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, 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.”

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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.”

St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley head Aidan O’Brien’s Guineas squad

Dewhurst one-two St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley are among a dozen entries for Aidan O’Brien in this year’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

The master of Ballydoyle has saddled a record 10 previous winners of the first Classic of the British Flat season – and looks set to be well represented once again on the Rowley Mile.

St Mark’s Basilica saw off stablemate Wembley by just under a length in the Dewhurst in October and the pair could renew rivalry on May 1.

The horse priced up as favourite with several bookmakers is the O’Brien-trained Battleground, who won the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last season, before finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.

However, O’Brien in January raised the possibility of the son of the yard’s Arc heroine Found sidestepping Newmarket and instead being trained with a return to the Royal meeting for the St James’s Palace Stakes as his chief objective.

The trainer’s squad also features unbeaten Derby favourite High Definition and Van Gogh, who won a Group One prize in France at the end of his juvenile campaign.

Other leading hopes among 72 entries for the 2000 Guineas include Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon – not far behind his father’s pair in the Dewhurst – and the Richard Hannon-trained Chindit, who disappointed in the same race having won each of his three previous starts.

The fillies get their chance to shine in the following afternoon’s Qipco 1000 Guineas, for which 63 have been entered.

Ante-post lists are topped by Joseph O’Brien’s Pretty Gorgeous, who won the Fillies’ Mile over the course and distance when last seen.

Shale, who took on Pretty Gorgeous on several occasions last term, is trained by O’Brien’s brother Donnacha, while his father Aidan has nine contenders, with Curragh maiden winner Santa Barbara perhaps the most interesting.

The home team features John Gosden’s Fillies’ Mile runner-up Indigo Girl, the unbeaten Love Is You from Roger Charlton’s yard, Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Saffron Beach and the Andrew Balding-trained Alcohol Free.

O’Brien considering starting point for Derby favourite High Definition

Aidan O’Brien is favouring a Derby trial over a tilt at the 2000 Guineas with his unbeaten colt High Definition.

An impressive winner on his racecourse debut at the Curragh in the summer, the son of Galileo subsequently rocketed to ante-post favouritism for Epsom after storming home to win the Group Two Beresford Stakes in September.

O’Brien deliberately decided against running his charge in one of the end-of-season Group Ones and is excited to see what he can accomplish as a three-year-old.

Speaking on a press conference to discuss the European two-year-old classifications, O’Brien said of High Definition: “He’s a big, rangy horse with an unbelievably long stride. He’s uncomplicated and has a good mind and has done very well over the winter.

“In the Beresford it looked like he couldn’t win for most of the race as on the round track at the Curragh it’s tough to make up ground. It looked like he couldn’t win a furlong down, he had a chance half a furlong down and won very easy at the line.

“At the moment he’d probably be a shorter price to go to a Derby trial than the Guineas, but the lads (owners) will make a decision and see what they want to do.

“The Guineas is obviously a great trial for the Derby, but when we have other horses there for the Guineas, it’s very possibly that High Definition might go to a Derby trial.

“He might only have one run before the Derby if he was doing that, I think.”

St Mark's Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori
St Mark’s Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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The three horses O’Brien currently has pencilled in as his chief Guineas contenders are St Mark’s Basilica, Wembley and Van Gogh.

St Mark’s Basilica, who has been crowned champion two-year-old in Europe for 2020, narrowly beat Wembley in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October, while Van Gogh rounded off his season with a Group One success in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

All three horses were beaten in their first two career starts before making marked progress – and O’Brien admits it is difficult to assess the juvenile crop overall, with the coronavirus pandemic meaning the season did not get under way until early June.

“The year was really a mess,” said the Ballydoyle handler.

“With St Mark’s Basilica, we kind of rushed him out to get a run into him and then rushed him back to run in the Heinz (Phoenix Stakes).

“It was all just happening too quick for him and he was on the back foot. In all fairness to him, he toughed it out and did man up.

“Wembley is another a horse we always liked. We thought he’d win at the Curragh first time and when he got to the front he was very green and babyish – he was like that a good bit.

“I suppose the form is open to question. Quite a lot of horses finished on top of each other, but Sir Mark’s Basilica and Wembley are two solid horses that are tough and learned a lot last season.

“Van Gogh is a big horse who was always going to be a big three-year-old – he could make an awful lot of improvement.”

The horse priced up as favourite for the Guineas with several bookmakers is Battleground, who won the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood before finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.

Battleground wins the Vintage Stakes at GoodwoodFestival – Day One
Battleground wins the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

However, O’Brien raised the possibility of the son of the yard’s Arc heroine Found sidestepping Newmarket and instead being trained with a return to the Royal meeting for the St James’s Palace Stakes as his chief objective.

He said: “He’s a Guineas horse as well, like the other three, but it’s very possible that if all of them are going to the Guineas, Battleground could go to Ascot and maybe have a run before, rather than them all going to the Guineas.

“He’s a lovely horse and Newmarket would suit him. I suppose it depends on how they’re all going to fall, and obviously we’ll have to look at the Irish Guineas and the French Guineas as well.

“The English Guineas is the first one, so I’d imagine he will be in the mix for that, along with the two Dewhurst horses and Van Gogh.

“Whether Battleground goes there or goes for an easier race and then goes for the St James’s Palace – I suppose it will depend on how the spring is going with them all really.”

Aidan O'Brien can be expected to be a major force again in 2021
Aidan O’Brien can be expected to be a major force again in 2021 (PA)

O’Brien was a notable absentee from British racecourses last season, due to the restrictions put in place to combat Covid-19.

He is keeping his fingers crossed the situation improves during the coming weeks and months to allow more freedom of movement, while he is hopeful the current travel issues being caused by Brexit will also be resolved relatively soon.

“We’re taking it one day at a time like everybody else,” O’Brien added.

“I think there might be some new quarantine rules coming in for people in Europe, which mean you’ll have to quarantine for one or two weeks when you arrive (in Britain).

“If that is the case, it will be like going to Australia. When we go there, we send the people down to do their two weeks quarantine and they stay there then.

“We had a team in Newmarket last year, so something like that could happen again, but it would be great if we could all be there.

“We’re lucky that the Brexit thing should be resolved before it comes our way. Hopefully, come Guineas time, it will all be a little bit more straightforward.”

St Mark’s Basilica takes top honours in juvenile classifications

St Mark’s Basilica has been crowned champion two-year-old in Europe for 2020, in what the handicappers admitted was not a “vintage year” for juveniles.

The Covid-19 lockdown saw the British and Irish Flat seasons delayed by two months until June, with Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board handicapper Mark Bird feeling the late start combined with “slightly muddled” form lines had seen last year’s juvenile crop rank lower than previous generations.

Nevertheless, St Mark’s Basilica achieved a rating of 120 in winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October, making him Aidan O’Brien’s 11th champion two-year-old and the seventh consecutive winner of that race to take the European crown. His rating is 8lb lower than that achieved by Pinatubo in 2019.

Stablemate Wembley, who was runner-up at Headquarters, is equal second in the classifications alongside Clive Cox’s Middle Park winner Supremacy, with a rating of 118. O’Brien’s unbeaten Derby favourite High Definition was given a figure of 115.

St Mark’s Basilica (right) beat stablemate Wembley at Newmarket
St Mark’s Basilica (right) beat stablemate Wembley at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Bird said of St Mark’s Basilica: “We rated his effort in landing the Darley Dewhurst Stakes as marginally the best form shown by a European two-year-old in 2020 and just ahead of that shown by the 12 other Group One-winning two-year-olds in Europe this year.

“At this stage of his career, he rates higher than his half-brother Magna Grecia who won the Qipco 2000 Guineas as a three-year-old and he appears to hold every chance of emulating his sibling in winning that event in 2021, with normal progression as a three-year-old.”

Supremacy was named the best British-trained juvenile of 2020
Supremacy was named the best British-trained juvenile of 2020 (Mark Cranham/PA)
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Supremacy is the leading British-trained two-year-old ahead of Charlie Appleby’s Autumn Stakes winner One Ruler on 114 and the Marcus Tregoning-trained Alkumait, the Mill Reef victor, on 113.

British Horseracing Authority Handicapper Graeme Smith said: “Supremacy became the latest in a long line of Group One-winning sprinters to emerge from Clive Cox’s stable over the last decade and achieved a rating of 118 when defeating the Group One Phoenix Stakes winner Lucky Vega in a deep-looking Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes.

“Very well bought for £65,000, he was the standout British-trained juvenile from Goodwood onwards and went into winter quarters as the highest-rated two-year-old his prolific trainer has ever handled.”

Pretty Gorgeous won the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket
Pretty Gorgeous won the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The O’Brien family also provided two of the three top-rated fillies, with Joseph’s Fillies’ Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous ranking on 113 along with his brother Donnacha’s Shale, who was victorious in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

Wesley Ward’s Campanelle, winner of the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and the Prix Morny, was also awarded a mark of 113.

Sealiway emerged as the highest-rated French-trained colt on 116, following his impressive Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere victory, while Marcel Boussac winner Tiger Tanaka is the joint-highest rated French-trained filly along with Plainchant, who took the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte, on 110.

Bird added: “In summary, 2020 could not be said to have been a vintage year for two-year-olds.

“While numerically, the 44 horses that made the classifications are in line with recent averages, the truncated nature of the season and the slightly muddled nature of some of the form lines mean that the champion juveniles of the year rank at the lower end of the historical scale.”

The handicappers also nominated their ‘dark horses’ to follow in 2021, with Smith pinpointing William Haggas’ Newcastle maiden winner Sea Empress as a filly on the up.

He said: “She showed a little bit of greenness (at Newcastle), slightly on and off the bridle, but come the business end she found it all pretty easy. She ran a fairly good time and I think it’s fair to say she wasn’t 100 per cent all out.

“I put a figure of around 97 on Sea Empress on her first time out and considering she showed inexperience early on and wasn’t all out, I think that was very promising indeed.

“I think she’s by far one of the most interesting dark horses this time around.”

Smith also gave favourable mentions to the Roger Charlton-trained Love Is You, winner of the Radley Stakes, and Twisted Reality, a Nottingham maiden victor for Ralph Beckett in November.

Shandra won on her only start last year
Shandra won on her only start last year (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bird underlined the promise of the Dermot Weld-trained Shandra, who won a Curragh maiden on her only start in 2020.

He said: “Dermot has a wonderful phrase for his best horses, saying ‘they’re stayers with speed’, and I think with her pedigree, she has the raw material to develop into that type of filly. She’s a May foal by Sea The Stars and I like her a lot.”

Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Santa Barbara and Wordsworth, a full-brother to Kew Gardens, also earned Bird’s attention, with Storm Legend also predicted to do well.

St Mark’s Basilica too good in Dewhurst for O’Brien and Dettori

Aidan O’Brien dominated the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, as St Mark’s Basilica and Frankie Dettori held off stablemate Wembley and Ryan Moore.

The Ballydoyle pair had finished behind Thunder Moon in the National Stakes at the Curragh last time out – but this time the form was turned around as Joseph O’Brien’s colt, the 11-4 favourite, could only manage third behind the 10-1 winner.

The principals came down the centre of the track, while several of the other fancied runners made a dash for the rail, which had been favoured in earlier races.

It was a seventh Dewhurst for O’Brien, while it was a second in three years for Dettori after Too Darn Hot in 2018.

In a race traditionally seen as the juvenile championship with countless champions produced down the years, this season’s field looked well up to scratch.

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Richard Hannon fielded two unbeaten contenders in Chindit and Etonian, while Marcus Tregoning had supplemented Mill Reef winner Alkumait.

None of those could get involved, though, with the result in stark contrast to the fortunes of O’Brien on Friday, when it emerged his two runners in the Fillies’ Mile had carried the wrong saddle cloths and were ridden by the wrong jockeys.

O’Brien had also been forced to pull out all his runners at ParisLongchamp on Arc day last weekend due to issues surrounding contaminated feed.

O’Brien said: “We’re delighted with both of them.

“The plan was that St Mark’s Basilica would run in France and then Wembley would run in the Dewhurst, that’s the way we were going.

“We’ve always liked St Mark’s Basilica a lot, and Wembley, we’ve always thought they were very smart colts.

“The first three were were the same three as in the National Stakes. Every year it’s a great race and the form always stands up.”

On future plans, O’Brien added: “The Breeders’ Cup is possible for the winner, but we’re thinking Battleground (Royal Ascot and Vintage Stakes winner) will go to the Breeders’ Cup, so he doesn’t have to go.

“We’ll see nearer the time, but at the moment we’re thinking Battleground will go.”

Frankie Dettori was jumping for joy after the Dewhurst
Frankie Dettori was jumping for joy after the Dewhurst (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Dettori – who won the St Leger for O’Brien aboard Scorpion in 2005 – said: “They went fast. I was in the middle of the group and I got all the splits. In fairness when I asked him to go he went and he never stopped.

“He didn’t put a foot wrong. His form is good and he didn’t have much to find on the second and third and it all worked out well.

“He would get a mile no problem.”