O’Brien hails ‘amazing’ Magical as brilliant mare heads for retirement

Aidan O’Brien has paid tribute to Magical after the retirement of the multiple Group One-winning mare Magical was confirmed.

The daughter of Galileo won seven times at the highest level, including back-to-back victories in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

She looked set to start her broodmare career after rounding off her 2019 campaign with victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, but was brought back as a five-year-old this season and it has proved a wise decision as she has added three further Group One wins.

Since successfully defending her Irish Champion Stakes crown in September, Magical has finished third in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and third in the Hong Kong Cup.

She was second three times to Enable in her career, most memorably in an epic Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in 2018.

O’Brien offered brief hope she could return to the track in 2021 in the immediate aftermath of her outing at Sha Tin earlier this month, but her retirement was officially announced by Coolmore on social media on Tuesday.

Coolmore posted on Twitter: “Brilliant 7-time Gr.1 winner Magical has been retired and will join the broodmare band @coolmorestud. Mating plans yet to be decided.”

O’Brien told PA: “She was a great filly, she ran at the very top level all the time until she retired.

“She was ultra-consistent and just an amazing filly, really. She travelled a lot. She won three Group Ones this year and I was delighted to have her again this year, it was a brave decision of the lads to keep her in training.

Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan with Magical after victory in the Irish Champion Stakes
Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan with Magical after victory in the Irish Champion Stakes (PA)

“The days that stand out are the Champion Stakes. She was amazing, she always turned up. She was tough, she was consistent and had a super mind and was very sound.

“Her mum (Halfway To Heaven) was a queen, she was a queen and she was by Galileo, so I suppose you could call him the king.

“It would be exciting to train her offspring.”

In all Magical won 12 of her 28 career starts and was placed on a further 10 occasions, earning almost £4.9million in prize-money.

Magical likely to be retired as O’Brien looks forward to exciting 2021

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.

Magical in winning action at Ascot
Magical in winning action at Ascot (Simon Cooper/PA)

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.

Much will be expected of dual Classic winner Love next season
Much will be expected of dual Classic winner Love next season (Bill Selwyn/PA)

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 was a surprise winner of the Derby
Serpentine was a surprise winner of the Derby (Bill Selwyn/PA)

“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.”

Magical third as Normcore lands Hong Kong Cup

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical could finish only third as Normcore claimed top honours in the Longines Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin.

Magical looked set for retirement 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.

Since successfully defending her crown in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September, Magical had finished third in the Champion Stakes at Ascot and second to Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

She was well fancied to provide O’Brien with a first Hong Kong Cup success, but was under pressure before the home turn under Ryan Moore – and while she boxed on tenaciously in the straight, she had to make do with minor honours.

Normcore, trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara and ridden by Zac Purton, delivered his challenge wide and finished best to win with by three-quarters of a length and with a little in hand.

Magical was only narrowly denied the runner-up spot by last year’s winner Win Bright.

Aidan O'Brien with Magical
Aidan O’Brien with Magical (Healy Racing/PA)

“She ran a stormer,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing.

“She had a tough race in Ascot in bad ground and we backed her up in Keeneland, again on slowish ground. Doing something like that can maybe take a little bit of the edge off.

“She ran very well today and ran home very well, but she was a little bit lacklustre from the gates and in the first half of the race.

“We saw how genuine she is – she’s an unbelievable filly really”

Asked whether Magical would now be retired, O’Brien added: “The lads (owners) will chat between themselves what they want to do for a week or 10 days after the race. Then they’ll talk to us and decide.

“She looks great after the race and seems to have pulled up sound. I suppose we’ll take her home and see what the lads want to do.

“She would be some mare to have for next year. If she comes home well and everything is well, we’d love to have her (in training next year), but it will be the lads’ decision.”

O’Brien looking to Magical for first Hong Kong Cup success

Magical bids to provide Aidan O’Brien with his first victory in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Cup.

The brilliant mare extended her Group One tally to seven when successfully defending her crown in the Irish Champion Stakes in September, subsequently finishing third in the Champion Stakes at Ascot and second to fellow Irish raider Tarnawa at the Breeders’ Cup.

Magical has travelled to the Far East for what could be her swansong before retirement, with her rider Ryan Moore hoping to secure a third Hong Kong Cup success following his previous triumphs aboard Snow Fairy (2010) and Maurice (2016).

O’Brien said: “Magical has travelled plenty and she likes travelling. Pat (Keating, travelling head lad) has been happy with her since she arrived there. Everything looks perfect at the moment.

“She’s a relaxed filly with a good mind and she’s raced all the way from seven furlongs to a mile and a half. She’s a mature adult now and she’s very easy to handle, very straightforward and very genuine.

“She’ll be very happy if there’s a good pace on – that would suit her. She likes to be at a high tempo to be seen at her best.”

Magical renews rivalry with French challenger Skalleti, who was one place and half a length ahead of her in the Champion Stakes.

Jerome Reynier’s stable star had previously beaten subsequent Arc hero Sottsass in a Group Three at Deauville, before winning the Prix Dollar for the second year in succession on Arc weekend.

“We beat Magical last time, but this might be more to her taste and we are here to see what we can do,” said Reynier.

“He is quite exceptional. It’s rare to have a horse that can win a Premio Roma and two Prix Dollars on heavy ground going right-handed, who can also win on the all-weather at left-handed Marseille-Vivaux and a Prix Quincey up a straight 1,600 metres at Deauville on good ground. He adapts to anything.

“I am quite confident and he’s a horse that never disappoints.”

O’Brien has enjoyed more success in the Hong Kong Vase, having saddled Highland Reel to win the race in both 2015 and 2017.

This year’s Ballydoyle representative is Mogul, who finished fifth behind the aforementioned Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last time.

“We always thought a lot more of him than he was showing in his runs until he won the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. He’s a big, powerful horse and you would be hoping the plan is to keep him in training next year as well,” said O’Brien.

“The Grand Prix de Paris was a good race and it was the first time we really took the decision to drop out completely, take our time and ride him for pace. That’s what we did and it worked very well.”

Mogul’s opponents include Reynier’s Royal Julius and Hong Kong favourite Exultant, who won this race in 2018 and finished third last year.

Golden Sixty is the undoubted star attraction in the Hong Kong Mile, having extended his winning streak to 10 – and claimed his 13th win from 14 career starts overall – with a brilliant performance in the Jockey Club Mile three weeks ago.

Trainer Francis Lui said: “I’m confident on the horse but the overseas horses – their form is good.

“I’m very happy with his trackwork because he was quite relaxed – everything is ready.”

Jockey Vincent Ho added: “He’s a super horse. He’s got a great mentality – he just wants to chase whatever is in front of him in the straight.

“Every jockey dreams of a horse like this. When you’re on him, it’s just so special.”

Irish hopes are carried by O’Brien’s surprise Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia and Ken Condon’s stable star Romanised.

O’Brien said: “We always had it in our heads that Order Of Australia could be a miler, but he’s by Australia, so we started him as a Derby-type horse and he ran very well when fourth in the Irish Derby.

“We then went back to a mile and a quarter and he ran very well in a French Derby, so it was always possible we were going to back in distance, but it looked like we were going to run out of time.

“In the Breeders’ Cup, he looked like a horse you could shorten up a little bit more because he travelled strongly through the race and we were over the moon with the run.

“We’ve been happy with him since and we’re looking forward to seeing him running again.”

Romanised was a beaten odds-on favourite at Dundalk on his latest outing after blowing the start, but Condon is confident he can make his presence felt at Sha Tin.

He said: “If Billy (Lee) is where he wants to be, Romanised will be the last horse off the bridle. He’ll travel for you further than anything else. I can see him doing that and he might just enjoy it.

“I’m looking forward to it and the fire still burns in him, while he looks a picture for the time of the year.”

Of Golden Sixty, he added: “I’ve watched a few of his races and he can produce a quick quarter-mile when he needs to and go under 22 seconds – he’s got that ability.”

Moore hopeful of more magic in Hong Kong

Ryan Moore believes Magical is capable of notching up her eighth Group One success in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin.

Former Aidan O’Brien-trained runners Highland Reel, Yeats, Minding and Rock Of Gibraltar all claimed seven top-level successes, but Magical could raise the bar for the Ballydoyle handler if she triumphs in the 10-furlong feature.

Magical added both the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Irish Champion Stakes to her tally this term and was last seen chasing home Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland last month.

While Moore believes she is the one to beat, he is wary of the Japanese-trained challenge as well as home hope Furore, who has won his last two outings for Tony Cruz.

Longines Irish Champions Weekend – Day One – Leopardstown Racecourse
Magical got the better of Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes (PA)

Moore said: “She’s been great for a long time and it’s fantastic that she’s here. She’s won seven Group Ones.

“The reality is they probably have her to beat, but again you always respect the horses that are in there.

“There’s three smart Japanese horses in there that have all won Group Ones (Danon Premium, Win Bright and Normcore).

“And Furore is in good shape. It’s a small field, but there’s not a bad one in there, I don’t think.”

Mogul was fifth in America on his latest start
Mogul was fifth in America on his latest start (Dan Abraham/PA)

Moore also teams up with the O’Brien-trained Mogul in the Longines Hong Kong Vase, with the colt having finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his latest run.

“He’s a beautiful horse, we’ve always held him high regard,” he said.

“He took a while to come to hand this year, but you’ll see him out on the track – he’s very well-made, a very strong colt.

“He was very impressive when he won the Grand Prix de Paris (on) Arc Trials weekend and, at the Breeders Cup, he wasn’t beaten far in what was a messy sort of a race.

“Obviously there’s only seven in there (the Vase), Exultant always runs his race but he (Mogul) would look to have a solid chance in that race.”

Moore will also be in action in the Hong Kong Sprint as he teams up with Japanese contender Danon Smash.

His trainer Takayuki Yasuda won the six-furlong prize with Danon Smash’s sire Lord Kanaloa in both 2012 and 2013.

Danon Smash finished a close-up eighth last year, but Moore is expecting a tough task against former Australian star and Everest winner Classique Legend, who is having his first run for Casper Fownes.

Danon Smash lines up in the Sprint for Moore
Danon Smash lines up in the Sprint for Moore (HKJC)

“He seems well. He’s got plenty of form in the book and it’s always hard to beat the Hong Kong horses in the Sprint,” he said.

“Obviously this year, Classique Legend looked exceptional in Australia. As always, it’s a tough race and we probably have to step up a little bit, but hopefully he can get a good run and perform well.”

Moore has prevailed on five occasions at the Hong Kong International Races – twice in the Vase with globetrotting Highland Reel in 2015 and 2017, the Cup with Snow Fairy (2010) and Maurice (2016) and the Mile with Maurice (2015).

Magical in Hong Kong Cup mix

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical heads the stellar cast in contention for the hugely valuable Longines Hong Kong International meeting at Sha Tin.

Staged on December 13, the card is worth more than £9million in prize money across four Group One contests, three of which offer the largest purse on turf over their respective distances.

Seven-time Group One winner Magical is engaged in the Hong Kong Cup, run over a mile and two furlongs, and was most recently seen finishing a length behind Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland.

Her last victory was in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September, where she saw off the horse that tops this year’s Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, the Godolphin-owned Ghaiyyath.

Magical is likely to be joined by stablemate Peaceful, who took the Irish 1,000 Guineas this season, with Jerome Reynier’s Prix Dollar winner Skalleti also representing the European contingent.

The Japanese flag is flown by last year’s victor Win Bright, who is undefeated in two runs at the track, while the home side field 2019 Hong Kong Derby winner Furore.

The Hong Kong Mile is also contested by a former winner, as Admire Mars returns to defend his crown for Japanese trainer Yasuo Tomomichi.

The colt faces stiff opposition from Golden Sixty, who has put together a remarkable 10-race winning streak and bids to claim his first Group One title.

Beauty Generation, who took the race in both 2017 and 2018, is also set to take part as he looks to return to winning ways for new trainer David Hayes.

Ireland are represented by two runners from Ballydoyle, surprise Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia and Lope Y Fernandez, who finished third in the same race – with Ken Condon’s dual Minstrel Stakes and 2018 Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Romanised also entered.

Hot King Prawn carries the hopes of Hong Kong in the six-furlong sprint, in what will be a quick turnaround from his winning performance in the Group Two Jockey Club Sprint on November 22.

He will face Classique Legend, a new recruit to the yard of leading Hong Kong trainer Caspar Fownes, and Singapore’s Inferno, a two-time Grade One winner.

Grand Prix de Paris winner and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Mogul lines up for Ballydoyle in the Hong Kong Vase – alongside the globe-trotting Royal Julius, who was the victor in the 2019 Bahrain International Trophy.

Five-time Group One winner Exultant bids to regain the title, having prevailed in 2018 and then missed out last year when third behind the aptly-named Glory Vase.

Magical on course for Hong Kong Cup

Magical remains in full training and is being aimed towards the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin next month.

Aidan O’Brien’s multiple Group One winner was last seen being caught late on by Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, which followed on from her meritorious run in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

O’Brien has enjoyed a bonus season with the five-year-old whatever happens in Hong Kong, as it was assumed she was going to be retired this time last year.

The decision to keep her in training has been well rewarded, with Group One victories in the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Tattersalls Gold Cup and a barnstorming display in the Irish Champion Stakes over Ghaiyyath.

“At the moment the plan is to take her to Hong Kong,” said O’Brien.

“She’s still in full work at the moment and that’s what we are looking at the minute.

“She ran very well in America, we were very happy with her at the Breeders’ Cup.”

Magical in stall two for Breeders’ Cup Turf assignment

Magical will break from stall two while stablemate Mogul will start widest of 10 runners in Saturday’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland.

The duo, who will be ridden by Ryan Moore and Pierre-Charles Boudot respectively, will be trying to give trainer Aidan O’Brien a seventh success in the 12-furlong heat, which also features Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa, the mount of Christophe Soumillon.

John Gosden is also represented with the Frankie Dettori-ridden Lord North (six) and Mehdaayih, who will be in stall four for Joel Rosario.

Kameko, winner of the 2000 Guineas, goes for glory in the Fanduel Breeders’ Cup Mile and Oisin Murphy’s mount will be surrounded by some familiar horses as he breaks from stall two.

O’Brien’s Circus Maximus (one) and the Ger Lyons-trained Siskin (four) have already crossed swords with Andrew Balding’s charge this year, while Lope Y Fernandez (three), Safe Voyage (six) and One Master (nine) complete the British and Irish challenge.

Last year’s winner Uni is drawn 12th of the 14 runners for Chad Brown.

The Jessica Harrington-trained Cayenne Pepper was drawn 14 of 14 runners for the Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf, which also features O’Brien’s Peaceful (three), Terrebellum (seven) from the Gosden yard and James Fanshawe’s Audarya (11).

Glass Slippers is in stall six for Kevin Ryan in the Turf Sprint, with Charlie Hills’ Equilateral among the reserves for the six-furlong contest.

Bob Baffert appears to hold the key to the Classic with three-times Group One winner Improbable, Kentucky Derby victor Authentic and Maximum Security.

The trio were all drawn next to each other in the 10-furlong feature, taking stalls eight, nine and 10 respectively.

Baffert said: “That was crazy. I got here just before the draw and I saw Authentic in the nine. And they’re going to be easy to watch.

“It’s not like the Sprint and they have a long run to the turn. They have to break well. Improbable, he needs to break well.”

Tiz The Law will be in stall two with Toms D’Etat (four) another leading contender.

Monomoy Girl (10) and Swiss Skydiver (five) face off against each other in the Distaff in what is one of the most eagerly-awaited clashes.

Swiss Skydiver won the Preakness on her most recent start for Kenny McPeek, while Monomoy Girl won this race in 2018 but could not defend her title last year after suffering a bout of colic.

Trainer Brad Cox is unconcerned by her draw in the widest stall of all, adding: “She was 11 of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup in 2018. She was 14 of 14 in the Kentucky Oaks. I love it.”

O’Brien hoping Arc absence can work in Mogul’s favour at Keeneland

Aidan O’Brien feels being forced to miss the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe could have been a blessing in disguise for Mogul as he prepares for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland.

The three-year-old colt would have been a leading fancy for the Arc with after his victory in the Grand Prix de Paris in September, but a return to ParisLongchamp was cancelled due to contaminated feed issues.

Mogul relished the good ground for his Group One success, but would not have appreciated the testing conditions on Arc day.

“He’s a big, gross, powerful horse, who takes his racing well and is always very happy to race. We were looking forward to the Arc with him,” O’Brien told a Breeders’ Cup teleconference.

“The ground was good when he won the Grand Prix de Paris, but none of our horses got to run on Arc day and the ground would not have been ideal.

“Maybe that wasn’t much of a disadvantage, especially looking to this race. We always thought this track would suit him. He’s a pacey horse. He loves nice ground and a flat track.

“We’re happy with what he’s doing at home at the moment.”

O’Brien is also pleased with Magical, who has had a tremendous season with three Group One victories, though she he got stuck in the mud when bidding for back-to-back victories in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on her latest start.

“We’ve been delighted with her this year. She ran well the last day. The ground was very heavy in Ascot. She seems to have come out of the race very well,” he said.

“She did very well over the winter from four to five physically and we were looking forward to seeing her race this year. When she started racing, we thought she had improved again.

“She’s a fine, big mare and has been racing at the top level at two, three and four. I suppose we were delighted and hoping the improvement would be there.

“It’s possible this will be her last race, but I don’t know. She also has an entry in Hong Kong in December, so I suppose we will see how things go.

“What we usually do is we take them home and have a good chat about it 10 days after the race and see what we want to do.”

O’Brien expects Circus Maximus to have several things in his favour when he bids to improve on last year’s fourth place in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“He’s been in good form since the last day. The ground in Ascot was very bad and it didn’t suit him,” said the Ballydoyle handler.

“He likes a nice surface and an even pace, a flat track and he loves to get into a battle. We think all those things might suit him.”

O’Brien also believes Lope Y Fernandez could find this race up his street.

“We think six, maybe seven is his ideal trip. We had a race in France on Arc day, a seven-furlong Group One (the Prix de la Foret) in mind for him and he didn’t get to run,” he said.

“We thought it would set him up for this race, so when we couldn’t run there, we ran him over six at Ascot and the ground was bad, but he ran respectably and we all thought the Breeders’ Cup Mile might suit him on a flat, easy track.

“We think it will suit him and will ride him a little bit patiently.

“Ryan (Moore) will have the choice and at the moment Circus Maximus is the highest-rated, but we’ll wait and see.”

O’Brien is looking forward to running Battleground in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

“He’s a fine, big powerful colt. He’s usually a good traveller, likes nice ground. He started early in the year, won at Royal Ascot and then he went and won at Goodwood,” he said.

“He was being prepared for the National Stakes and he coughed getting off the box, so we withdrew him and then we prepared him for the Dewhurst and with the ground the way it was, we said we’d wait.

“He has been in full training a long time and was prepared for two races in between he didn’t run in, so we think his fitness levels are good and high and he seems to be in good form.”

The Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf is Peaceful’s target and O’Brien is convinced the ground at Newmarket was to blame for her poor performance in the Sun Chariot Stakes.

“She’s in good form. The ground was very bad in Newmarket, probably the worst ground there for a very long time,” he said.

“We just felt it was too deep for her. She came out of the race well and we put her disappointing run down to ground.”

“We always felt this race was going to suit her.”

Magical afternoon in prospect again at Ascot

Magical is poised to take centre stage once again at Ascot as she bids for back-to-back victories in the Qipco Champion Stakes.

The five-year-old mare has seven Group One triumphs to her name, including in this race 12 months ago and the Fillies & Mares at the meeting in 2018.

Aidan O’Brien’s charge has netted three more this season – including last time out when beating Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes – and will now try to join the likes of Brigadier Gerard, Triptych and Cracksman as a dual Champion Stakes winner.

“She’s an amazing filly really – we’ve seen how consistent she has been. She has run in all the top Group Ones since she was a two-year-old, which is unusual,” said O’Brien.

“There doesn’t seem to be any ceiling to her yet. We were delighted with her in Leopardstown and we couldn’t have been happier with every run she’s had this year really.

“It was a great race the last day. They went a nice even pace and she’s a very solid filly who is happy to make the running or get a lead or whatever.

“She doesn’t need anybody else to help her – she’s very happy to plough a lone furrow.

“The Champion Stakes is a very prestigious race and it would be unbelievable for her to win it again.”

Japan got the better of Crystal Ocean (far side) in the Juddmonte International last year
Japan got the better of Crystal Ocean (far side) in the Juddmonte International last year (Nigel French/PA)

Japan was denied his chance in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe due to issues with contaminated feed, but O’Brien expects the four-year-old to make his presence felt.

“We were very happy with Japan going to the Arc – he was in a really good place and had been working very well,” he said.

“We’ve been happy with him since and he’s probably better than his runs before. We’re looking forward to seeing him run.”

Serpentine, surprise winner of the Investec Derby, is the third member of O’Brien’s raid on the 10-furlong showpiece.

“It will be interesting to see him over a mile and a quarter. We saw in the Derby he’s able to go a really good tempo and keep going over a mile and a half,” he said.

Serpentine was a wide-margin winner of the Derby at Epsom
Serpentine was a wide-margin winner of the Derby at Epsom (Nigel French/PA)

“We think he has class and we think he’s tough and genuine. He’s a very relaxed horse who doesn’t overdo himself at home.

“You can never be sure, but usually those mile-and-a-half horses that have class are able to cope with a mile and a quarter.”

John Gosden runs French Derby hero Mishriff, who missed the Arc to wait for this race. Frankie Dettori takes the ride.

“Obviously you are bringing three-year-old French form to bear against proven older horses and that will be quite a challenge for him, no doubt,” said Gosden.

“He has improved for racing this year. He was racing in the Saudi Cup at the end of February, he has been to Chantilly and Deauville so he has seen a lot of the world but he is not over-raced, that is for sure.

“We were hoping he would run well in the Prix du Jockey Club after winning the Listed race at Newmarket, we honestly didn’t think he would win it but he did.”

Gosden’s Lord North won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the Royal meeting for his first Group One triumph and reappears for the first time since finishing third to Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte International at York in August.

“He put in a great run in the Prince of Wales’s and he is another one that has come up through the ranks. He is talented and is in exceptionally good form. He likes the track and he should handle the ground and I hope he runs a really solid race for us,” said Gosden.

“The standard is set by Magical, let’s hope he is good enough to give her a race. James (Doyle) felt he was spinning his wheels all the way at York and that he wasn’t comfortable. He said he wasn’t really getting hold of the ground so to that extent he felt he didn’t show his true ability.”

Addeybb chased Magical home last year and his trainer William Haggas reports his mud-loving six-year-old to be ready for the rematch after a convincing success in the Doonside Cup at Ayr.

“It’s a tough race. He’s very well and will enjoy the ground. We’re hoping for the best,” he said.

“It was a much weaker race he won at Ayr, but he had to have a run. He needed a race before he got going. That was good.”

Jerome Reynier knows the challenge facing Skalleti, who won the Prix Dollar for the second successive year earlier this month.

“We’re pretty happy with him. He has been training in Chantilly and is training well,” said Reynier.

“It is the toughest race in his career and there is only two weeks between his last race and Saturday, which is not long. We’ve been managing his career and giving him time between his races and this time that won’t be the case, so that’s a little concern.

“He can handle any ground, I think, but he is much better on heavy ground and other horses are not as happy with that, so the softer the ground the better.

“It’s a good achievement for us to bring a horse like this to run on Champions Day and we are going with confidence.”

William Muir has no concerns about dropping Pyledriver down in trip after his run over half a mile further in the St Leger when he was third.

“He’s very well. Everything has gone swimmingly with him since the Leger. He’s in good shape so we’re looking forward to Saturday. It’s great to be involved in it,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“The trip doesn’t worry me at all. When Martin (Dwyer) pulled up after winning the Great Voltigeur he said on the telly ‘I don’t know about going up to a mile and six for the Leger, I’d rather drop back to a mile and a quarter’.

“He’s got so many gears. All the Leger did was take his gears away.

“Next season is going to be phenomenal for him because he’ll be bigger and stronger. He’s got bigger and stronger since the Leger. He’s really starting to mature and we’re in good shape.”

Magical and Addeybb face Champion Stakes rematch

Magical and Addeybb, the first two home in last year’s Qipco Champion Stakes, will face off again at Ascot on Saturday with 11 runners declared for this season’s renewal.

Aidan O’Brien’s durable mare Magical is a seven-times Group One winner, adding the Pretty Polly Stakes, Tattersalls Gold Cup and Irish Champion Stakes to her tally this term after connections rethought retirement plans initially announced at the end of last year.

O’Brien also runs impressive Derby winner Serpentine and Japan, who were both denied a run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe due to an issue with contaminated feed.

The Ballydoyle handler thinks Magical could roll on to next month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting, should all go well on Saturday.

“The lads will see what they want to do, but it’s a very strong possible that she could go to Keeneland if everything goes well,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing.

“That’s the plan, absolutely (Ryan Moore rides Magical).

“The plan is that Colin (Keane) will ride Japan and William (Buick) will ride Serpentine, that’s what we’re thinking at the moment.

“We were very happy going into the Arc with Japan. We’ve had to carry on another two weeks, but everything has gone very well.

“We were over the moon with Serpentine in the Grand Prix de Paris, it was only a trial.

“He’s coming back to a mile and a quarter, but we’re looking forward to seeing him run.”

The William Haggas-trained Addeybb went down by three-quarters of a length 12 months ago, but has since elevated himself into a true Group One performer with two wins at the highest level in Australia.

His only defeat in 12 months came at Royal Ascot in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes when second to Lord North and he will face John Gosden’s four-year-old again.

Lord North progressed rapidly through the handicap ranks from winning last year’s Cambridgeshire to victory at the highest level, but has not run since finishing third in the Juddmonte International.

Gosden has another very strong string to his bow in the shape of French Derby winner Mishriff, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, while there is an interesting French challenger in the shape of Skalleti, a mud-lover who beat subsequent Arc winner Sottsass in August.

Hollie Doyle rides Extra Elusive, Pyledriver drops back half a mile in distance having run well in the St Leger while Desert Encounter and San Donato also run.

Magical headlining powerful Champions Day team for O’Brien

Last year’s winner Magical could be joined by stable companions Japan and Serpentine as Aidan O’Brien considers a three-pronged assault on the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot.

The Ballydoyle trainer has saddled eight previous winners on Qipco British Champions Day, and looks set to send another formidable squad across the Irish Sea this weekend, for what will be the 10th anniversary of the showpiece meeting.

While Magical has long been pencilled in for a return to Ascot, several big names who might not have been bound for Berkshire are now in the mix due to the well-documented problem surrounding contaminated feed which prompted O’Brien to withdraw all his runners on Arc day in Paris.

O’Brien admits a late change of big-race target is not ideal, but ParisLongchamp’s loss looks set to be Ascot’s gain.

Aidan O'Brien will be well represented at Ascot
Aidan O’Brien will be well represented at Ascot (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We had to think hard about what we did with the horses that were due to go to France as for a long time their preparation had been geared around Arc weekend and when you carry on for another two weeks it’s not always ideal,” said O’Brien.

“It can be tricky to keep the momentum going. We were looking forward to Arc weekend and the horses were training really well for it for a long time, but that’s the way it was and the way it was meant to be and we just accepted it and moved on.

“Next year will be another year. We changed the route with them and we’ll see what will happen, but they seem to be in good form.”

Japan and Derby winner Serpentine were both considered leading contenders for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe itself, but are now possibles to line up alongside Magical, with alternative options running out.

However, O’Brien’s other Champion Stakes entrant, Mogul, is set to miss out.

Japan (near side) could take on stablemate Magical
Japan (near side) could take on stablemate Magical (Nigel French/PA)

O’Brien said: “Japan is a strong possible and this has been the target for Magical since Leopardstown. Mogul is not a definite because he could go straight to the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“The lads have to decide what they want to do with Serpentine. We were really looking forward to the Arc with him and his prep for that was very good – we felt he had moved up plenty from his prep run and done very well physically.

“He has to run somewhere shortly, either that or we have to back off him altogether. The options for him after Saturday are the Breeders’ Cup, the Japan Cup and the races in Hong Kong.

“We’re very happy with him at home at the moment and if he runs on Saturday it will be interesting.”

Magical looked set for retirement after striking gold 12 months ago, but a change of heart to keep her in training as a five-year-old has reaped rich rewards.

Following successive Group One triumphs at the Curragh, the ultra-consistent Galileo mare chased home Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte International at York before successfully defending her crown in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Her top-level tally stands at seven – and she may well have been into double figures already had she not bumped into the recently-retired Enable on several occasions.

“Enable has been a great filly and obviously herself and Magical know each other well – they’ve had some great races together,” said O’Brien.

Aidan O'Brien with Magical
Aidan O’Brien with Magical (Healy Racing/PA)

“Enable is a year older than Magical and we were delighted that the lads decided to keep Magical in training this year.

“She’s in good form and loved this race last year, so we’re looking forward to running her.”

Asked about plans beyond Saturday for Magical, O’Brien added: “I wouldn’t be sure about next year, because we were delighted to have her this year.

“It will be whatever the lads decide, but I imagine if everything was well with her she could go to the Breeders’ Cup.”

The main supporting race is the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, in which O’Brien’s chief contender will be the admirable Circus Maximus.

The tough-as-teak six-year-old has significant ground to make up on John Gosden’s hot favourite Palace Pier on their meeting at Deauville this summer, but O’Brien hopes a return to Ascot – where he has won twice before – will help Circus Maximus close the gap.

O’Brien said: “We’ve always been delighted with Circus Maximus. He’s very tough and very consistent and seems to dance every dance.

“He’s a very competitive horse who loves it when horses challenge him – he’s tough and hardened and loves to get into a battle.”

Sovereign is set for a step up in trip
Sovereign is set for a step up in trip (PA)

The trainer confirmed Royal Dornoch as a “strong possible” to join Circus Maximus, while a decision on whether Lancaster House will also line up will be made later in the week.

O’Brien declared his intentions to saddle Arc contender Sovereign, Broome and Dawn Patrol in the British Champions Long Distance Cup, while Lope Y Fernandez is a likely contender for the British Champions Sprint, having missed the Prix de la Foret on Arc Weekend.

While keen to stress all plans are subject to change, O’Brien is favouring running Passion over Laburnum in the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

He is also set to be represented in the concluding Balmoral Handicap by recent Listed winner Keats.

Magical thwarts Ghaiyyath in Irish Champion epic

Magical got the better of Ghaiyyath in a pulsating finish to the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Seamie Heffernan, the five-year-old mare was turning around Juddmonte International form with Ghaiyyath, as the pair went head to head from the off.

As usual, William Buick set out to make all on the Charlie Appleby-trained 8-13 favourite – but the distress signals were starting to emerge at the top of the straight as Magical moved upsides, while Japan switched to the inside rail to throw down his challenge.

To his credit, Ghaiyyath kept fighting, but Magical (9-2) found an extra gear in the final half-furlong to pull clear at the line, scoring by three-quarters of a length as she repeated her victory from 12 months ago, becoming just the second back-to-back winner after O’Brien’s Dylan Thomas in 2006 and 2007.

O’Brien said: “We were very happy after York, we saw what she was able to do. When she went by herself in York, she just lost interest a little bit and then the others came around her and she started staying on after the race was over.

“What she always wants is to eyeball a horse and battle. Seamie was happy to make the running today if William wanted to get a lead and if William was going to go on, Seamie was going to go with him to keep her interested and he gave her a brilliant ride.

“She’s a serious mare when you get into a battle with her and when you really get into a battle with her, that’s when you really see what she can do, as you saw there today.

Magical just proved too strong for Ghaiyyath
Magical just proved too strong for Ghaiyyath (PA)

Magical was initially retired from racing at the end of last year after a setback ruled her out of a planned Breeders’ Cup run, but owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith reversed that decision and returned her to training in the spring – a move that has reaped rich dividends.

O’Brien said: “The lads made the call and all credit to them for doing it.

“She was booked to go to No Nay Never and we were just so delighted that they decided to give her another go. They said that hopefully No Nay Never will be there next year and hopefully she will be as well. She’s an amazing mare.

“I suppose we are learning about her all the time. If you get away from her she gets a bit lazy, but if you get into a fight with her very few will eyeball her.

“That’s what she did – she eyeballed the colt all the way.

“She’s a great filly. It wasn’t a big field, but they were all good horses in it. Armory (third-placed stablemate) ran an unbelievable race as well.

“It’s a massive race. Of all the European races, prestige-wise, this is one of the top, if not the top, because on ratings over a 10-year period, this nearly comes out on top of all the races.

“Every year all the high-rated horses turn up here. It has a perfect place in the calendar, perfect ground, perfect distance.”

O’Brien also houses 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner Love in his Ballydoyle yard, and she currently tops the betting for next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

Magical could also be in the frame for that race – although the Prix de l’Opera is alternative option on the same day, with a trip to America another possible

O’Brien added: “She has the choice of the Arc or the fillies’ race on the same day. It will depend on what the lads want to do with Love.

“The Breeders’ Cup could also suit her really well.”

Charlie Appleby (right) with Ghaiyyath following his Juddmonte win at York last month
Charlie Appleby (right) with Ghaiyyath following his Juddmonte win at York last month (David Davies/PA)

Appleby was magnanimous in defeat, and is no rush to map out Ghaiyyath’s next outing.

He told “I talked with William Buick afterwards, who said that it rode like a decent race and they have gone a good gallop. Turning in, Ghaiyyath was there with every chance but full credit to Magical, who is a multiple Group One winner.

“They have produced another good duel up the straight but she has come out on top this time.

“Ghaiyyath will have a short break now before we decide on our next target. We will make a call over the coming weeks and discuss everything before confirming where to go next with him.”

Ghaiyyath geared up for Irish Champion challenge

Ghaiyyath bids to confirm his superiority over defending champion Magical in a fascinating rematch for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath has arguably been the star of the season so far – completing a hat-trick of Group One wins with dominant displays in the Coronation Cup, the Coral-Eclipse and the Juddmonte International.

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical was three lengths in arrears when runner-up on the Knavesmire, but gets the chance to exact her revenge on home soil and become only the second dual winner of the Champion Stakes after former Ballydoyle ace Dylan Thomas (2006 and 2007).

Speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview, Appleby said: “Previously he has taken time to come back to himself after his races, but as a five-year-old this year he’s very much the finished article.

“His performances are always very big – he’s never easy on himself even when he’s winning. He puts those big figures out there and in the past it’s taken its toll, but thankfully this year he’s taken each race very well.”

The Newmarket handler is keen to get this weekend’s assignment out of the way before deciding whether to allow Ghaiyyath to bid for glory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month.

He added: “A decision on the Arc will be a wait and see. We purposefully took our time before deciding to definitely run in Ireland, we just took it day by day and we’ll regroup after it.”

William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership
William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership (David Davies/PA)

Ghaiyyath’s regular partner William Buick is able to travel to Ireland for the ride following a recent change to Covid-19 protocols.

He said: “As far as I’m aware he’s in good shape.

“He’s running over the same trip he’s been running over the last twice in this country. It’s a good race for him.

“I don’t know whether the Arc is in the discussion or not. Let’s get this race out of the way and we’ll see.”

Magical won the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh prior to chasing home Ghaiyyath at York – and O’Brien feels she is capable of raising her game.

He said: “She doesn’t owe anybody anything. She’s raced against the best. We feel we haven’t really seen the best of her yet.

“Someday when everything will fall right she’ll be at the height of her powers and we’ll see.

“She’s a serious, high-rated, incredibly genuine mare. We keep tweaking things as we go along to see if we can get another little bit from her to get her to show everybody what she shows us at home every day.

“I don’t thing we’ve seen her very best yet, but it could come one of these days.”

Ryan Moore has sided with Japan
Ryan Moore has sided with Japan (Nigel French/PA)

O’Brien also saddles Japan – who was not far behind Ghaiyyath when third in the Eclipse, but disappointed on his latest outing in the King George – as well as outsider Armory. Interestingly, Ryan Moore has sided with him over Magical, the mount of Seamie Heffernan.

Of Japan, O’Brien said: “He came back from Ascot with very sore soles in his feet. We don’t know if it was sole pressure from the shoes or if he stood on something, but both front feet were very sore.

“He was lame for a few days after. Then we took the shoes off completely and we rode him bare foot for 10 days and he came back 100 per cent sound and his action came back 100 per cent and he’s shod now.

“He’s in full work and has been taking it very happily. He’s travelling well in his work and everything seems good, so it was a legitimate excuse.

“We look forward to seeing him run now – we’re very happy with his work.”

Sottsass bids to provide leading French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget with a second win in the race following the 2016 triumph of Almanzor, with Jessica Harrington’s Leo De Fury completing the sextet.

Sottsass will be ridden by Colin Keane, who said: “I’d say it will be a brilliant race to watch.

“Obviously Ghaiyyath was impressive the last day, Magical is the queen, she never runs a bad race and our horse I’d say has been trained with an autumn campaign in mind so you might not have seen the best of him yet.”