not unfamiliar in Irish racing; it was just that sort of seemingly crazy move that breathed life into a long-dormant jumps trainers’ title this past winter.

- Tony Keenan

Monday Musing: The Coolmore Numbers Game

Life is basically all about choices, writes Tony Stafford. Do you turn left or right? When I collected my laundered shirts by Snaresbrook station on Saturday morning, with an immediate destination of Loughton to pick up Harry Taylor en route to the 2,000 Guineas and Newmarket, option one was to turn right and go via the A12 and M11.

But almost of its own volition, my car instead turned left and travelled the urban way through South Woodford, Woodford and Buckhurst Hill, all stops along the Central underground line, but avoiding the bottleneck at Debden.

Halfway there, at Woodford Green, it was impossible to miss the statue of that location’s former Member of Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill, cast in familiar bulldog pose and dominating a piece of greenery on the southern tip of Epping Forest. A few hundred yards on, Churchills fish bar, destined to be an impulse stop around 30 hours later for a celebratory cod fillet – no chips – offered a second nudge to possible events at turf’s HQ.

Classic winners are supposed to have “good names” and there is little doubt that the octet of 2,000 Guineas heroes trained by Aidan O’Brien, all for various combinations of the Mrs Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith team, have that distinction in common.

King of Kings (1998), Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015) and now Churchill all, bar maybe Foostepsinthesand, fulfil the nomenclature requirement and offer testimony to the language skills of Mrs Magnier, daughter of Vincent O’Brien.

More pertinently, as the late, great Vincent’s successor at Ballydoyle, Aidan (no relation) O’Brien has set the record for 2,000 Guineas victories, beating that set in the mists of time by John Scott, when that stable manager had neither the might nor the money of the Maktoums and the Qataris to contend with.

You say something, like “a record eighth win” quickly and as bald fact it deflects the enormity of the statistic. Nineteen years on from his first 2,000 Guineas triumph, it means that Aidan has won 40% of the possible opportunities in that timeframe. When you look at the potential fire power of some of the 200-strong teams around the UK and the almost bottomless pockets of a number of their patrons, such monopoly is truly embarrassing for his rivals.

I took a minute before yesterday’s 1,000 Guineas to talk to Michael Prosser on just that point, and he trumped me with an even more unlikely one. I’d just taxed Aidan with the question: “Are you any good at maths?” hoping to confound him with the 40% thing, but in true character Aidan had first to apologise and then rush away to monitor one of his trio into the parade ring before the Classic.

Prosser said: “We have nine Group 1 races here and last year Aidan won six of them.” Add to that the weekend Guineas double of Churchill and Winter and that makes eight out of the last 11 and 73%!

One 2,000 Guineas which Aidan did not win was its 2011 version, dominated throughout by Frankel, named for a great horseman, New York-born Bobby Frankel, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s principal US trainer. Almost an equal part of the Frankel mystique, apart of course from the fact that he was never beaten in a three-year career, was that he was trained by Sir Henry Cecil in the closing phase of his own eventually life-ending illness.

Frankel, the racehorse, shares with Churchill and Winter, as well as Saturday’s impressive Jockey Club Stakes winner Seventh Heaven, a common factor in that all four are products of Galileo, the most potent of the stallions that have fuelled Coolmore Stud’s recent pre-eminence.

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For some sections of the media – especially television – members of Frankel’s initial crop have been portrayed as embodiments and thus likely equals of their father, but in horse racing that sort of expectation can only be cemented on the racetrack, rather than in sentiment.

A number have already proved precocious, and four of his early stakes horses appeared with a fair degree of expectation in the two Classic races. Fair Eva and Queen Kindly both made good starts to their juvenile seasons, but were respectively only fifth and ninth in the 1,000, while Dream Castle and Eminent were fifth and sixth, close behind the principals the previous day. Two other sons of Galileo, shared the spotlight with dad on Saturday: Teofilo, the best of his first-crop sons, is the sire of Permian, runaway winner of the Listed Newmarket Stakes and Ronald R is by Frankel’s old racetrack rival, Nathaniel.

I cannot resist one statistical fact away from racing that further embellishes the amazing level of O’Brien’s achievements. Tottenham Hotspur, renowned as the true FA Cup team – “if there’s a “1” in the year, Spurs win the Cup” as the adage used to go, last won that competition in 1991 and the League Championship 30 years earlier! Not that you would think so with some of the coverage of that “sport” in recent months.

I’m sure there must have been a number of Churchills racing in the UK over the years and the Racing Post also lists a few reared and raced elsewhere. James Burridge, breeder and part owner of the great Desert Orchid, also probably held quite high expectations for the 1995-born son of Derby runner-up Carlingford Castle – behind Teenoso, Lester Piggott’s last winner of nine in 1983.

Lester was in the paddock before Saturday’s race, but I doubt he remembers the 1995 Churchill, sold for 700gns  to Keith Brown Properties, Hull, and a four-time raced non-achiever with a 31-length seventh, 69-length 12th before an unseated and pulled up ended his unremarkable time in action.

Also in the house on Saturday was Andy Smith, owner and bloodstock agent, who might just have got the best of the Frankel euphoria. Andy was the original owner, apart from David and Diane Nagle, the breeders from Barronstown Stud, of the filly, Toulifaut.

She won three times for the Jean-Claude Rouget stable before going under the hammer at the Arc sale, less than 24 hours before her date in the Prix Marcel Boussac. She changed hands for 1.9 million Euro, becoming the property of the Yoshida family’s Shadai Farm but was only eighth in the Boussac behind Godolphin’s Wuheida and fourth of six in her comeback run this spring.

There were critics of Ryan Moore’s performance on Rhododendron after he was briefly denied a run on the filly, but the way Winter strode clear up the hill, makes it less of a certainly that the favourite would have beaten her even with a clear run.

I am less than overjoyed that two days after he took a little each-way 20-1 on what has proved inspired information, Mick Quinn only passed on the news when Winter was already down to less than half that price. He can begin to make amends by getting a good run tomorrow night with Circuit at Leicester. She’s in the last, under Jamie Spencer, after which it’s off to Chester for three days and a switch of emphasis to Derby and Oaks trials. Phew!

- Tony Stafford

The Usual Suspects have eye on the Classics

With Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown behind us, the time has come to focus solely on the new Flat campaign, and specifically this weekend’s Guineas Meeting from Newmarket.

Yes, the first Classics are almost upon us, and the usual suspects look set to dominate in both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas. Once again, it’s Ballydoyle that head the markets for both, with last year’s top juvenile Churchill, short-odds to beat the colts on Saturday. This could be the first of many Coolmore/Godolphin clashes throughout the season, with the ‘boys in blue’ represented by second-favourite Barney Roy, trained by 2014 winner Richard Hannon.

Aidan O’Brien has won five of the last dozen renewals, though had the disappointing favourite for last year’s race, Air Force Blue. He was by American stallion War Front, who has proved a rather unpredictable sire, despite strong and persistent backing from the guys at Coolmore. He appears to produce precocious juveniles, though the undoubted talent isn’t always carried forward to a three-year-old campaign.

There may therefore, be more confidence behind Churchill, as he is by the outstanding stallion Galileo. He’s out of a Storm Cat mare, making him similar in profile to 2015 winner Gleneagles.

Galileo has proved the common thread running through numerous recent winners. And his name appears in the pedigree for Hannon’s challenger Barney Roy. By top-class miler Excelebration out of a Galileo mare, he was an impressive winner of the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance. He thundered home on that occasion, and Hannon is clearly looking forward to Saturday’s race: “Barney Roy is a horse we have been very excited about for a long time and he confirmed our views in impressive style when taking the Greenham. He still ran a bit green that day and I believe the step up in trip and the extra experience will stand him in good stead. I am very pleased for Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin that I can take a horse of his quality to the race.”

Another fancied contender is the Martyn Meade trained Eminent. Winner of the Craven Stakes, this powerfully built colt is by Galileo’s most famous son, the mighty Frankel. He defeated Rivet last time out, needing every yard of the mile trip when pulling clear in the latter stages. Haafhd was the last horse, in 2004, to win both the Craven and the Guineas.

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It’s Aidan O’Brien that also sends out the market leader for the 1000 Guineas on Sunday. Rhododendron completed her juvenile campaign with a stunning success at Newmarket in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile. Another from the Galileo production line, this filly is out of the Sun Chariot winning mare, Halfway To Heaven. It’s a cracking pedigree, as Team Coolmore look for their fourth win in six years. Outstanding fillies, Minding and Legatissimo have won the last two renewals.

Despite an incredible career, that has gleaned victories worldwide, John Gosden is yet to win the 2000 Guineas, and has only captured the fillies’ classic once. That’s not to say that he hasn’t come close to winning many more, and he has certainly produced outstanding milers, with the likes of Kingman, Raven’s Pass, Nannina and Elusive Kate springing instantly to mind.

Daban is his hope for Sunday’s renewal, following her win in the Nell Gwyn a couple of weeks back. The stable has started this campaign in dazzling form, and this filly looked exciting last time, showing a stunning turn-of-foot late on. Following her win, Gosden said: “She can only improve. I was expecting a good show from her. She’s a sweet, lovely filly and is very relaxed at home. She does have that cruising speed and ability to quicken which is what a good thoroughbred has.”

Fair Eva is another well-fancied filly carrying famous silks. Trained by Roger Charlton, she is the daughter of Frankel and runs in the instantly recognisable colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah. Placed in the Lowther and the Rockfel last autumn, her trainer is happy with her progress and confident of a huge run: “I'm very pleased with her and I'm satisfied she will stay a mile well,” Charlton told At The Races. “I think she has an excellent chance of finishing in the first four as she's already a Group Three winner and Group Two-placed - she justifies her place.”

Just how well these three-year-olds have trained-on is about to be tested. There-in lies the difficulty of assessing the chances of contenders for these early-season classics. A high-class pedigree, powerful connections and coming from one of the leading yards, is often the best starting point, when trying to pick the ‘Classic winner’ from the classy also-rans.

Winter Jumpers Woven In Yeats’ Image

A one-time hot favourite for the Epsom Derby, Yeats went on to become the greatest stayer of his generation, arguably of all time.

Owned by Coolmore supremo John Magnier, the son of Sadlers Wells captured the Ascot Gold Cup four years in a row, during a period of total domination. His fourth success at the age of eight, was possibly his most impressive. The outstanding colt won 14 of his 22 career starts, earning more than a £1m in prize money. He was a powerful stayer who possessed gears, with the ability of producing a burst of acceleration, but then maintaining the gallop all the way to the line.

After that final success at Ascot, his trainer Aidan O’Brien spoke of the star’s physical qualities, saying: “It's been proven at home that his lung capacity is way greater than any other horse ... and he's not a gelding, so we can tap into those genes.”

He was duly retired to stud at the end of 2009, though there was concerns over the demand for a top-class staying stallion, in a breeding industry leaning towards speed over stamina.

Initially settled at Coolmore’s headquarters, his impact on the Flat racing scene proved nominal, and he now stands at their National Hunt breeding farm. It’s no surprise that his influence on Jump racing is set to be substantial, with his progeny making their mark in bumpers last season. This could be an exciting winter for Yeats followers, as several useful types embark on a hurdling career.

Plenty of powerful yards are investing in Yeats offspring, and the early signs are certainly promising.
One race that highlighted the potential, was the mares’ bumper at Aintree in April. Yeats produced three of the first six home, with Augusta Kate finishing runner-up for Willie Mullins, and Shattered Love third for Gordon Elliott. The latter has twice finished second over hurdles already this season, and looks sure to get off the mark soon.

Augusta Kate has also got her jumps career underway, and was impressive when winning comfortably at Thurles last week. Ireland’s champion trainer has a yard full of classy mares, and it’s difficult at this stage to assess where this useful five-year-old stacks-up among the rest. She was slick over her obstacles on debut, and looked to have the tell-tale Yeats engine. She’s an exciting prospect.

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One from the Yeats early production line, that is successfully plying his trade across the English Channel, is the French trained gelding Capivari. He has already struck at Grade 1 level, when winning the valuable Prix Renaud du Vivier Hurdle at Auteuil. The race will have been watched by many UK fans, due to the inclusion of various well known four-year-olds from Britain and Ireland. Footpad finished second for Willie Mullins, with the Paul Nicholls trained Adrien Du Pont back in third.

Jonjo O’Neill has a nice hurdling prospect owned by the ‘Coolmore Boys’, in five-year-old gelding Utility. He stepped up on his seasonal debut, when winning with plenty in hand at Chepstow recently. He travelled beautifully throughout, and though his jumping had been patchy, he was spring-heeled at the last when it mattered. He’s entered at Sandown this weekend, and it will be interesting to see if he can take a further step in the right direction.

Nicky Henderson has a pair of exciting Yeats progeny in the yard. Thomas Campbell looked to be coming off second best, or maybe third best at Ascot recently, before finishing with a flurry. He still looked green in running, but when Geraghty gave him a few cracks to get him going, the response was dramatic. He stormed to a four-length victory, and should improve markedly for the run.

His stable companion that caught the eye recently was the four-year-old Burbank. He was sensational in winning a bumper at Newbury. He also needed to be shaken-up, but once the penny dropped he shot clear. A slight reservation over the form, would be that the race was a rather slowly run affair. Nevertheless, he looked special, and is set to switch to hurdles, with an outing at Exeter or Sandown later this week. I can’t wait to see him again.

It’s interesting that many of the above travelled powerfully through a race, and found plenty when asked for maximum effort. A ‘chip off the old block’ one could say. This looks likely to be an exciting winter for the Yeats dynasty. It’s still relatively early days for the stallion, but it appears that Jump racing will be all the richer for his influence.

Future Star Set To Shine At Newmarket

Once again it’s Newmarket that try to hog the limelight this weekend, with the Dubai Future Champions Festival.

On Friday the highlight of a tasty looking card is the Dubai Fillies’ Mile, the richest juvenile Group 1 in Europe. Charlie Appleby will be hoping to add to the gutsy victory of Wuheida in last weekend’s Prix Marcel Boussac, as he unleashes another Dubawi filly, in the highly-regarded Sobetsu. A stunning 10-length winner over course and distance in September, she takes on an old adversary in Sir Michael Stoute's Spatial.

Speaking earlier in the week, Appleby said of his challenger: “I am very pleased with Sobetsu, she is proven on the track, which is a bonus, and I think that she has a very solid chance in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile. Her and Wuheida are the two standout fillies in my yard, two very imposing daughters of Dubawi with hopefully bright three-year-old careers ahead of them. If Sobetsu could complete the Group 1 double it would be fantastic for the team and fantastic for Dubawi as well. He’s already a renowned worldwide stallion but it would give a new status to his reputation.”

Of Stoute’s talented filly, Appleby said: “I appreciate that she has got to get past Spatial, and we very much respect her, but when they met before it was Sobetsu’s debut whereas Spatial had already run, finishing second to Wuheida. Sobetsu really came forward for that first run and was very impressive last time.”

Spatial is beautifully bred, being by 2000 Guineas runner-up and Epsom Derby hero New Approach, out of the 1000 Guineas runner-up Spacious. Sir Michael is thought to be sweet on the filly, with Cheveley Park Stud’s Chris Richardson talking of her as a horse with ‘a serious future.’

Aidan O’Brien is likely to have a say in the outcome, having taken the last two renewals, and he looks set to send a couple of fillies over in search of the valuable prize. Hydrangea and Rhododendron are the pair in question, and have competed against each other on a couple of occasions already this summer. They placed second and third in the Moyglare in September, and are a classy duo.

Minding won last year’s Fillies’ Mile, with Godolphin and Coolmore sharing five of the last six renewals. Expect a high-class filly to prevail.

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On Saturday the juvenile colts take centre-stage in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. Irish raids have proved fruitful in recent years, with Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien carving up eight of the last 10. Ballydoyle often send one of their leading lights, and last year the race went to Air Force Blue. He was expected to become something of a superstar on the track. Nothing is ever certain in sport.

Churchill looks to be the headline act in Saturday’s race, and is currently a short priced favourite. He already heads the markets for next season’s 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby, after his impressive performance in the National Stakes at the Curragh. Ryan Moore, fresh from his Arc triumph on Found, told At The Races: “He's a very exciting colt, I'm hoping he's going to be there and I'm very much looking forward to riding him.”

The William Haggas trained Rivet is expected to prove a worthy challenger, with the trainer saying: “Rivet has always been a very fluent mover, so he would appreciate dry ground on Saturday. He’s a very relaxed chap with a good temperament. The Dubai Dewhurst is a Championship Group 1 race, the most prestigious two-year-old race in England and, possibly, Europe. Rivet looked laboured when he won the Champagne Stakes but the ground was a bit loose and he and the runner-up, Thunder Snow, pulled a long way clear in a short space of time.”

Godolphin are set to take up the challenge with Thunder Snow and Blue Point. The latter, trained by Charlie Appleby, was runner-up in the Middle Park, having previously stormed to victory at York in the Gimcrack.

As ever, this looks to be a strong renewal, for an event that has gone to numerous high-class colts over the years.

Monday Musings: Cool-More Millions…

 

I try not to revisit previous offerings before the metaphorical ink is dry on the predecessor, writes Tony Stafford, but this time I really have to break that unofficial restraint.

Actually, I’m sure most regular readers will say “you always cover the same old ground, if not all the time”. That’s probably true enough, but this time I feel an imperative.

It always amazes me how many insiders who should be aware of racing statistics seem innocent of all bar which jockey is leading the title race – hang on, what title race? The Flat-race jockey championship, slimmed into a main-season affair and to what end? Or should it be the whole-year so that worthies such as Luke Morris and Adam Kirby, denied the off-season riches of the Ryan Moore/James Doyle/William Buick cartel, could step up? They have to be content with the steady earnings in the All-weather winter championship.

But the stats which interest me most, as last week’s effort will have reinforced, are the leading trainer tables, Flat and National Hunt, published in long or shorter-form almost every day in the Racing Post.

Through the year, indications of which stables are in, or out of, form are vital for the punter. But it is fair to say that the 2016 Flat-race season in the UK has been uniquely unusual, and in an accelerating fashion. In simplistic terms, Aidan O’Brien has beaten his best previous prizemoney tally, and by the end of Goodwood!

Last week, I detailed the history of six leading trainers, all of whom had exceeded £3m in a UK season. John Gosden raised the bar to a highest £5.3m last year, thanks principally to the exploits of Golden Horn, but as last week’s article suggested, it seemed inevitable that O’Brien would quickly overtake that figure.

For once the Hackney Wick crystal ball and tarot cards were on track. Buoyed by the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes win of Highland Reel at Ascot the previous Saturday, Aidan lined up a select ten-strong raiding party  to tilt at the newly- lavish Goodwood prizemoney buoyed by Qatar cash. All ten, like the three at Ascot the previous weekend, collected a cheque.

From How’s £675 for sixth place in the Princess Margaret at Ascot behind Fair Eva to Minding’s workmanlike sixth Group 1 triumph of her career in Saturday’s Nassau Stakes, the team’s collective earnings were £2,018,175 for five first places, two seconds, two thirds, two fourths, a fifth and How’s sixth.

Aidan won Group 1’s with Highland Reel, The Gurkha (Sussex Stakes) and Minding; a Group 2 with War Decree and a nice fillies’ juvenile maiden with the classy Rhododendron.

When you say it quickly – Aidan won £2,018,175 in six days’ action in the UK with 13 runners, it sounds quite impressive. It’s when you put that level of earnings by an overseas trainer against those of the four leading British-based handlers, that it stretches credibility.

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It has taken 82 runs and 20 wins to arrive at £4,980,801 this year. That puts him within less than £300,000 of Gosden’s record tally. Of the 20 wins, 14 have been at Group level, Minding leading the way with three. It is also not uncommon for even two or three O’Brien runners to contest the top races, making the winning percentage in wins to races terms even better than the 24% wins to runs ratio.

John Gosden is the nearest to O’Brien this year. He’s earned £1,912,980 with 68 wins from 340 runners and six Group races. Richard Hannon’s 112 wins from 785 runners (four Group victories) has brought £1,844,827, while Richard Fahey with 121 wins from 974 runners has brought home £1,743,830 to his owners but only a single Group-race success. A lucrative Goodwood has pushed Sir Michael Stoute into an excellent fifth place with £1,701,758 from 63 wins and 271 runners. The ten Group-race wins show how well this veteran is coping with his younger rivals.

Yet the fact that O’Brien can have exceeded the season-long earnings of all the major opposition within a week is the astonishing part.

When you consider the level of fire power being readied for York, a realistic season-long target could approach a minimum £7 million. Godolphin’s two main trainers, Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor, have just passed a joint £2 million between them from 75 winners and five Group wins. Godolphin has more representatives in other leading stables these days and such as Gosden, Roger Varian and Hugo Palmer strengthen the big-race opportunities for the boys in blue. It is still obvious that if there is to be a challenge to Coolmore in the top races, it can only realistically come from Sheikh Mohammed’s single-minded energy for the battle.

I missed seeing The Gurkha in the flesh, as with Ray Tooth and Steve Gilbey, I took the train to Shropshire and Kinsale Stud to see the yearlings being readied to go into training. They look Ray’s best bunch yet and the recent efforts of Dutch Law and Stanhope suggest we’re getting onto the right path.

Stanhope will have his third race, back at Yarmouth where on debut, as a 50-1 shot in a five-horse affair, he got to within a length and a quarter of the Godolphin favourite, Final Reckoning. When that horse followed up, justifying favouritism in the 17-runner nursery at Goodwood on Friday, we got a little excited.

In between the two races, Stanhope had run another good race in third, beaten one length and a last-stride nose by Fly At Night (also a Charlie Appleby/Godolphin newcomer) and the Jamie Osborne-trained Harbour Master. That colt had run twice before and got a 76 rating in the first official list of juvenile handicap marks last Tuesday.

Jamie didn’t take long to test the form, and we were in for another boost when Harbour Master won a competitive Lingfield maiden by almost four lengths on Saturday night.

Micky Quinn reckons Stanhope has improved again and is highly optimistic that the colt can get his first win on Thursday. Two days later Hughie Morrison’s Dutch Law goes back to HQ after getting his head in front in a competitive race there last time following some near misses. He’s now up to 87, but looks sure to be competitive for a nice 86-105 race over his favourite seven furlongs.

We won’t be worrying Aiden O’Brien too much, but a couple more nice runs will reassure the boss that we’re going the right way. Looking at the foals, there’s also plenty of promise for the future.

Tony Stafford: Trainers, Stallions, and Multi-Millions

Galileo has fathered the next generation of stallions

Galileo has fathered the next generation of stallions

Six trainers have dominated the UK championships over the past 20 years with successively Sir Michael Stoute, Saeed bin Suroor, Aidan O’Brien, Richard Hannon, senior and junior and John Gosden taking his turn, writes Tony Stafford.

They have all clocked up impressive top prize money figures during that time, Sir Michael’s 2003 tally of £3,754,850 from his best numerical score of 115 setting a high benchmark. That was improved upon by bin Suroor for Godolphin, the following year with £4,319,646 from the same number of winners.

O’Brien, the only non-British-based member of this exclusive club had an optimum figure of £3,819,986 from his 13 wins in 80 runs in 2013, while the Hannons, father and son, both broke the £4m barrier in successive seasons in 2013 and 2014. Senior’s £4,532,465 earnings in his final campaign were accrued from 235 victories and 1,412 runners. Junior exceeded the money element with £4,749,470, but was slightly down on wins, 206 from 1,404 runs.

British prizemoney is not regarded as in any way equivalent to the level of ability needed to win races compared with elsewhere, but the major events have steadily increased in value so that in 2015 John Gosden’s 133 wins from 577, including Golden Horn’s great achievements, propelled him to a record domestic seasonal tally of £5,277,651.

This year, Messrs Gosden (£1.8m) and Hannon (£1.57m) are some way off their record schedules, but with lavish money available - especially at Goodwood this week - there is still time for them to get back on track.

But it is most unlikely that either will get within shouting distance of the remarkable O’Brien, who sneaked within £3,000 of his 2013 figure when collecting the £652,165 for the Coolmore partners for Highland Reel’s front-running display in the King George at Ascot when he took full advantage of Postponed’s enforced absence, and a bonus £65,000 for Sir Isaac Newton’s fourth.

With a possible £560k in prospect for The Gurkha in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes and an even more probable £340k for the flawless Minding in Saturday’s Nassau, it is not unrealistic to project that O’Brien might be pushing the £5m mark by the end of the week, and then there’s all those big juvenile prizes to target later on, not to mention Champions Day at Ascot in the autumn. The record must be his for the taking.

There’s an unbreakable thread through the past 50 years at Ballydoyle, begun by Vincent O’Brien, principally parlaying Robert Sangster’s Vernons Pools inheritance and then most tellingly O’Brien’s son-in-law John Magnier’s innovative input, through to Aidan (no relation) O’Brien for the past 20-odd years.

The human thread echoes the equine. The original Coolmore brains trust identified the wonderful Northern Dancer at the beginning of his stud career after his 14 successes from 18 on the racetrack which featured an ultra-tough juvenile campaign and the first two legs of the Triple Crown, unique for a Canadian-bred and –based racehorse.

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O’Brien bought such as Nijinsky, The Minstrel, El Gran Senor and Storm Bird, all champion sons of Northern Dancer in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s while Sangster bought the mare Fairy Bridge and sent her to Northern Dancer, producing Sadler’s Wells.

While not quite the best of his generation, Sadler’s Wells did win the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Champion Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes, before going on to make a pretty good imitation of his sire by winning 14 championships (13 in a row), interrupted only for a single season by Danehill Dancer, also from the Northern Dancer male line through Danzig and Danehill.

Sadler’s Wells came along in 1981 when his father was 20. His own son Galileo was a little quicker to arrive, in 1998. Galileo was a most impressive winner of the Derby and since his holding court at Coolmore, he and fellow Sadler’s Wells product, Montjeu, have dominated the Derby with seven wins between them.

Like Sadler’s Wells before him, Galileo has become almost an automatic champion sire every year since appearing at stud and, apart from the Derby winners and brilliant juveniles, he has the distinction of having produced the highest-ever rated racehorse, the sublime Frankel, winner of all 14 of his starts.

Frankel was a product of the inspired Galileo – Danehill “nick”, Danehill’s daughter, Kind, providing the leavening of Galileo’s considerable basic talent. Interestingly, Highland Reel, never really considered a player by the racing establishment even after his King George, is also by Galileo out of a Danehill mare. After Saturday, perhaps surprisingly, he stands third in prizemoney terms for any of Galileo’s progeny with £2.42m with six wins in 15 starts, behind only Frankel £2.99m (14/14) and Cape Blanco, also O’Brien-trained with £2.57m from nine wins in 15 starts.

With Ashford Stud in Kentucky to focus their American business, Messrs Magnier, Tabor and Smith have invested strongly in War Front, with excellent results and now control American Pharaoh, last year’s US Triple Crown winner. Sadly, Scat Daddy, their at the time upwardly-mobile stallion, sustained an injury which caused his untimely death before the start of the 2016 breeding season.

It would be easy to under-estimate the ability of Highland Reel, who is shaping up as a possible successor as a global money-maker to Montjeu’s son St Nicholas Abbey, who drew stumps with a jot under £5m in career earnings.

Meanwhile the “other” Galileo –Danehill representative, Frankel, has already started his stud life with a string of promising first-season representatives. Saturday’s Princess Margaret winner, Fair Eva, who was untroubled yet still got within 0.08sec of Henrythenavigator’s juvenile track record is leading the way with early favourite quotes for 1,000 Guineas glory.

There were plenty of people willing to stump up the £125,000 which has been required for Frankel’s services in his first four years at Banstead Manor and the ante is sure to be upped for 2017. It would be entirely in character for the Coolmore brains trust to have targeted Frankel as a potential addition to their portfolio. Prince Khalid Abdullah allowed them into Danehill when he was already a top stallion, winning three UK titles and siring 349 stakes winners, a record. Why would the Prince not listen if Coolmore were to come calling? The last association did nobody any harm, after all.

The Tin Man Shines at Newbury

A drop back to Group 3 company proved just the ticket for The Tin Man, as he proved a cut above the rest in the Bet365 Hackwood Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.

The jury remain undecided as to just how good James Fanshawe’s sprinter is, after he was soundly beaten in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot. However, a combination of lesser opposition and a sounder surface brought about an impressive victory, in a race where other leading contenders disappointed.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Tom Queally, he scythed through the pack inside the final furlong to win cosily under a hands and heels ride. The jockey clearly rates his mount highly, when after the victory he said: “He has to be ridden like that. Things didn't go to plan the last day. He has to be ridden with confidence. I think he's different gear when he's on form and I have huge aspirations for him going forward. I think he's a force to be reckoned with. It was a brave, bold call by James. A lot of people would have been pushed into running in the July Cup and we didn't. We'll wait for the big races at the back-end. He's very exciting.”

Fanshawe was similarly impressed after the race, saying: “I'm relieved more than anything. This horse has got enormous talent. He had an interrupted preparation before Ascot, so after the disappointment there we decided to come here rather than the July Cup. Tom was brave and this horse has a great turn of foot and he quickened up well. Ridden that way he's really useful. Tom felt he almost got there too soon, so he could go over five. His dam was good over five, so you wouldn't discount York (the Nunthorpe Stakes), but in my mind I've still got Haydock and the Champions sprint (at Ascot).”

Godolphin’s Divine proved best of the rest, with Raucous back in third, both at odds of 20/1. More fancied challengers Charming Thought, Ibn Malik, Mr Lupton and Buratino, all failed to land a blow. Despite making up 50% of the field, only one three-year-old finished in the first six. It’s four-year-olds who continue to dominate this summer’s sprints with The Tin Man joining the likes of Limato, Profitable and Twilight Son.

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For last year’s impressive looking juveniles, this campaign continues to prove a difficult one. The transition from two to three is often tough, with those appearing world beaters at two, failing to progress, and this summer is no exception.

Buratino, and to some extent Illuminate, were both perfect examples on Saturday. The former was one of the leading juvenile colts, winning the Coventry Stakes before finishing runner-up in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes. So far this year his best performance from four starts is a fourth place finish at Haydock. It was hoped that Saturday’s quick ground would bring the best out of him, but it failed to make the slightest difference. Mark Johnston’s colt looks a shadow of the horse that promised so much 12 months ago.

Illuminate was another that promised much but has delivered very little. I for one, certainly thought that a return to quicker ground would play to her strengths. However, when Saturday’s race came to the boil, Hannon’s filly faded tamely towards the back of the pack. It’s likely that a return to the minimum trip will help a little, but in all fairness, last year’s Cheveley Park runner-up has not progressed.

If the failures of these two are disappointing, then the major three-year-old flop has to be Coolmore’s Air Force Blue. His juvenile form links in closely with that of Buratino, and like the Godolphin colt, he has also been a major let-down so far this summer. Desperately poor in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he then ran just as bad in the Irish equivalent. Last time out he finished down the field in the Darley July Cup, though he got no kind of a run that day, when trapped behind a wall of horses. That performance gave some hope that he could still make it as a sprinter. Though keeping faith with a failing three-year-old can prove an expensive pastime.

Fabre’s Fabulous Falmouth Filly

In the midst of celebrating 350 years as the Home of Racing, Newmarket today open their doors to the three day Moet & Chandon July Festival, one of Flat racing’s most eagerly anticipated events.

The Group 1 Darley July Cup on Saturday is the undoubted highlight. The prestigious sprint is one of the most valuable and always attracts a high-class field. This year is no exception, and I’ll be taking a closer look at the race in tomorrow’s piece.

On Friday the fillies and mares take centre-stage with the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes. Run over a mile, with more than £100,000 going to the winner, the event has again attracted a sparkling field, though a number of high profile omissions have been announced in recent days.

One mare who sadly sustained a career ending injury on the gallops this week, is Euro Charline. Trained by Marco Botti for owners Team Valor, the five-year-old had finished runner-up in last year’s renewal, and had looked as good as ever when finishing second in her last two events, both at Group 1 level.

Barry Irwin, chief executive of US-based Team Valor, said “She's done a tendon breezing on the all-weather gallop, which last week took a lot of rain.”

She will now head to the Tattersalls sale in December, and her trainer paid tribute, saying: “Euro Charline was one of the best horses I have trained. She was not the luckiest horse and a couple of her seconds very well could have been firsts. While her family is not out of the top drawer, she will prove popular with breeders at the sale because she looks the part.”

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Another set to miss Friday’s showpiece is the classy three-year-old Nemoralia. With ground conditions in her favour, the decision appeared a little strange, but her trainer Jeremy Noseda explained when he spoke to At The Races, saying: “We're very much looking towards going to the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly on Sunday. I think she likes a flat track and the July Course, with that uphill finish, is not what she really wants. It looks like the Jean Prat is a race she can be extremely competitive in.”

It’s a shame that the Newmarket racegoers will miss seeing Nemoralia. She looked an outstanding filly when scooting home at York in May. She then ran a terrific race at Royal Ascot, when finishing second in the Coronation Stakes, despite conditions being against her. Nevertheless, seven fillies are set to contest the Group 1 on Friday, and it remains a cracking looking renewal.

The race was won last year by Amazing Maria, and her trainer David O’Meara is expecting a season’s best performance, saying: “The current fast ground should suit her much better than what she has been encountering so far this season. It would be a big statement to say that she is still improving at the age of five, but I think that I have got her in similar form to what she was at this time last year. She is much better over a mile on fast ground and, although I couldn't say that she will beat Usherette, I am sure that the two will finish much closer on Friday.”

Usherette will be sent off a short-priced favourite after dominating displays in the Dahlia Stakes and then at Royal Ascot in the Duke of Cambridge. Andre Fabre’s filly will be looking to emulate both Giofra and Goldikova, who captured the race for France in recent years. Godolphin have swept all before them in recent weeks, and the improving four-year-old will take some beating.

Coolmore’s Alice Springs represents the strongest three-year-old form. Third in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she’s a hardy sort, and ran on well at Ascot having found plenty of trouble in running. The Falmouth is a race that has eluded Aidan O’Brien, and though he arguably has two better fillies in Minding and Ballydoyle, this filly is not without a chance in receipt of plenty of weight from her elders.

Who’s the Daddy

In the aftermath of another terrific Royal Ascot, it is worth taking a look at the stallions that made an impact in the most prestigious Flat meeting.

As ever the mighty Dubawi and Galileo had their fair share of success, but one sire, sadly no longer with us, continues to make an impact at the royal meeting. The American Stallion Scat Daddy, collapsed and died in 2014, at the age of 11, when walking from his paddock at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky.

Despite his tragic demise, his bloodline is set to make an impact at the highest level in the coming years. He has proven especially effective with juvenile sprinters, claiming a number of prizes during last week’s five-day extravaganza.

Scat Daddy was trained by Todd Pletcher in America having been purchased by Michael Tabor as a yearling. He was an impressive juvenile, winning the Sanford Stakes and the Champagne Stakes, and completing his two-year-old campaign with a fourth place finish in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

His three-year-old season began with a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes before winning the Fountain of Youth. He then took the Florida Derby, and headed for the Kentucky Derby as a well fancied contender. He failed to shine on that occasion, finishing down the field in 18th. It emerged that he had damaged a tendon during the race and sadly his racing career came to an end. In eight starts, he had won five and earned $1,334,300.

He started his career as a stallion in 2008 at the Ashford Stud in Lexington, Kentucky, initially commanding a fee $30,000. He also stood in Australia and Chile, becoming the leading sire in that country in 2013/14. His progeny hit the racetrack in 2011, and in America he made a terrific impact. With more than $1.5 million in progeny earnings, he ranked third to top US sires Kitten's Joy and Smart Strike.

He has been responsible for American Oaks winner Lady of Shamrock and the UAE Derby victor Daddy Long Legs. He was also responsible for the El Derby winner in Chile, in both 2014 and 2015, thanks to Solaria and Il Campione.

But it is his Royal Ascot victories that have been particularly eye-catching. No Nay Never was an outstanding juvenile sprinter in 2013. Brought over by Wesley Ward, he took the Norfolk Stakes in stunning fashion, before winning the Group 1 Prix Morny in France. His final appearance as a three-year-old in 2014 saw him chinned on the line in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. He now stands at Coolmore’s stud in Ireland.

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Acapulco followed in No Nay Never’s hoofprints, with a stunning success at Royal Ascot when winning the Queen Mary Stakes. She then came close to winning the Nunthorpe as a juvenile. Sadly, the great British weather kept the flying filly away from Ascot last week, and her future targets are yet to be confirmed.

In her absence, American trainer Ward unleashed yet another outstanding juvenile filly. Different in stature, but possibly even more talented, Lady Aurelia ran away with the Queen Mary Stakes in double-quick time. Her seven-length demolition job had jaws dropping, with Frankie Dettori saying: “That was breathtaking from the top. To win by seven lengths at Royal Ascot was sensational and I've never seen or experienced anything like it especially for a two-year-old.”

Ward feels that the filly lacks the stature to take on older horses, and therefore the Prix Morny looks the likely short-term target.

Another Scat Daddy juvenile to scorch the turf was the Aidan O’Brien trained Caravaggio. He was successful in the Coventry Stakes and has been installed as favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas. His performance was all the more pleasing for connections, as he proved his stamina in very testing conditions.

O'Brien had concerns over the ground, and after the win said: “We were worried that he was so quick that we maybe should have had him in the Norfolk when the ground got so soft because he is very, very rapid at home. When a horse is that quick you are never sure that they are going to last out over six in soft ground, but he got it and he got it well.”

Whether he proves to be a realistic guineas contender, or a top-class sprinter, only time will tell. But Caravaggio is clearly a class act, and will be hard to beat in the coming months.

Scat Daddy was a huge loss to the bloodstock industry, but his progeny look set to carry the name forward in some style, with Acapulco, Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio in particular, likely to strike again at the highest level.

A New Phase in the O’Brien Dynasty Begins

Joseph O'Brien's first day with a license is today

Joseph O'Brien's first day with a license is today

Monday Musings

By Tony Stafford

While Minding was sweeping through the field to overcome trouble in running and adding the Investec Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas triumph for the Aidan O’Brien stable on Friday, three of his four children were back home in Ireland minding the shop.

Joseph, the eldest at 23, for some months the custodian of his maternal family farm at Piltown, spent Friday night over-seeing the O’Brien runners at Leopardstown, where they were rewarded with a five-timer to add to the spectacular Epsom Classic success.

Three of the five were partnered by Joseph’s 17-year-old brother Donnacha, already down to a 3lb claim less than a year into his riding career, and one other by younger sister Ana. Her taller sibling Sara, an amateur and second eldest took the rare chance with time off from veterinary college, to have a couple of days on the Downs.

Ana was left alone on Saturday back home with mum riding on a less successful day for the team – if you could say second and third in the Derby and runner-up (to a star like Postponed) in the Coronation Cup was disappointing? Donnacha had a first Derby (ride) unplaced, while Joseph, resplendent in top hat and tails, escorted the elder sister for the day.

Of course, this was the day before the day before the storm, with O’Brien junior finally getting his own name alongside the horses in his care, around 30 minutes’ drive from Ballydoyle.

From today, the name Joseph Patrick O’Brien will adorn swathes of runners if this afternoon’s opening salvo at Gowran Park (four) and Listowel (three) is anything to go by, which it clearly is.

At Listowel, two J P McManus horses, the first with retained rider Barry Geraghty aboard, and sister Sara in the bumper, sandwich a Brian O’Connell-ridden runner in the handicap hurdle.

The history-defining moment comes at 2.05 at Gowran where Joseph encounters a first-time inmate of his father’s string – now we know where we are – and his runner could have an experience advantage.

Three later runners include two in the same race, with Donnacha, who also rides the first two, and Ana sharing the responsibilities.

The wait for Joseph to get the licence, given the almost-unconscionable amount of experience he has packed in his few short years, with Derby and God knows what else wins and riding championships, brought some mystified head scratching, at least for me.

But it seems the requirement of taking a course to satisfy the authorities of his credentials could not be set up apparently until at least ten applicants were in place. Robbie McNamara was among this group I believe, along with some retired jockeys and permit trainers wishing to upgrade to the full public licence.

Well satisfy them he did, and this morning might be different in terms of licensing, but not in work load. Joseph does first lot every morning at Ballydoyle before driving down to Piltown for a 9.15 a.m. start. Blimey, Clive Brittain in his heyday would be tucking into bed by then most mornings! The others are based at home, but no doubt they will be employed to hone horses for imminent objectives whenever needed.

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One of the major O’Brien and Coolmore associates and long-standing friends is Demi O’Byrne, a brilliant vet who for many years was described as Michael Tabor’s Racing Manager. He is the owner of Lundy, twice narrowly beaten by Royal Ascot-bound juveniles, either side of an easy win.

Lundy will be one of the most eagerly-sought lots in the forthcoming Goffs London sale on the eve of Royal Ascot next Monday in Kensington showing that financial enterprise is equally regarded with ambition in the fledgling stable.

There is something about the number 23 where the O’Brien’s are concerned. Twenty three years ago, a few months before the arrival of Aidan and Anne Marie’s first-born, Anne Marie Crowley-O’Brien, as some of the record books at the time would tell us, was preparing a team of horses for her first challenge to the Cheltenham Festival.

The much-respected John Cobb wrote a perceptive article in the Independent – sadly now just a web-newspaper – suggesting that half a dozen would be going to the Festival a month to the day of the piece.

He pointed out that Anne Marie, assisted by her young husband, a recent graduate from Jim Bolger’s stable, had already sent out 40 winners to lead Noel Meade by some way and at a comfortably better strike-rate (27%) at that stage of the season than perennial British champion Martin Pipe.

Coincidentally both were 23 years of age, and like their son a generation on, Aidan had to wait, presumably until motherhood took over, to get his first licence. In the event, only one of the sextet turned up at Cheltenham, a four-year-old filly called Loshian, who finished a close fifth of 25 in the Triumph Hurdle.

She stayed in training for three more seasons and among those to ride her were their loyal stalwart Seamie Heffernan, who partnered Loshian to her first win, Johnny Murtagh, Richard Dunwoody, John Egan, the assistant trainer (13th of 15 on their only outing together), Charlie Swan and A P McCoy, like Aidan a graduate of the Jim Bolger school of character forming.

Within a few years, Aidan was to comprehensively rewrite what could be possible in the history of Irish jumping making the call from John Magnier to take over from namesake Vincent (no relation) O’Brien at Ballydoyle inevitable.

By the end of that first Piltown year, 1993, Aidan had 18 Flat wins, followed by 49, 76, 80 and 116. The jumpers won 67 races in the first year, followed by 136, 154, 136 again and 94 before the summons from Coolmore.

When Anne Marie held the licence – for just two seasons – her five younger sisters all rode in the mornings as they had for their father Joe Crowley beforehand, and they “worked all day until 9.30 p.m”.  John Cobb also showed just how shrewd Jim Bolger was, telling the writer he would have done anything to keep Aidan after his three years there, short of marrying him!

Bolger said on that February day: “I’m sure they’ll be a force on the Flat, but I hope later rather than sooner.” Twenty-three years on Bolger is still at the top of his profession, but his former pupil has become the master and also the founder of a dynasty that will surely go on for many years to come.

 

 

Grounds for optimism – As Vega offspring impress

There’s been much talk of Galileo in recent days after the stallion’s dominance in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. It was also his dam that produced 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold.

Though Galileo is undoubtedly an outstanding stallion, and likely to take have more than his fair share of top level winners throughout the summer, other stallions will also make an impact at the highest level. One that’s set to continue to establish himself among the best is the ex-Andre Fabre inmate Lope De Vega.

The talented colt was a terrific racehorse, making an instant impact on the track as a juvenile, and continuing on an upward curve during the early part of his three-year-old campaign. He won two of his three outings as a two-year-old, with his only defeat coming in the Group 1 Prix Jean Luc Lagadere, when finishing fourth behind Siyouni on good ground.

His first start at three came in the Prix De Fontainebleau in April 2010, a recognised trial for the Poule d'Essai des Poulains; the French 2000 Guineas. He finished a promising third behind the Aga Khan pair of Rajsaman and Siyouni. In May he arrived at Longchamp as a 10/1 shot for the Guineas. Drawn wide, he came with a swooping run to beat Richard Hannon’s Dick Turpin, who had previously finished runner-up in the Guineas at Newmarket.

He followed up his first Group 1 success by stepping up in trip to take the Prix Du Jockey Club at Chantilly in stunning fashion. The race was run on good to soft ground, and Lope De Vega appeared to revel in the conditions. In completing the French Classic double he was emulating his own sire Shamardal who had taken both events in 2005. He failed to spark in the remainder of his campaign and was retired to stud at the end of the season.

Lope De Vega started his new career as a stallion at the Ballylinch Stud in Ireland in 2011. The latter part of his racing career had not gone well, yet he remained a Group 1 winner and it was hoped that he would become a success at stud. He was to make a huge impact, becoming the Champion First Crop Sire in Europe for 2014, with Belardo his leading juvenile thanks to victory in the Dewhurst Stakes. His 2015 juveniles continued the success with more high profile victories including Blue De Vega’s group win at Leopardstown.

Though Belardo somewhat under-achieved at three, he remains a horse of huge promise when conditions are in his favour. He needs to ‘get his toe in’ to be seen at his best, as was the case when chasing home Solow in the QEII at Ascot last October. He looks capable of further group success at around a mile when the ground is testing.
It’s refreshing to have an exciting stallion that doesn’t reside with the usual powerhouses of Darley, Coolmore, and Juddmonte. Lope De Vega is backed by a number of breeders, both in Europe and in Australia. Ammerland, Ballylinch, and SF Bloodstock are major breeders who support the horse every year in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Gestut Ammerland was founded in 1989 by Dietrich Von Boetticher. Numerous outstanding horses have been campaigned by the German stud including Hurricane Run, Borgia, Boreal, Grey Lilas and dual Classic-winning mare Golden Lilac. Their association with Lope De Vega will give hope of more exceptional horses to come.

Progeny that look set to make an impact this term include the aforementioned Irish trained Blue De Vega. He finished runner-up on his seasonal debut at the Curragh, and has an entry in the Irish Guineas along with the Epsom Derby. It’s likely he’ll be seen to best effect on a more testing surface. The horse is trained by Michael O’Callaghan for Qatar Racing and partners, and their racing manager, David Redvers, spoke after the Curragh run, saying: “Blue De Vega’s run was very promising. He needed it and it will put him spot on. He also needs further, so we’ll come back for the Irish Guineas.”

One that is set for a return after almost a year off the track is Ger Lyons promising four-year-old Endless Drama. He was last seen chasing home Gleneagles in last year’s Irish Guineas. That was a huge performance, and he had Belardo behind him that day. If he returns fit and well, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be competitive in group events. He’s entered in the Lockinge and then has dual entries at Royal Ascot.

One colt that has already impressed this season was the John Gosden trained Linguistic, who won at Newmarket in April. The three-year-old may well head for the Dante, and should the ground at York be on the soft side you’d have to give him a chance. He’s by a Montjeu mare and has the potential to take high order.

It’s an exciting time for a stallion that remains a relatively new kid on the block. Watch out for his progeny when ground conditions suit, at trips close to a mile.

Coolmore take a Walk In The Park

Just how much of a statement of intent is the purchase of Walk In The Park by Coolmore?

The official announcement came yesterday that the sire of both Douvan and Vautour will now stand at Grange Stud along with the likes of Flemensfirth, Milan and Westerner. The 14-year-old son of Montjeu began his career at stud in France in 2008. He was due to continue at Haras de la Huderie in Normandy at a fee of €3,500 before the move to Ireland.

Stud manager Albert Sherwood said of the purchase: “Douvan and Min are two of the most exciting young horses around so we're delighted to have secured him. As well as getting great racehorses he gets sales horses too with one of his foals topping Goffs December at €70,000.”

An athletic racehorse, Walk In The Park was placed in all his runs as a juvenile before finishing second in the Epsom Derby to Motivator in 2005. His career at stud had proven somewhat lukewarm until the Mullins duo burst onto the scene, and clearly further progeny will now come under greater scrutiny.

Coolmore’s action to purchase the stallion comes during a season when Joseph O’Brien has launched an assault on the Irish National Hunt scene. Training for JP McManus out of his father’s original yard at Owning Co Kilkenny, the O’Brien National Hunt wing is expected to expand under the backing of McManus. Though his father Aidan’s name appears as trainer, it is understood that this is son Joseph’s first step into the training ranks.

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The season has been going well with another exciting winner in the bumper at Leopardstown over the weekend. Aspen Colorado swept to a stylish victory and has now been installed as favourite for the Cheltenham Champion Bumper. The stable also have the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. Ivanovich Gorbatov won at Leopardstown over the Christmas period, comfortably getting the better of Willie Mullins’ young filly Let’s Dance. The son of Montjeu was pretty slick over his obstacles and is now three from four under rules.

It will come as no surprise to see that the yard’s strongest division is the team of young bumper runners. A winter of 16 wins from 31 runs tells its own story. This compares to just three wins from 10 runs the year before. Long term plans are uncertain, but there’s little doubt that Joseph has already made an impact.

The addition of Walk In The Park to Coolmore’s roster could well provide O’Brien with quality jumpers down the line, giving JP McManus the ammunition to challenge Ricci and Gigginstown at the very highest level.

It’ll soon be a decade since the mighty Istabraq set out on a career of dominance over hurdles. This winter has already hinted at exciting times ahead for team O’Brien over the jumps. With so much talk of a Mullins monopoly, maybe a familiar foe is about to launch a challenge on the Irish National Hunt scene.

American Pharoah primed for one last Hurrah

An American Hero

An American Hero

The Breeders’ Cup guest of honour continued to shine during his final work at Santa Anita.

American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Yesterday he ‘breezed’ four furlongs before a gallop over five under the watchful eye of trainer Bob Baffert. Saturday’s $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic will be his final race before he starts his career as a stallion based at the Coolmore America Ashford Stud in Kentucky.

An emotional Baffert spoke of his equine hero with that final race drawing near: “He fulfilled a goal for me that I wanted but thought was probably unreachable, and that was to win the Triple Crown. It was emotional for me because unfortunately my parents weren't around to see it and they were always my biggest fans.“

Of that historical final leg of the Triple Crown he added: "The Belmont is the first time I've run a horse and never rooted for it. I just watched in amazement, and that's really rare. I always root and scream my lungs out, but watching him, I just knew he was going to do it. There was something about him that's so special. We finally did it and we did it with a horse that was just so incredible.”

The exceptional colt has won eight of his 10 career starts, accumulating earnings of almost $6 million.
The trainer appeared more than pleased with his stars recent work, saying: “It went really well. I was debating whether to work him in company—like, maybe put a target in front—but we just wanted to cruise around there, and it was nice that we had the track to ourselves. He looked like Pharoah.” Ridden by his regular work rider Martin Garcia, the gallop proved a little faster than anticipated.

“He did it the right way,” Baffert said. “I just told Martin to keep him in hand and let him cruise around there. That's what he did. He could have slowed him down a little bit, but he was doing it the right way. I was pretty impressed. Going into this race, he's ready to roll.”

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It was also American Pharoah's last run at the Santa Anita track, a place that has become home for most of his career. “Walking up here, I was getting a little bit emotional,” Baffert said. “I was excited to watch him work, and got a little bit nervous. It was great the way he was doing it, but a little piece of me said, 'it's a little bit sad.' We now have to ship and the ship has to go well. It doesn't matter where he goes. He's handled it very well so far. He's used to everything—the crowd, the paddock—he's just that kind of horse. It makes my life so much easier, but that's because he's so great. He can handle it mentally.”

Three-year-olds have a decent record in the Classic but by no means outstanding. Horses that have found success in the Triple Crown events rarely shine at the Breeders’ Cup. Curlin back in 2007 was the last horse to win both the Preakness Stakes and the Classic in the same season, whilst Drosselmeyer won the Belmont in 2010 and a year later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The effort of a Triple Crown campaign is notoriously testing for a young horse, and Pharoah’s last run, when beaten in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, is cause for concern. Despite all this, the bookies have him as a short-priced favourite. He slipped up at Saratoga, but given a break since and seemingly on the back of a smooth prep there’s every chance America’s latest racing sensation can finish on a high.

“It’s going to be a sad, but a happy day when he leaves because he put us way up there,” Baffert said. “He gave us the biggest thrill you could get in racing.”

It would be a fitting final act, if he could give his trainer and connections one last thrill on Saturday night.

A Dubai Fillies’ Mile full of Promise

Promising Run - Full of Potential

Promising Run - Full of Potential

Established in 1973, the Fillies’ Mile has become one of the season’s most prestigious juvenile events.

Originally run at Ascot, the race now takes place at Newmarket over the Rowley Mile. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 1990, the event now forms part of the eagerly anticipated Future Champions Festival.

When looking at recent winners it comes as no surprise to see that Godolphin and Coolmore have dominated. Six of the last nine renewals have been shared between the two powerhouses, with Aidan O’Brien taking the race last year thanks to the Galileo filly Together Forever. She appeared to cope best with the testing conditions that day, and failed to build on her Group 1 success. Lucida was arguably the most talented filly in the race, but failed to pick up in the holding ground.

Godolphin’s run of success has been severely tainted by the fall from grace of trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni. Certify and Lyric of Light were winners for the disgraced handler, but the Godolphin operation powers on, and both Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby have continued to churn out top-class racehorses capable of winning major prizes.

The former is responsible for one of tomorrow’s most fancied runners. Promising Run was impressive last time when winning the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes. Staying on strongly on that occasion, this step up in trip looks sure to suit. She’s a lovely big filly, powerful looking with a long stride. A winner already on good to soft, her action suggests that any rain that has fallen in recent days should not inconvenience her.

Aidan O’Brien may well arrive double-handed with both Coolmore and Minding set to line up. The latter defeated the Prix Marcel Boussac winner Ballydoyle last time out at the Curragh. She appeared to improve for the slight ease in ground conditions, and won somewhat cosily. Alice Springs was back in third that day, giving the form an even more impressive look.

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Coolmore carries the family name and has been gradually warming to the task with experience. The most recent run was her best, though she took every yard of the seven furlongs to get going. A full sister to Gleneagles, she’s certainly bred to be top-class, but still looks a work in progress, and if her brother is anything to go by, the word soft in the ground description may not be ideal.

One that certainly won’t be inconvenienced should there be a little give in the Rowley Mile turf is John Gosden’s filly Nathra. The daughter of Ifraaj out of a Danehill mare was visually stunning last time at Newbury. The form doesn’t amount to much, and this is a huge step up in class, but with trainer sweeping all before him it’s no real surprise to see her near the head of the betting. She sits there more on promise than substance.

Of the remainder, Hawksmoor will be more suited by both trip and any give in the ground. Hugo Palmer’s filly needs to bounce back from a thumping last time at the hooves of Promising Run. Ground does look crucial to her chances, the softer the better for this daughter of Azamour.

Marenko is another capable of a decent run at a big price. It would be a huge turn-up if she was to win, but her last run at Doncaster when second to Turret Rocks in a Group 2 was a solid performance. Out of a Pivotal mare, expect her to improve for any give in the ground.

It looks a suitably high class renewal with such a valuable prize on offer. The juvenile events have thrived over the summer with names such as Shalaa, Emotionless, Lumiere and Ballydoyle instantly springing to mind.

The action at Newmarket over the next few days looks sure to add an appropriate gloss to a thoroughly enjoyable season, with the Fillies’ Mile a potential highlight.