Aidan O’Brien didn’t really need an aeroplane to make the trip to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup – so gifted is the record-breaking master of Ballydoyle that he could have walked across the Atlantic!
O’Brien is likely to have 12 or 13 runners at the sharp San Diego track, which stages racing world championships for the first time.
Aidan already has 11 Breeders’ Cup wins to swell the Coolmore trophy room and while we’ll take a detailed look at the two most treasured days in the sport on Friday, he’s not the only European excited about what’s coming up.
Frankie Dettori has not only picked six mouth-watering rides at Del Mar but has also been chosen to replace the suspended Damien Oliver on last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Almandin, who is favourite to clock back-to-back successes in “the race that stops a nation” at Flemington next Tuesday.
Dettori, who has never ridden at Del Mar so has three rides there today to get himself acquainted with the track, could barely disguise his delight at getting the ride on Almandin.
He said: ‘‘Twice I’ve finished second in a Melbourne Cup, beaten 0.50 lengths each time and maybe Almandin will be the one to give me that elusive first success.”
However, where else could we start this week but with O’Brien whose 26th Group 1 winner of 2017, courtesy of Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last Saturday, surpasses the previous best in a calendar year achieved by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003.
O’Brien repeatedly rewrites the Flat trainer’s manual and his record is simply phenomenal.
Remember, he won three Champion Hurdles with the great Istabraq and since switching his attention to the level, he has averaged 15 Group 1 winners a year, the first coming with Desert King in the 1996 Irish 2000 Guineas.
It was from John Gosden (via John Durkan) that O’Brien, who clocked up his 300th top table celebration when Highland Reel won at Royal Ascot in June, inherited Istabraq.
Ironically, Gosden was the trainer who prevented O’Brien making a clean sweep of all 10 of the English and Irish classics this season, Europe’s Horse Of The Year Enable being a dual Oaks heroine.
Even at this early stage O’Brien can already boast all five antepost favourites for next year’s UK classics – Saxon Warrior heading the market for both the Guineas and Derby – but might again find that it is Gosden who is the biggest thorn in his side.
Gosden was assistant at Ballydoyle when predecessor, the legendary Vincent O’Brien, was the incumbent and was one of the first to congratulate O’Brien in the Doncaster winner’s enclosure.
But the Newmarket trainer is justifiably optimistic that his runner-up, Roaring Lion, can reverse the placings in the first colts’ classic at HQ next May.
Roaring Lion was as short as 1-9 when he headed Saxon Warrior in the last 200m on Town Moor, but Ryan Moore knew he had a spare can of fuel in the boot. Asking the favourite to dig deep, he got a response that was both positive and immediate, with Saxon Warrior fighting back to regain the lead close home for a dramatic neck success.
Held up longer, Roaring Lion, who would probably lack the necessary stamina for Epsom, might well have won, but Saxon Warrior – although by Japanese superstar Deep Impact – is not slow.
His dam Maybe was an unbeaten two-year-old whose victories included the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes at The Curragh. So you could easily see him trying the Guineas-Derby double next year.
O’Brien has so many trump cards in his classic pack that it’s sometimes difficult to know who will go where.
This makes betting ante-post rather chancy, but taking the plunge makes winter go that bit quicker, so I have jumped in early, backing Roaring Lion for the Guineas and Saxon Warrior for the Derby.
While the fact that O’Brien is a confirmed teetotaller made celebrations relatively quiet on the plane back to Ballydoyle on Saturday, there were no such restraints in Melbourne the same day following another record-breaking performance from Aussie superstar Winx in the Group 1 Cox Plate.
The most prestigious all-aged race Down Under was expected to be a penalty kick for Winx, who was attempting to make it 22 wins on the trot and a 15th at Group 1 level, equalling the record of Black Caviar.
Only Kingston Town, one of Australia’s greatest modern-day thoroughbreds, had ever won three Cox Plates before but Winx started 2-11 to emulate that feat and duly carved her own niche in the record books, though she had to work much harder than she had done the previous two years.
It all looked plain sailing for Winx as Hugh Bowman shot her up the outside to take command on the home turn.
“The Valley is rocking and the world is knocking!” declared course commentator Matt Hill. But the huge crowd held their breath up the straight as Humidor inched ever closer.
Happily, Bowman just needed one slap to keep Winx’s nose in front, the winning distance ultimately being 0.50 lengths and the time beating the filly’s own record.
European thoughts this week are focussed on the crown jewels coming up in the USA and Australia, but one for the domestic scene on Saturday is LORD GLITTERS in the Listed Ben Marshall Stakes at Newmarket.
This fellow looked a Group horse masquerading in a handicap when he came from last to first to win the competitive Balmoral at Ascot on Champions Day.
He travelled like a dream but was all dressed up with nowhere to go until the gaps opened in the last 200m and would have been a desperately unlucky loser.