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Monday Musings: The Middle Distance Ranks Are Massing

Until Wednesday evening in Paris it was all plain sailing for Aidan O’Brien, writes Tony Stafford. He could pick his Group 1 spots for the rest of the year with his team of Classic colts and more plentiful top fillies and wait to see what presumably ineffectual opposition Europe’s other major stables would be able to throw at them.

But then along came Hurricane Lane, only third to lesser-fancied stable-companion Adayar in the Derby at Epsom but subsequently a workmanlike winner in the face of a good late challenge by English-trained Lone Eagle (Martin Meade) in the Irish Derby at The Curragh.

Neither run could have prepared us for the Frankel colt’s storming performance on Bastille Day (14 July) as he ripped away the home team’s barricades <couldn’t help myself> beating the Prix du Jockey Club also-rans with possibly more ease than St Mark’s Basilica had managed a month earlier.

Die-hard traditionalists have already been put in their place in France. In the old days the Jockey Club was 2400 metres (12 furlongs) in line with Epsom and The Curragh and was reduced to its present distance of 2100 metres in 2005.

That move coincided with the moving up to a mile and a half of the great Fête Nationale celebration race on a movable feast of an evening card at Longchamp. The Grand Prix de Paris, until the arrival of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1920, had been the most prestigious and valuable race in France and was run over 3000 metres (15 furlongs), and even 3100 metres for a shorter intervening period.

In 1987, though, it was reduced significantly in distance to 2000 metres (1m2f) and it was at that trip that Saumarez won the 1990 race prior to his victory in the Arc that October. Previously trained to place in the Dee Stakes at Chester by Henry Cecil, Saumarez made Nicolas Clement, who had recently taken over the stable when his father Miguel died, the youngest-ever trainer to win France’s greatest race.

It works for France because, as Hurricane Lane showed so eloquently, a horse could run in and even win either or both the Epsom and Irish Derby, or indeed the Jockey Club, and there would still be time to prepare him for the Grand Prix.

That is just what Charlie Appleby did with such skill and the most notable element of it was how much he had in hand of the William Haggas colt Alenquer whose form with Adayer in the Sandown Classic Trial over ten furlongs in the spring appeared to give him a collateral edge on Hurricane Lane.

Alenquer not only beat Adayer on the Esher slopes but afterwards comfortably won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. But he was put in his place as Hurricane Lane stormed <that verb again!> six lengths clear of Wordsworth, first home of the O’Brien trio. It looked at first appraisal a major improvement on The Curragh but closer inspection reveals that Wordsworth had been beaten slightly further in his home Classic.

So where does that leave Adayer? Well, according to a conversation Charlie Appleby had with a friend who visited his luxurious stables in Newmarket before racing on Saturday, Adayer is fancied to run a very strong race as he faces up to last year’s O’Brien Classic superstar, Love, in Saturday’s King George.

The filly has the edge in the market after her comeback win over an inadequate ten furlongs in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot but Appleby, mindful that the weight-for-age scale favours three-year-olds, is by all accounts confident he will do so. Love concedes 8lb to the Derby hero while William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver gives him 11lb. Ascot is also the probable target for Lone Eagle.

Like O’Brien, Appleby is a modest man who often deflects praise to the people around him. Indeed as my friend left, Charlie said, “If you couldn’t train horses from here, where could you?”

Guesses that maybe St Mark’s Basilica might step up in distance on Saturday have been scuppered by his trainer’s single-mindedly pointing him towards the Juddmonte International. Those three days in York next month will also feature the next step towards the stars of Snowfall, following in the footprints of Love from a year ago by taking in the Yorkshire Oaks.

By the way, Jim, get my room ready! I’ll see how my first day back racing on Saturday at Ascot goes and then I might take the liberty of giving you a call. Where have I been? Too busy with all this Covid lark, mate, but I have been thinking of you!

However short a price Love was on what was to prove her last run of 2020 after the easy wins in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, the latter by nine lengths, 4-9 will be looking a gift if that is available about Snowfall. Could be 1-5!

Many felt the exaggerated superiority, indeed a UK Classic record-winning margin of 16 lengths, could in part be ascribed to the very testing ground at Epsom. Just as many were predicting that on faster ground in Saturday’s Irish Oaks she might go for economy.

Leading two furlongs out under Ryan Moore, delighted to be riding her for only the second time – he was on board for the shock Musidora win at York on May 12 three weeks before Epsom and that Frankie Dettori benefit – she drew away by eight-and-a-half lengths in majestic style.

As we know, the Coolmore boys like all the boxes ticked and the opportunities covered, but I can categorically tell you that they did not expect her to win at York. Even when she did, the beaten horses’ connections were dreaming up reasons why you could not trust the result.

After all she was rated only a modest 90 on the back of her juvenile exploits, the most memorable apart from winning a small maiden race was the mix up when she wore the wrong colour hat when well behind in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last autumn.

After the Epsom and Curragh regal processions there is only one place you would consider for a soft-ground loving but equally comfortable on quicker turf three-year-old filly of her status - the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It took me a while – having discarded my European Pattern Races 2021 book with hundreds of others in advance of a hoped-for downsizing move – to work out why she had not been one of the dozen O’Brien horses entered for the Arc.

Six older male horses – Mogul, Broome, Armory, Serpentine, Japan and Inisfree (where’s he been for 20 months?) – are supplemented by Love. The five three-year-olds are the colts St Mark’s Basilica, along with domestic Classic flops Bolshoi Ballet, High Definition and hard-working Van Gogh whose dance in four Classics (the UK and Irish Guineas, when third behind Mac Swiney, and French and Irish Derby) brought that one positive result.

That left room for one filly and, considering Santa Barbara took until last week to gain Grade 1 winning honours in the New York Oaks while four of her supposedly inferior female counterparts beat her to it, the evidence is there. They did indeed think she was far and away the best.

At least that was the case until 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of May 12. The Arc closed at France Galop’s HQ around four-and-three-quarter hours earlier.  Now they have to wait until September 27 to get her in and pay a heavy penalty to do so.

In all, 101 horses made it. I am sure that date is writ large on the Racing Office wall and, if she enjoys another exhibition round back at the Yorkshire track she first consented to tell her trainer and owners how good she is, the supplementary entry will be made. Chances to win the race do not come along very often.

For all his and his owners’ successes in big races around Europe and in the US, the Arc has proved elusive. Two victories, with four-year-olds Dylan Thomas in 2007 and the brilliant filly Found five years ago, leave him still with a blank to fill. No Ballydoyle three-year-old has won the race since the days of Vincent O’Brien, who took the first of his two Arcs with Alleged in 1977. His second win, doubling up for Lester Piggott the year after followed Ballymoss in 1958, showed once again just how tough a race it is to win.

As mentioned, two O’Brien fillies are entered, Love and Santa Barbara. The latter might continue to make up for her earlier limitations in the Nassau Stakes next week but, as we know, a trio of Classic-winning alternatives, Joan Of Arc, Mother Earth and Empress Josephine, are equally qualified to step in and possibly pick up the Goodwood fillies’ Group 1.

Meanwhile Kevin Ryan has been exploiting the early juvenile Group contests in France with Atomic Force. Beaten first time out and gelded before a win in a small race at Hamilton, Ryan took him to Longchamp last month and he won Group 3 Prix du Bois nicely.

Returning yesterday for the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin, he started 2-1 on and bolted up. He will probably return for the Prix Morny at Deauville next month. Having watched that win the Sky Sports Racing team suggested the Nunthorpe might be an option given how much weight juveniles get from their elders. This year though that could be a hot race if newcomers on the Group 1 sprinting scene like Ed Walker’s Starman and Tim Easterby’s flying filly Winter Power turn up.

- TS

Thundering Nights denies Santa Barbara in Pretty Polly thriller

Thundering Nights just edged out Santa Barbara in a tremendous finish to the Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh.

In action in America at Belmont just 23 days ago when beaten a nose in a Grade Two by Mean Mary, Thundering Nights was taking her form to a new level.

Santa Barbara, meanwhile, was running in her third Group One of the season and having been the beaten favourite in both the 1000 Guineas and Oaks she displayed the talent that had Aidan O’Brien speaking so highly of her in the spring.

The improving Epona Plays set out to make the running and was only headed on entering the final furlong.

It was there that Shane Crosse decided to commit on Thundering Nights (16-5) and she went over a length clear, but Ryan Moore had been biding his time on Santa Barbara and she gradually hit top gear, drawing level with Thundering Nights.

The two were locked together inside the final 100 yards – but in the final few strides Joseph O’Brien’s four-year-old, who was conceding 12lb to her younger rival, just began to pull away and got the verdict by a neck.

The favourite Cayenne Pepper was two and a half lengths away in third, as Crosse claimed the second Group One success of his career following the victory of Pretty Gorgeous in the Fillies’ Mile last season.

“She’s a great mare, she’s very tough and every time you ask her a question she rises to the occasion,” said O’Brien.

“She’s never run a bad race really and I’m delighted for Shapoor Mistry, the owner. I’m very proud of her.

“She always has a bit of a look around when she goes to the front and she did that again today, but when the other one came to her she really fought back.

“Broome just nabbed her here one day on the line, but she had an opportunity to fight back today and she did that.

“In America she would have won in another stride, the tight track caught her out a little bit as it was her first time around the bends over there.

“She had to spend a week after the race over there so she’s only been back a couple of weeks. She trained there for a week, then shipped straight back and came straight here. She has a great constitution.

“She has options back in America, like the Beverly D., and she also has the likes of the Nassau and Matron.

“She’s a Group One winner now so she’s a very exciting broodmare prospect no matter what happens.”

O’Brien added: “Shane deserved that because over the last couple of days a few things didn’t go well for him.

“That’s the way it goes in racing and you just have to remain confident and keep doing what you are doing. That’s what he’s done and he was rewarded.”

Aidan O’Brien was also pleased with the effort of Santa Barbara.

“I’m delighted she ran well, I was very happy with her,” he said.

“After Epsom we were hoping it was the trip and the ground and it looks like she wants a mile or a mile-and-a-quarter as she’s not short of pace.

“She did everything right, Joseph’s filly was very unlucky in America the last day and she’s tough. When she got to her she didn’t surrender and his horses are running well.

“We were thinking of going to the Nassau with Joan Of Arc and maybe to split them up this filly could have the option of going to the Belmont Oaks in a couple of weeks time. That’s one option.

“She’s a big powerful filly and hopefully she’ll be there for next year as well.”

O’Brien banks on Santa Barbara in Pretty Polly

Santa Barbara bids to provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a sixth victory in the Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.

Despite having had only one run as a two-year-old, the daughter of Camelot was the subject of a huge ante-post gamble for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket this spring amid reports of sparkling workouts on the gallops at Ballydoyle.

And while Santa Barbara ultimately came up short over the Rowley Mile – finishing a close-up fourth – she was favourite to strike Classic gold at the second time of asking in the Oaks at Epsom, only to be upstaged as her stablemate Snowfall stole the show.

O’Brien hopes a drop back in distance to a mile and a quarter will enable his filly open her account at Group One level this weekend.

He said: “Santa Barbara is in good form and the plan has been to go back to the Pretty Polly with her.

“She’s been in good form since her run in Epsom.

“We think coming back in distance and better ground will be a big help to her.”

Santa Barbara is set to face seven rivals, with Willie McCreery fielding both Epona Plays and Insinuendo.

Epona Plays is a leading contender
Epona Plays is a leading contender (Brian Lawless/PA)

Epona Plays has earned her step up to the top level with wins in the Group Three Park Express and the Group Two Lanwades Stud Stakes, while Insinuendo was last seen landing the Group Three Blue Wind Stakes at Naas in May.

Jessica Harrington fires a three-pronged assault, with Cayenne Pepper joined by stablemates Silence Please and Oodnadatta, while Joseph O’Brien saddles Thundering Nights, who was beaten just a nose in a Group Two in America on her latest appearance.

“Thundering Nights has been a brilliant filly for us and was unlucky not to win a Grade Two at Belmont earlier this month. She was interfered with on the first bend and got a bit further back than ideal,” O’Brien told Betfair.

“She finished off like a train in the closing stages, but came up a nose short. It was a fantastic run and she has come back from it in great shape.

“The big aim of bringing her back into training this year was for her to be competitive in Group One company and her form entitles her to be in the mix in this race. Conditions will suit and hopefully she’ll run a big race.”

The Donnacha O’Brien-trained Shale completes the line-up.

Santa Barbara has Pretty Polly prize in her sights

Santa Barbara gets another chance to open her account at Group One level in the Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.

A winner on her racecourse debut at the Kildare circuit last autumn, the daughter of Camelot was sent off joint-favourite to win the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on just her second career start following reports of sparkling workouts during the spring.

Having finished a close-up fourth over the Rowley Mile, Aidan O’Brien’s filly again headed the market for the Oaks at Epsom earlier this month, but failed to land a telling blow as stablemate Snowfall stole the show.

However, Santa Barbara is sure to be well fancied once more as she bids to make it third time lucky for the season this weekend.

Her seven rivals include Jessica Harrington’s course-and-distance winner Cayenne Pepper and the Willie McCreery-trained Epona Plays, who is on a hat-trick following wins in the Park Express and Lanwades Stud Stakes.

Harrington also saddles Silence Please and Oodnadatta, while McCreery has a second string to his bow in the lightly-raced Insinuendo.

Thundering Nights (Joseph O’Brien) and Shale (Donnacha O’Brien) complete the line-up.

Five juvenile fillies are set to contest the Group Two Airlie Stud Stakes, with the standard set by Fozzy Stack’s Cheerupsleepyjean, who finished third in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot last week.

Stack said: “She came out of Ascot well and she looked in Ascot like she’d like to go six (furlongs), so we’ll see.

“It’s not a big field, so we’ll roll the dice and see what happens.”

Aidan O’Brien gives Yet an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing effort in the same race.

Eternal Gold (Michael O’Callaghan), Missing Matron (Jim Bolger) and Velocidad (Joseph O’Brien) are the other hopefuls.

Group Two honours are up for grabs in the Comer Group International Curragh Cup, in which Aidan O’Brien’s high-class mare Passion makes her first appearance since finishing third at Group One level on Champions Day at Ascot in October.

She is joined by stablemate Amhran Na Bhfiann, who weakened after being deployed as a pacemaker in the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting last week, with Joseph O’Brien’s Pondus and Andrew Slattery’s Sunchart also in the mix.

Santa Barbara could bid for Pretty Polly redemption

Santa Barbara may have another chance to provide a public demonstration of her potential as one of three possible contenders for Aidan O’Brien in the Group One Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh.

A lofty reputation on the Ballydoyle gallops preceded Santa Barbara as she set out to augment last season’s juvenile win at the Curragh, in two British Classic assignments over the past two months.

On each occasion, however, the daughter of Camelot finished out of the first three as less-fancied stablemates Mother Earth and Snowfall respectively won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Oaks at Epsom.

Empress Josephine won the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Currag
Empress Josephine won the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh (Brian Lawless/PA)

She is in the reckoning to return to the Curragh on Sunday, over the intermediate trip of 10 furlongs, with Oaks third Divinely and Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Empress Josephine also bidding to extend O’Brien’s successful record in a race he has won four times in the last 10 years.

Divinely and Empress Josephine both followed their Classic exploits by finishing out of the first three over contrasting distances at Royal Ascot last week.

In potential opposition this weekend, among 13 confirmations, are five more challengers within the O’Brien family.

Aidan’s eldest son Joseph supplies four – Thundering Nights, Pretty Gorgeous, who is a Group One winner but unplaced twice at the top level this season, My Generation and Sense Of Style – while his younger brother Donnacha may be represented by Shale.

Only two trainers still stand in the way of an O’Brien winner of this year’s race.

Jessica Harrington has three possible starters in dual Group winner Cayenne Pepper, Munster Oaks runner-up Silence Please and Oodnadatta.

Willie McCreery may yet be double-handed, with three-time Group winner Epona Plays and last month’s lightly-raced Blue Wind Stakes heroine Insinuendo.

The O’Briens also dominate entries for the Group Two Comer Group International Curragh Cup

But Willie Mullins’ globe-trotting mare True Self, also still engaged in Group Three company on the previous day of the meeting, is a notable possible challenger to the likes of Pondus, Santiago and Tiger Moth.

So too is Dermot Weld’s dual Irish St Leger heroine Search For A Song, among the 18 who remain.

The 12 juvenile fillies in the Group Two Airlie Stud Stakes include Fozzy Stack’s pair Hermana Estrella and Cheerupsleepyjean.

The former beat subsequent Royal Ascot winner Quick Suzy on her sole start at Naas last month, while Cheerupsleepyjean outran big odds to be a good third to Gavin Cromwell’s Queen Mary Stakes heroine last week.

All eyes on Santa Barbara as O’Brien filly goes for Oaks gold

Aidan O’Brien is confident Santa Barbara has not yet reached the ceiling of her ability ahead of her second tilt at Classic glory in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom.

A half-sister to a pair of Breeders’ Cup winners in Iridessa and Order Of Australia, the daughter of Camelot made a big impression when winning on her racecourse debut at the Curragh in September.

Few could have envisaged at that stage she would go off joint-favourite for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on just her second career start, but unusually bullish reports of blistering workouts on the Ballydoyle gallops in the spring saw her price collapse.

Santa Barbara’s supporters were ultimately left counting their losses after the first fillies’ Classic of the season over the Rowley Mile, but she emerged with plenty of credit in finishing fourth and O’Brien has certainly not lost the faith.

O’Brien said: “Santa Barbara is very well. She came out of Newmarket like I hoped she would and everything has gone well since then with her.

“We trained her for Newmarket like it was her first run of the season and we had to be careful. This time we got to train her for a Classic.

“She did very well in Newmarket for a filly only having her second run. She was always very special in her work.

“She ran a big race and showed what she can do. When the ground is quick at Newmarket, it just makes it a little bit more tricky for horses with not a lot of experience. We were delighted with the way she travelled and she showed us the class that she shows us at home.

“It is a risk going into a Classic on only your second run, from a very easy run on softish ground at the Curragh to then go to Newmarket on fast ground. We were really delighted the way she came out of it.

“The Guineas is the Guineas, but you would imagine normal, natural improvement will come. She hasn’t shown us anything in her work to suggest otherwise.”

Snowfall (right) winning the Musidora Stakes at York
Snowfall (right) winning the Musidora Stakes at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Santa Barbara is just one of five runners for O’Brien, who has already won the Oaks on eight occasions.

Snowfall is another leading contender, having made a successful start to her campaign with a front-running victory in the Musidora Stakes at York. With Ryan Moore siding with Santa Barbara, Frankie Dettori comes in for the ride.

O’Brien added: “Snowfall is good. We always thought the world of her last year, which is why we campaigned her in such good races.

“She was probably a little bit weak, but she’s bred to be a Classic filly and is bred like a filly that could get the trip.

“She wintered very well and Ryan was delighted with her at York.”

Divinely, Willow and La Joconde complete the Ballydoyle quintet. Divinely only finished fourth in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, but has been a significant market mover this week.

“Divinely had a lovely run in Lingfield, probably a lot better than it looked. Ryan was over the moon with her. They went slow, which didn’t suit, but Ryan was delighted with her. Since then all the numbers on her work have been very good.

“All her figures from her works have been coming out very high – that’s usually a very good sign.

“Willow ran in Naas and we think she has progressed nicely. She progressed a lot from the first to Naas and we think she has progressed again.

“We always thought La Joconde was better than she has showed on the track. She hasn’t won her maiden yet, but has always worked a lot better than a maiden.

Santa Barbara leads 14 fillies chasing Oaks glory

Ante-post favourite Santa Barbara is one of 14 fillies declared for the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on Friday.

The Camelot filly made a big impression when winning on her racecourse debut at the Curragh in September and was a major gamble for last month’s 1000 Guineas at Newmarket amid reports of scintillating workouts on the Ballydoyle gallops.

Aidan O’Brien’s charge – who is the choice of Ryan Moore – had to make do with minor honours in fourth over the Rowley Mile, but is once again strongly fancied to claim Classic glory at the second attempt.

Santa Barbara is joined by four stable companions in Snowfall (Frankie Dettori), Divinely (Seamie Heffernan), Willow (Wayne Lordan) and La Joconde (William Buick). Snowfall earned her place with victory in the Musidora Stakes at York, while Lingfield Oaks Trial fourth Divinely has been the subject of significant market support this week.

Archie Watson’s Sherbet Lemon, Roger Varian’s Save A Forest and Hugo Palmer’s Ocean Road finished first, second and third at Lingfield and are all in contention once again.

Varian has a particularly strong hand, with Musidora Stakes third Teona and Cheshire Oaks runner-up Zeyaadah also declared.

Mark Johnston saddles Cheshire Oaks winner Dubai Fountain, while Saffron Beach is stepped up in trip by Jane Chapple-Hyam after finishing second in the 1000 Guineas.

The Martyn Meade-trained Technique and the supplemented Mystery Angel, trained by George Boughey, complete the field.

Mystery Angel galloping at Epsom last week
Mystery Angel galloping at Epsom last week (Adam Davy/PA)

Members of the Nick Bradley Racing syndicate that own Mystery Angel, who finished fourth in the Musidora, stumped up £22,500 to add her to the field earlier in the week and are hoping for a bold showing following a pleasing gallop at Epsom last week.

Bradley said: “It looks a stronger race than we’d have liked, but we are where we are.

“The track will suit and she appears to be in very good form – she’s in better form at home than she was going to York.

“She looks overpriced a little bit at the moment, I think. We’re hopeful of a good run.”

Santa Barbara part of strong Oaks team for O’Brien

Ante-post favourite Santa Barbara heads 15 fillies still in contention for Friday’s Cazoo Oaks at Epsom.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained runner will be on something of a retrieval mission in the 12-furlong Classic having finished only fourth as the joint-favourite in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier this month.

She could form part of a strong Ballydoyle challenge with impressive Musidora winner Snowfall also in the mix for O’Brien, along with Divinely, La Jaconde and Willow.

Snowfall (right) was impressive at York
Snowfall (right) was impressive at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Sir Michael Stoute’s Musidora runner-up Noon Star could renew rivalry with Snowfall, along with third-placed Teona from Roger Varian’s yard and the fourth, Mystery Angel, who has been supplemented at a cost of £22,500.

Saffron Beach finished second in the 1000 Guineas and is on course to step up in distance after pleasing Jane Chapple-Hyam in a gallop at Epsom on Monday.

Hollie Doyle is set for a first Oaks ride
Hollie Doyle is set for a first Oaks ride (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Sherbet Lemon, who is trained by Archie Watson, is set to be a first Oaks ride for Hollie Doyle, with Dubai Fountain and Zeyaadah, first and second in the Cheshire Oaks, also in contention for Mark Johnston and Varian respectively.

Varian has a third string in Lingfield second Save A Forest with Hugo Palmer’s third Ocean Road and the seventh, Technique from Martyn Meade’s team, completing the 15 possibles.

O’Brien hoping ‘big call’ pays off for Guineas favourite Santa Barbara

Aidan O’Brien is banking on Santa Barbara’s “exceptional” ability to make up for her inexperience in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.

While the daughter of Camelot made a big impression when winning on her racecourse debut in late September, few could have envisaged she would be a red-hot favourite for the first fillies’ Classic of 2021 off the back of that solitary outing.

The reason for her contracting odds in recent weeks have been the unusually bullish reports coming out of Ballydoyle this spring.

And speaking on a Qipco British Champions Series Zoom call earlier this week, O’Brien was again fulsome in his praise for what Santa Barbara has been showing at home ahead of her bid for glory on the Rowley Mile.

He said: “We always thought a lot of Santa Barbara. We didn’t want to over-race her and she’s just had the one run.

“Obviously it’s a big call for her, but she seems to be in good form.

“She always looked very special last year. Of all the two-year-old fillies, she was always at the top of the pecking order.

“She only had the one run, but on her home work she was always very impressive and very exceptional. She’s a very strong traveller and a big, powerful filly – through her work and through a race.”

O’Brien is well aware of what it takes to win the 1000 Guineas, having saddled four of the last six winners and six overall.

The trainer clearly feels Santa Barbara possesses the requisite talent, but admits her lack of racecourse experience is not ideal.

“It is only her second run – running down Newmarket on quickish ground. She will be green, so it will be interesting to see how she copes with it,” he said.

“Either way you’d imagine she’ll learn a lot from it – it will do her absolutely no harm.

“If she’d had another run, it might have been an advantage to her, but she’s a quick learner at home and very intelligent.

“No matter what we work her with, she always looks to be dominating them.”

Santa Barbara pulls clear of her toiling rivals at the Curragh
Santa Barbara pulls clear of her toiling rivals at the Curragh (PA)

O’Brien, who also saddles Mother Earth, added: “Whatever it (Santa Barbara’s price) is, it is. She doesn’t know, she only knows she’s getting ready for a race.

“Everyone will be excited to see what happens when she does come off the bridle. This is a Guineas and it’s going to happen at some point.”

The home team is headed by by the Andrew Balding-trained Alcohol Free, who rounded off her juvenile campaign with Group One success in the six-furlong Cheveley Park Stakes and made a winning reappearance over seven furlongs in the Fred Darling at Newbury a fortnight ago.

Jockey Oisin Murphy is hopeful the daughter of crack sprinter No Nay Never can prove her stamina as she tackles a mile for the first time.

He said: “I was really thrilled with her at Newbury. She was just ready to start off and did everything nicely in the race. I made her come back and wait and go through the gears and she did it all well.

“She’s come out of the race well. She hasn’t done any serious work since – it has all been routine, but she has passed every test so far.

“She got six (furlongs) very well and the Cheveley Park is a good Guineas trial. She got seven (furlongs) well in the Fred Darling too. She was in the firing line from two out and though the pace wasn’t very strong, she had to battle.

“We always felt she was a Guineas filly from last year.”

Sacred is in a similar position for trainer William Haggas and owner-breeders Cheveley Park Stud.

The Exceed and Excel filly mixed it at Pattern level over five and six furlongs as a two-year-old – and while she did win over seven furlongs on her return in Newmarket’s Nell Gwyn Stakes, connections admit only time will tell whether a mile is within her compass.

Sacred won the Nell Gwyn on her return to action
Sacred won the Nell Gwyn on her return to action (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Cheveley Park’s managing director, Chris Richardson, said: “She’s in good form. We all desperately need rain, but I’d be quite keen for there not to be too much before Sunday.

“Ryan (Moore) was pretty strong on the fact there was going to be a question about the mile, but there is only one Guineas and if she stays it gives us more options going forward.

“She broke her maiden at Newmarket and won the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket, so we know she acts on the track.

“It’s exciting to see how well she’s done physically from two to three and if she stays, she could run a big race.”

Santa Barbara headlines 1000 Guineas confirmations

Ante-post gamble Santa Barbara features among 16 fillies left in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on Sunday.

Aidan O’Brien’s daughter of Camelot has only been seen on a racetrack once in her life, when making a winning debut at the Curragh in September.

The Ballydoyle handler has been effusive in his praise of the filly in the build up to the race, describing her in a stable tour as “looking like a five-year-old colt” and that her work had been sparkling.

O’Brien also has Queen’s Speech, Mother Earth and Snowfall, while son Joseph could have the biggest danger in Pretty Gorgeous.

The latter enjoyed a fruitful season last year, culminating in victory in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket.

Andrew Balding’s Cheveley Park winner Alcohol Free, who returned this season with a win in the Fred Darling, is the shortest-priced of the British-based runners.

Charlie Fellowes will let Vadream take her chance after she outran her 50-1 odds to finish third in the same race.

Alcohol Free was a winner on her return
Alcohol Free was a winner on her return (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“She’s great. She’s going to gallop on Tuesday morning and that will put her spot on for Sunday. She’s in good form, she’s taken the race at Newbury perfectly and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.

Nell Gwyn one-two Sacred and Saffron Beach will meet again after a good battle two weeks ago, with Fev Rover will representing Richard Fahey.

Baby Alya, Lullaby Moon, Seattle Rock, Star Of Emaraaty, Statement and Thunder Beauty complete the list.

Ryan Moore has high hopes for Classic challenger Santa Barbara

As Santa Barbara continues to be all the rage in the Qipco 1000 Guineas market, Ryan Moore is hoping the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly “has a big year ahead of her”.

The Camelot filly was seen only once last season, winning a maiden at the Curragh in September, but her odds for the Newmarket Classic have been in freefall ever since O’Brien spoke about her in glowing terms in a stable tour.

Speaking on Betfair’s Racing Only Bettor Podcast, Moore said: “She was impressive at the Curragh under Seamie (Heffernan), and I think there’s plenty of horses started to come out of it. She obviously got an awful lot to prove on the track, but everyone’s very happy with her at home. Let’s hope that she’s as good as we think she is.

“I had a sit on her and I’m very happy with her – she seems very straightforward in the mornings, hopefully she’s got a big year ahead of her and we want her right until the end. She’ll maybe have to start in the deep end, but hopefully she’ll prove herself up to it.”

Moore is likely to have a difficult choice to make in the colts’ equivalent, where Dewhurst one-two St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley could be joined by Royal Ascot winner Battleground.

Moore said: “St Mark’s Basilica is a horse with a lot of speed and he had some tough tasks, he had to go straight into a Group One on his second start and it was a messy sort of year for everyone.

St Mark’s Basilica (centre) winning the Dewhurst from Wembley
St Mark’s Basilica (centre) winning the Dewhurst from Wembley (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“But when you are trying to get two-year-olds into Group One races quickly, obviously it’s not easy. The build-up wasn’t ideal and he got better with every race and he’s a Dewhurst winner and he’s a very, very good colt who seems to be in a good place and hopefully he has a big year ahead of him.

“Everything points to him being a better three-year-old.”

As well as being second to St Mark’s Basilica at Newmarket, Wembley occupied the same spot in the National Stakes at the Curragh.

Moore said: “He’s a Galileo, you’d be pretty sure he’ll get better as he gets older and going up to a mile won’t be any problem for him at all. He only won the one race, but as we’ve said already, it was difficult for two-year-olds last year.

“He has a very high level of form and ability.”

Battleground showed enormous promise in his juvenile campaign
Battleground showed enormous promise in his juvenile campaign (Hugh Routledge/PA)

The beautifully-bred Battleground followed up his Chesham Stakes win with victory at Glorious Goodwood and lost little in defeat when second to Fire At Will in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland in November.

Moore said: “He’s a very strong horse and I think he’s a very talented horse, very similar to his dam (Found) – great attitude and very high class. He’s been lovely all through the spring and I think he’ll have a good year, no doubt.”

When asked about a possible Guineas bid, Moore said: “I haven’t heard that he’s not going to the Guineas, I think he’s definitely still in the mix.”

Moore also has every chance of Derby glory this year, with High Definition and Bolshoi Ballet one and two in the ante-post market for the Cazoo-sponsored Epsom Classic.

High Definition heads the Derby market
High Definition heads the Derby market (PA)

The rider said of the unbeaten High Definition: “When he won the Beresford, it never looked likely until the last 100 yards and then he won well at the line. He looks like a very obvious Derby horse and I think the plan is to have a run in one of the major trials and then go straight to Epsom.

“So all being well, the Derby is the dream for him.”

He added of Ballysax winner Bolshoi Ballet: “He is a good-moving colt, lovely mind, does everything right. It might not have been the deepest race on the day, but he did what he was asked to do and I think there is more to come from him. I think you’ll see him popping up in the major three-year-old staying races this year.”

Bolshoi Ballet second-favourite for Derby after authoritative Ballysax success

Bolshoi Ballet enhanced his Classic claims as he provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with an 11th victory in the P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.

The Ballydoyle handler saddled subsequent Epsom heroes Galileo and High Chaparral to land successive runnings of the Derby trial in 2001 and 2002, while four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats also features on the roll of honour.

O’Brien was doubly represented in this year’s renewal, with Dundalk maiden winner Lough Derg joined by stablemate Bolshoi Ballet – a winner at the track in the autumn before finishing fifth at Group One level in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Aidan O’Brien was thrilled with the performance of Bolshoi Ballet
Aidan O’Brien was thrilled with the performance of Bolshoi Ballet (PA)

Ryan Moore kept things simple aboard the 2-1 favourite, allowing him to track the pacesetting Catena Zapata for much of the 10-furlong journey before taking over the lead two furlongs from home.

Lough Derg found a gap on the fence and briefly looked a threat, but Bolshoi Ballet hit the line strongly to score by just over two lengths. Lough Derg was run out of the places late on by Flying Visit and Taipan.

Coral make Bolshoi Ballet their 12-1 second-favourite for the Cazoo Derby at Epsom, with stable companion High Definition heading the market at 7-2.

O’Brien said: “You’d be delighted with him as he only ran on soft ground (last season) and will have learned a lot today.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Derrinstown if all goes well with him. He’s straightforward and, while you’re never sure, he should get a mile and a half. He goes to the line well.

Derby favourite High Definition is reported to be in good form
Derby favourite High Definition is reported to be in good form (PA)

“High Definition will go for one of the Derby trials. We didn’t want to give him two runs before the Derby, but we thought this horse would be able for two.

“He’s in full work and we’re very happy with him.”

O’Brien also had news on the Classic front of Santa Barbara, who has been all the rage for the Qipco 1000 Guineas in recent weeks after her trainer gave her a glowing report in a stable tour.

He said: “Santa Barbara is working very well. She’s going through her work in second gear with all the fillies.

“We were going to come here and then we said we’d go straight for the Guineas.

“It’s a big ask for a filly only after having one easy run in a maiden to go to the Guineas. She looks exceptional in her work, but she’ll be very green going to a Guineas. She’ll learn a lot either ways.”

Looking to the Newmarket meeting that starts on Tuesday, O’Brien added: “We might run Khartoum in the Craven on Thursday.”

Santa Barbara is new Guineas favourite after O’Brien’s glowing report

Curragh maiden winner Santa Barbara has been propelled into Qipco 1000 Guineas favouritism on the back of some bullish comments by Aidan O’Brien.

A half-sister to Iridessa, trained to Group One glory by O’Brien’s son Joseph, Santa Barbara won her only race to date by two and a half lengths last September.

O’Brien described her as “looking like a five-year-old colt”, adding that she has been toying with her work companions.

Speaking in a stable tour on Attheraces.com, he said: “She’s done unbelievably well in physical terms over the winter. She looks like a five-year-old colt. She goes through her work unbelievably well. She shows loads of speed and always worked with an awful lot of class.

“Whether we start her in the Guineas trial at Leopardstown or go straight to the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, we haven’t decided yet. We won’t over-race her, we’ll keep her runs to a minimum if we can, but she shows an unbelievable amount of class at home.

“In terms of her stamina, she’s by Camelot, so that will give her a chance to stay a mile and a quarter or maybe further, but she does show a lot of pace. She looked very pacey on her debut and she does that at home all the time. She just toys with horses in her work. We’re very excited by her.”

One horse likely to skip the Newmarket Guineas is High Definition, with O’Brien favouring a Derby trial at this stage.

“He’s going very well and doing everything right. He was big and babyish last year, so we had always planned to only run him twice as a two-year-old,” he said.

“He’s forward and will be ready to start in a Derby trial. We were thinking about potentially going to the 2000 Guineas first with him, but we have plenty for that, so we are leaning towards the Derby trial route with him now. There’s no doubt that better ground will suit him.”

Instead Battleground could travel to Newmarket, following his meritorious run to be second at the Breeders’ Cup.

“We are very happy with him. He was always a big horse, but he’s really after filling out over the winter,” said O’Brien, who had initially mooted Royal Ascot could have been Battleground’s starting point.

“It looks like he’ll go straight to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. He doesn’t strike me as one that will want much further than a mile, but I couldn’t completely rule it out – because we did end up going a mile-and-a-quarter with another War Front in Declaration Of War.”

St Mark’s Basilica and Frankie Dettori (right) got the better of Wembley and Ryan Moore in the Dewhurst
St Mark’s Basilica and Frankie Dettori (right) got the better of Wembley and Ryan Moore in the Dewhurst (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

O’Brien has a stranglehold on the betting for the 2000 Guineas, with Dewhurst one-two St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley single-figure prices as well.

Of the Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica, he said: “He’s in good order, and we’re happy with how he progressed over the winter. The plan is to go straight to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with him.”

Wembley is also set to head straight for the same target.

O’Brien’s star in the older horse ranks is undoubtedly dual Classic winner Love, who was imperious last season before being ruled out of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe because testing ground.

“She’s in great order. She has done plenty of work and is good and forward,” he said.

“She’ll be ready to start whenever we want her. Though, those Listed and Group races leading up to the Tattersalls Gold Cup can often be run on bad ground – and ideally we wouldn’t like to ask her to start off on that sort of surface.

“If need be, she’ll have a few away days to get ready for the Tattersalls Gold Cup – but however we get there, that’s our first big target with her. I’d imagine she’ll campaign over a mile-and-a-quarter and a mile-and-a-half.

“She is just very natural. She is only half-speeding with her work companions, really. She finds it all very easy. We’re very excited about getting her back to the track.”