Saturday saw a Churchill masterclass, as O’Brien’s latest star swept to a Classic double with a two-length victory in the Irish 2000 Guineas.
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow proved the toughest nut to crack, but was overhauled a furlong from home. Conditions at the Curragh were far more testing than at Newmarket a month ago, but Churchill confirmed the racing adage, that the best ones can ‘go in any ground’. It was a decent performance from Thunder Snow in second, and he looks set to have another crack at the Ballydoyle charge in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
O'Brien was clearly thrilled with the performance, saying: “He's a great horse and we're delighted with him. He sleeps, he relaxes and he quickens. He's a very exciting horse. The ground was a concern, but Donnacha (O'Brien) rides him in all his work and he said it'd be no problem, so that gave us great confidence to keep going. He's brave and versatile. Ground and trip all come alike to him and he has a lovely demeanour. He saves all the petrol, and when you ask him to quicken he quickens.”
And of the next move, O’Brien confirmed: “Coming here we were thinking we'd go from here to Ascot and he'll probably go for the St James's Palace Stakes. He'd have no problem stepping up to 10 furlongs later in the year. He's so relaxed and chilled.”
Ballydoyle’s imperious start to the campaign continued yesterday, when Winter added the Irish 1000 Guineas to her Newmarket success. This was a stunning performance from the filly, proving that the victory at HQ was no flash-in-the-pan. She cruised through the race, and picked off the leaders at the two-furlong mark. She powered clear under a hands-and-heels drive from Ryan Moore, winning eased down by just shy of five lengths.
It was quite striking at how powerful she looked among the field of eight. This was a display of complete dominance, visually every bit as impressive as Churchill 24 hours earlier. O’Brien was similarly impressed, when saying: “She's maturing all the time and is a really strong traveller. When Ryan let her down today she went into overdrive. She'll probably get further than a mile but the Coronation Stakes will be next, once her owners agree. All going well we'll have plenty of options. Do we stick to a mile and go for the Falmouth or wait and step her up in distance in the Nassau? All those decisions are ahead of us.”
It takes plenty to get Ryan Moore excited, but his comments suggested this filly could be special: “It was very easy and she gave me a lovely ride. I couldn't have been more impressed with her – she was relentless and it rode like a piece of work for her. She's a very good filly. She's stepped forward from each of her runs and there's no reason why she won't keep on progressing.”
Whilst O’Brien’s dominance shows no sign of waning, the team did suffer a blow with news of an injury to Minding, forcing her to miss the Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday. She joins Seventh Heaven on the sidelines until later in the season. The pair are arguably the best fillies around, and though the yard is overflowing with talent, these two are sure to be missed over the summer. It’s hoped that they’ll be back on track for an autumn campaign.
Over at Haydock on Saturday, the fillies were also making the headlines, with Priceless a gutsy winner of the Group 2 Temple Stakes. Quick out the blocks, she was always prominent, and powered to the front at the two-furlong pole. Kept up to her work by Adam Kirby, she held off the fast finishing Goldream, with Alpha Delphini in third. The victory completed a Group 2 double on the day for trainer Clive Cox, having landed the Sandy Lane Stakes thanks to a stunning performance from Harry Angel.
Cox was winning back-to-back Temple’s, following the victory of Profitable under the same ownership 12 months ago. He went on to win the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot the following month.
A clearly delighted trainer spoke of the progressive filly, saying: “She's just getting better and better. Since we dropped her back to five furlongs she's just improved and taken a step up. She was very green in her younger days and we tried to stretch her out in trip, but bringing her back to five (furlongs) has been the making of her.”
Of Ascot he added: “It will be the King's Stand next, along with Profitable. Alan (Spence, owner and Chelsea director) is obviously at the Cup Final but I'm delighted to win this for him again as he's been a huge supporter. She's making up into a really strong filly and it's uncanny to win the same race again.”
Goldream may have proven a slightly unfortunate loser, having made a tardy start before flying at the finish. Should the ground be similarly quick at Ascot, connections will be confident of a bold show from the King’s Stand winner of 2015.
The disappointment of the race, though somewhat unsurprisingly, was the Karl Burke trained filly Quiet Reflection. The combination of minimum trip and fast ground took her out of her comfort zone. A rather sluggish start didn’t help, and she was stuck at the back of the field throughout.
Yesterday, her trainer appeared defiant, and far from disillusioned by her performance, when saying: “I came very close to pulling her out yesterday and heading to Chantilly next weekend, but you don't know what the ground will be like in a week's time and we decided to let her take her chance. She's not a five-furlong filly, at least we know that for sure now, and it ended up being a racecourse gallop.
“In hindsight, we probably should have run her in the Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh with the way the ground went there on Saturday, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The main thing is she's got that run in now, which we wanted, she's come out of it well and we'll head for Royal Ascot. I was happy with how she ran and so was Martin (Harley). He said he felt she was just picking up in the last 100 yards after getting her second wind and another furlong will make a big difference.”
There’s no doubting that a step up to six-furlongs is sure to see Quiet Reflection at her best, though ground will also prove a crucial factor in her performance at the Royal Meeting.
For now attention turns to Epsom, as we gear-up for the Oaks and the Derby. Can O’Brien continue his dominance of the Classics, or can John Gosden apply the brakes to this Ballydoyle Juggernaut?