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O’Brien lining up three-strong challenge for Sussex prize

Aidan O’Brien could saddle a formidable three-pronged assault in his bid for a sixth victory in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

It is 21 years since the popular Giant’s Causeway provided the Ballydoyle handler with his first win in the prestigious Group One contest, a success he still recalls fondly two decades on.

The record-breaking Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), Henrythenavigator (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2009) and The Gurkha (2016) have all since added their names to the roll of honour in a race O’Brien ranks highly in the Flat racing calendar.

“Giant’s Causeway is a horse that would come to mind when you think of the Sussex. It’s a very difficult race to win,” said the trainer.

“It’s a very prestigious mile race. It’s the ultimate test really – it’s up and it’s down and it’s left and right. They have to have speed and stamina and they have to be very versatile.

“It can be the ultimate test of a miler, physically and mentally. It’s a very important race in the pedigree of a horse going to stud.”

O’Brien has Lope Y Fernandez, Order Of Australia and Battleground pencilled in as a potential runners in this year’s renewal.

Lope Y Fernandez was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Palace Pier in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, while Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia opened his account for the campaign in the Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh last weekend.

O’Brien said: “Order Of Australia has come out of the race (on Sunday) well. He cantered today and yesterday and he’s very well.

“It’s very possible that he could go. Obviously when he only ran at the weekend, we’d like to get him back in full work for four or five days and do the right thing for the horse.

“We’re looking forward to Lope Y Fernandez. We have the choice of running here or going to the Lennox Stakes, but at the moment we’re thinking of the Sussex. He worked this morning and we were very happy with him.”

Battleground, who won the Vintage Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival last summer, is a much bigger price than his two stablemates, having been well beaten on his latest outing in the Prix Jean Prat Deauville.

However, O’Brien feels he is better judged on his third place in the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting last month.

Battleground winning at Goodwood last summer
Battleground winning at Goodwood last summer (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He added: “He ran a very big race in Ascot. He was a little bit disappointing the last day, but he was drawn out on a wing and he’s a horse that likes to get cover.

“We’ve been very happy with him since and we think Goodwood will suit him – we think he’ll leave that run behind him and come right back to his Ascot run and better.

“It’s very possible that he could go to the Sussex as well.”

O’Brien is also set to be well represented in Tuesday’s Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup, a Group One contest he won twice with the legendary stayer Yeats in 2006 and 2008.

Santiago after winning last year's Irish Derby
Santiago after winning last year’s Irish Derby (PA)

Earmarked as possible runners next week are last year’s third Santiago, last season’s Derby winner Serpentine and Amhran Na Bhfiann. All three finished down the field in the Gold Cup last month, although the latter has since bounced back with victory in the Curragh Cup.

“We think coming back to two miles will help Santiago and Amhran Na Bhfiann the same,” said O’Brien.

“There’s a chance that Serpentine will run as well. We were thinking two of the three, we just haven’t decided yet which two.”

Thursday’s Group One feature at Goodwood is the Qatar Nassau Stakes.

With 1000 Guineas heroine Mother Earth set to wait for the Prix Rothschild at Deauville, in the mix from Ballydoyle are Irish 1,000 Guineas one-two Empress Josephine and Joan Of Arc. The latter has since won the French Oaks and appears the team’s chief hope.

O’Brien added: “The two fillies we were training for it (Nassau) are Joan Of Arc, who won the Diane, and Empress Josephine.

“Joan Of Arc has been progressing lovely all season and we’ve been looking at this with her for a good while.

“Empress Josephine could step up to a mile and a quarter to run it as well. That’s not definite, but it’s very possible.”

O’Brien looking towards Lockinge with Lope Y Fernandez

Lope Y Fernandez comfortably produced a long-awaited victory when taking the one-mile Listed Heritage Stakes at Leopardstown.

The four-year-old was twice a winner in his juvenile season, claiming the Group Three Round Tower Stakes at the Curragh and placing twice behind Godolphin’s champion two-year-old Pinatubo.

Success as a three-year-old was elusive, however, as the bay gamely plied his trade in Ireland, England, France and America and was unable to bring home a triumph.

A move to slightly less exalted company left him the 4-6 favourite at Leopardstown, an estimation he readily justified when cruising to a five-and-a-half-length win under Seamie Heffernan.

“Last year we messed around with his trip a good bit,” trainer Aidan O’Brien explained.

“We didn’t learn what it was until the end at the Breeders Cup.

“He’s a miler and you take your time with him.

“He’s at his best when he’s able to quicken and likes nice ground.

“We’re thinking about going to the Lockinge with him, then possibly the Queen Anne Stakes.”

Running gallantly in second was Ado McGuinness’ consistent Saltonstall, with 50-1 chance Koolasice coming home in third place for Leigh Roche and Ross O’Sullivan.

Acanella looked a smart performer in the making with her victory in the Leopardstown Racecourse Fillies Maiden.

Having her first start, the Ger Lyons-trained three-year-old was the 2-1 favourite in the Juddmonte silks and stayed on strongly through the final furlong to beat Climate by two lengths.

Lyons was represented by his brother, Shane, who said: “She did today what we have seen at home. We’ve always liked her, she’s very professional and has a marvellous pedigree.

“We didn’t think she would be ready to run until the middle of May, but being by Dansili we took advantage of the little bit of juice in the ground. It’s beautiful ground here.

“We’ll look forward to her. What they have in mind for her I’m not sure, but it’s going to be exciting because that’s what she has been showing us at home.”

Dermot Weld has another nice prospect on his hands
Dermot Weld has another nice prospect on his hands (PA)

Acanella was the second leg of a double for Colin Keane, who won with another promising filly in the shape of Alazenya in the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Maiden – a race trainer Dermot Weld won with subsequent Breeders’ Cup heroine Tarnawa in 2019.

Sent off at 100-30, the daughter of Siyouni hit the front with a furlong to run and had half a length in hand of La Joconde at the line.

Weld said: “She’s a nice filly and has been working nicely at home. Colin liked her the other morning when she worked. Obviously first time out there is a little bit of inexperience and greenness, but she’s a very nice filly.

“We’ll see how she progresses before we decide where to go, but obviously we will be looking for a bit of black type with her.

“That trip (10 furlongs) is good for the moment. She has plenty of pace and the dam stayed well. Later in the year this filly might go a mile and a half.”