O’Brien team re­turns to form

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Rac­ing cor­re­spon­dent Brian o’Con­nor

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.

Leop­ard­stown

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.

Very hon­est

“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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

Ai­dan O’Brien: “They’re start­ing to run a bit bet­ter,” he said after land­ing six week­end win­ners at the Cur­ragh.

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