O’Brien team returns to form
With less than three weeks to “Irish Champions Weekend” and the start of the lucrative Group One Autumn campaign, Aidan O’Brien signalled a timely return to form as Anthony Van Dyck led a Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in yesterday’s Curragh feature.
The victory for next year’s Derby favourite was just one of half a dozen weekend winners at the Curragh for O’Brien.
His string have been affected for weeks by a virus the champion trainer described as the worst he’s ever had. But the world-famous Ballydoyle yard looks to be bouncing back with a vengeance. Four winners at the Curragh on Saturday was followed that night by an immensely encouraging effort by Mendelssohn when runner-up in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes to Catholic Boy. Then Ryan Moore made it back from New York in time to ride Anthony Van Dyck to success in the Group Two Galileo Futurity. The 4-6 favourite had to work hard to overhaul his trailblazing stable companion Christmas with another Ballydoyle inmate, Mohawk, back in third.
Moore had earlier scored on the 5-1 maiden winner Lost Treasure and while O’Brien didn’t reveal signs of anything like relief his tongue was lodged firmly when cheek when grinning: “They’re starting to run a bit better!” That comment perhaps came in the context of the inevitable attention that comes when the world’s most powerful racing operation experiences a downturn on its usually heady Group One standards.
Last week’s Ebor festival at York resulted in just a single winner although O’Brien’s prediction there that the worst impact of the bug looked to be over took only until the weekend to look spot on. Now a relative top-flight lull for the next fortnight could help normal Ballydoyle service resume well in time for “Champions Weekend” where Saxon Warrior may yet line up for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes.
The 2,000 Guineas winner was only fourth to Roaring Lion in last week’s Juddmonte International but might get another crack at him in Leopardstown.
“He was very sick after Sandown [Eclipse Stakes] and we had it in mind that if he came back in time for York he might then go back to a mile at Ascot [QEII]. But now we have to decide if we’ll try him again at a mile and a quarter. The way he was sick you’d have to say he could come on a good bit from it [York]. We’ll decide in the next ten days,” O’Brien said.
In contrast it’s a straightforward job of booking Mendelssohn back to the US for another crack at America’s top horses in the Breeders Cup Classic in early November. After a Kentucky Derby disaster, and an underwhelming reappearance in Belmont last month, Mendelssohn showed a lot more fire in his belly in Saratoga’s $1.25 million feature.
The Irish colt cut out most of the early running and, although passed early in the straight by Catholic Boy, Mendelssohn was a clear runner-up in American racing’s “Midsummer Derby”. He is 14-1 to finally secure a Classic success for Ballydoyle at Churchill Downs for a race in which the betting is topped by the top Californian older horse Accelerate. “Delighted with him, couldn’t be happier,” O’Brien said. “That was his second run back [from the Kentucky Derby] and that gives us ten weeks to the Classic.”
Saturday’s Trial winner Flag Of Honour is in line to join the stalwart stayer Order Of St George in the Irish Leger, the feature event of the Curragh’s second day leg of “Irish Champions Weekend”, and the Futurity principals are likely to pitch up too in the National Stakes.
On rain-softened ground Anthony Van Dyck was actually the first to be niggled as his stable companion Christmas cut out a strong gallop. The maiden Could Be King travelled as well as anything to the furlong pole but in the closing stages it was an all-Ballydoyle show as Moore pushed out the winner in a gritty performance.
It was a 12th Futurity success for O’Brien who said of the winner: “He gets a little bit lazy in the middle of the race but gets there and he was doing it well again in the last furlong.
“I’d say he’ll get a mile well. We always viewed him as a horse that would get middle distances next season. I would imagine they’ll all probably come back here for the National Stakes.”
If Could Be Kings briefly flattered, his stable companion Skitter Scatter proved she has quality to go with her resolution by landing the Group Two Debutante Stakes. She will be targeted at the Moyglare Stud Stakes next. Her trainer Patrick Prendergast had been worried about “summer soft” ground but the 7-1 winner was too good for the both Bandiuc Eile and Zagitova.
Alpha Centauri will be one of the “Champions Weekend” stars in the Matron Stakes and Jessica Harrington will also run yesterday’s Royal Whip winner Beautiful Morning in the Blandford Stakes in three weeks. The in-form trainer saddled a double yesterday when the 5-2 favourite Rovetta also beat her stable companion Echo Park in a handicap.
Aidan O’Brien: “They’re starting to run a bit better,” he said after landing six weekend winners at the Curragh.