A blanket three-way photo finish to last week’s Irish Derby won by Coolmore second-string Capri has only increased doubts as to just how good are this year’s classic generation of middle-distance colts in Europe.
I remain convinced that Oaks heroine Enable, who will bid to complete the Epsom-Curragh double on Sunday week, is not only the best of the fillies but arguably top of the entire three-year-old pile this season at 2400m.
In lowering the colours of his stablemate, 40-1 Epsom winner Wings Of Eagles, Capri, O’Brien’s 12th Irish Derby winner, has probably now found himself in pole-position as the stable’s number one for the St Leger at Doncaster in September, but there was a sting in the tail for the Coolmore team.
Sure, they put on a brave face when celebrating on the podium at The Curragh, but Capri was merely papering over the cracks and, though they are obviously delighted to have won another English and Irish Derby this season, the fact remains that neither carries superstar status.
And not even the sad news 24 hours later that Wings Of Eagles, who finished a brave third on three legs, has had to be retired, having found to have fractured his near-fore sesamoid during the race, changes that opinion.
Of John Magnier’s Epsom six, the last horse that he would have wanted to win, donning his commercial cap, would have been Wings Of Eagles, who is the only one not sired by the great Galileo.
And in all probability, the Eagle, provided he makes a full recovery and takes his place on the Coolmore stallion roster, will ultimately follow his sire, 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi, and be sold to potential breeders more as a NH prospect.
It was a roller-coaster week-end for O’Brien, who also revealed that his champion racemare Minding, a seven times Group 1 winner, might also be heading for the breeding shed as the injury which has delayed her return as a four-year-old could well give them insufficient time to get her back on a racecourse.
The globe-trotting superstar Highland Reel is the new golden boy at Ballydoyle, and he rather than Capri is likely to represent O’Brien in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on 29 July.
Sadly, we only have a silver and bronze medal from twice throwing our Derby hats in the ring with Cracksman, who was a brave neck runner-up on the Kildare plains, but John Gosden stressed that this slow-learner “remains a work in progress” and with owner Anthony Oppenheimer having given the green light to race on at four our losses are only on loan.
All eyes will be on Sandown next Saturday when the classic generation get the first opportunity to clash with the older horses for the first time in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes over 2000m.
But while Decorated Knight, runner-up to Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, is an admirable flag-bearer for the seniors, he ain’t no superstar, so the three-year-olds, triumphant on the Esher slopes for the last two years, courtesy of Golden Horn and Hawkbill, boast the first three places in the betting.
However, while respecting both Derby fourth Eminent, who is dropping down in distance and recent Royal Ascot winner Barney Roy, who goes up in trip,
I am sticking with Coolmore’s Epsom runner-up CLIFFS OF MOHER, who just ran out of petrol up the hill on the Surrey Downs.
O’Brien first won this prestigious race with Giant’s Causeway in the millennium year and then took four of the next 11 runnings.
But, though he has since drawn a blank, Aidan believes he has the perfect tool in Cliffs Of Moher to ensure that normal business is resumed.
“Cliffs Of Moher has plenty of speed and even before Epsom we had doubts as to whether the mile and a half (2400m) would suit him.
“So coming back in distance should prove ideal,” affirmed the trainer.
Clearly, connections of Eminent feel champion jockey Jim Crowley sat too far out of his ground at Epsom even though the winner came from behind him, as they have taken the decision to give him the heave-ho and go for Silvestre de Sousa instead.
Blame the pilot seems the fashionable thing for owners, trainers and punters these days, and I can’t see that Crowley did anything wrong, but de Sousa is 20 clear of his rivals as he pursues a second jockey’s title and, encouraged by trainer Martyn Meade’s claim that Eminent has been leaving scorch marks on the Newmarket gallops since Epsom, he is expecting a bold run.
However, Barney Roy could prove Cliffs Of Moher’s biggest rival. This colt has always been the apple of Richard Hannon’s eye, and, having run a stormer in the 2000 Guineas, where he was caught out by the infamous Newmarket Dip, the Godolphin colt reversed the form with an off-colour Churchill in the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting.
Hannon is confident that this 2000m will be right up Barney Roy’s alley, so we could be in for another Coolmore-Godolphin head-to-head, but, while the boys in blue held their own at Royal Ascot, the Eclipse might be a cliff too far if you’ll excuse the pun.
But I will be in the Godolphin camp at Sandown on Friday, with the cash going down on Windsor Castle Stakes runner-up ROUSSEL in the Listed Dragon Stakes.
He was only beaten a neck by his Glorious Goodwood-bound stablemate Sound And Silence at Royal Ascot and trainer Charlie Appleby is very sweet on his chances.
Finally, two more reflections from The Curragh last week-end.
Roger Varian has been screaming the name of Nezwaah from the skies for 12 months now, so it was great to see the filly prove herself in Group 1 company in the Pretty Polly Stakes, and Goodwood’s Nassau Stakes is the next port of call.
And leading Irish jumps trainer Gordon Elliott, who is making the Flat boys sit up and take notice, looks to have a really smart two-year-old in Beckford, who beat a strong field for the Railway Stakes and will now step up to the top table for the Phoenix Stakes back at The Curragh next month.