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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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Aidan O’Brien believes there is a “good chance” Magical will be retired following her narrow defeat in Hong Kong last weekend.
The brilliant mare looked set to start her broodmare career this year after rounding off her 2019 campaign with victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.
However, she was brought back as five-year-old this season and it has proved a wise decision, with the daughter of Galileo claiming another three Group One wins to extend her top-level tally to seven.
She finished a close-up third in the Hong Kong Cup – and while O’Brien initially offered brief hope that she could return to the track in 2021, he now expects her retirement to be officially confirmed before the new year.
Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme, O’Brien said: “I suppose there’s a good chance that she won’t (stay in training).
“We were delighted to have her from last year. She’s back from Hong Kong and seems in good form.
“I suppose there’s every chance that she won’t come back, but the lads (owners) will decide next week what they want to do.
“She’s incredible really. What makes her unusual is she’s been running at the top level since she was two and she’s as sound as a bell.”
The undoubted heir to Magical’s crown as the top older filly at Ballydoyle is Love, who completed a Classic double with brilliant displays in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Oaks at Epsom earlier this year.
Having added the Yorkshire Oaks to her tally during the summer, she looked set for a mouthwatering clash with Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but was withdrawn due to the prevailing testing conditions in Paris.
O’Brien ultimately ended up having no runners in Europe’s premier middle-distance contest, or any of the supporting races that weekend, due to fears over contaminated feed.
Of Love, O’Brien said: “She’s a very special filly. It’s easy to forget what she did in the Guineas and then what she did in the Oaks.
“She’s very uncomplicated and something to really look forward to for next year. She had a canter this morning, everyone is happy with her and she’s done very well physically.
“She had a little break after Arc weekend as she was trained for the Arc like there was no tomorrow. When you do that, they do need a little bit of a rest, so she got that and she’s just back cantering away slowly.”
Other three-year-olds rising four the trainer is looking forward to next season are Hong Kong Vase hero Mogul and Serpentine, who was the subject of much debate after winning the Derby at Epsom in June under an enterprising ride from Emmet McNamara.
“The late start to the season didn’t suit Mogul. We had planned on getting two runs in before the Derby, but obviously that wasn’t to be and everything was a little bit forced and a little bit rushed,” O’Brien added.
“He’s a big, powerful horse and the more racing he got the better he got – we did get him there in the end.
“Serpentine is a very relaxed horse who stays very well. He’s very uncomplicated and very balanced and a very well-bred horse – we did believe that it could happen (winning the Derby).
“He had to be a good horse to do what he did.”
O’Brien will also possess plenty of strength in depth in the three-year-old division, with Dewhurst one-two St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley, Battleground and the hugely exciting Derby favourite High Definition all proving their worth as juveniles.
O’Brien said: “We have some nice two-year-olds. Because the season was such a mess, the two-year-olds kind of got lost in the middle and we had to run some of them a little bit more than we wanted to – Wembley would be an example of that.
“Like every year there’s horses that are going to make good improvement and some might not make the improvement that we hope. It will be interesting to see what the spring will bring.”
Of High Definition, he added: “He was always very special. He’s a big, long, scopey horse with a great mind. The plan was always to give him two runs and he was seriously impressive in the Beresford Stakes – it was unbelievable.
“He’s always been a very exciting horse and the plan was always that he would be trained for the Derby next year. He’s had his two runs for education at the Curragh and would have learned a lot.
“It’s possible (he could run in the 2000 Guineas), but not definite. We’ll see how he trains in the spring and whether it’s the right thing to do or not. I don’t think he’d have any problem with it pace-wise as he’s a high cruiser who gets the trip really well.”
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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.”
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.”
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High Definition is the new favourite for next year’s Derby after he provided Aidan O’Brien with a 10th successive win in the Alan Smurfit Memorial Beresford Stakes at the Curragh.
Having flown home late to get up on his debut, High Definition was sent off the 9-5 favourite, but he had only one behind him with three furlongs to run and Seamie Heffernan was already rowing away as Monaasib kicked clear.
Heading into the final furlong, Kevin Prendergast’s Monaasib appeared a likely winner, but High Definition really began to grab the ground close home and he ended up winning by a cosy three-quarters of a length.
High Definition, who is a full brother to last year’s race winner Innisfree, is now the 12-1 market leader with Paddy Power for the 2021 Epsom Classic.
O’Brien, who was winning his 20th Beresford Stakes overall, said: “He’s lovely and puts away a lot of ground. He’s a big, rangy horse with a massive, big stride and is one to really look forward to.
“It was the same in his maiden – you would say he’s not going to get there and in the end he’s won easily.
“I’d say we’ll put him away now. He could start in a Guineas and he looks like he’ll be a middle-distance horse.
“I was a bit worried about the bend as he’s never been around one before.”
O’Brien had earlier been on the mark with Santa Barbara (9-2) in the Irish EBF Median Sires Series Maiden.
A half-sister to Group One winner Iridessa, Santa Barbara travelled well throughout in the mile heat and eventually came home an easy two-and-a-half-length winner.
O’Brien said: “She’s a big, powerful filly with loads of class. She was just ready to go racing. She travelled very well through the race.
“There is a good chance she won’t run again this year. We just needed to get a run into her and she’s going to be lovely for next year.”
Ventura Rebel returned to winning ways for trainer Richard Fahey in the Qatar Racing And Equestrian Club Renaissance Stakes.
Sent off a 10-1 chance having largely failed to reproduce his smart juvenile form – barring his Commonwealth Cup third – he came with a late rattle under Declan McDonogh to beat Forever In Dreams by half a length.
“Richard said he had been a bit disappointing, but he was coming to the boil and I was getting on him at the right time,” said McDonogh.
“He raced lazy, but the pace was good and when I switched him out, he really ran towards Seamie (Heffernan, on Forever In Dreams) and found plenty for pressure.
“Richard said the headgear was helping him and maybe he’d just got a little bit clever. He toughed it out well in the end and could win another one of those.”
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