Geoff Lester
5 minute read
6 Sep 2017
11:56 am

Crunch time for Aiden O’Brien’s tilt at record

Geoff Lester

Winx makes it 19 straight wins.

BIG FANCY. Aiden O’Brien-trained Churchill is as short as 8-10 for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopards- town on Saturday. PHOTO: Racing Post.

London – How Coolmore fare at Leopardstown on Saturday and The Curragh 24 hours later will be crucial in Aidan O’Brien’s a empt to close in on Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group 1 winners in a season, set in 2003.

These are the two biggest days racing of the year in the Emerald Isle, making up Irish Champions weekend, and with O’Brien having the favourite for all five of the top-level races being run it could be a case of “make or break” if he has any chance of emulating the late Californian trainer.

Drawing a blank at last month’s Ebor meeting at York was a big blow to O’Brien’s hopes, but he bounced back with Sioux Nation to take his Group 1 tally in 2017 to 14, courtesy of another success in the Phoenix Stakes, and he will also gain some comfort from the fact that 10 of his top-table celebrations last year came from September onwards.

Twice O’Brien has got within two of Frankel’s record, in 2001 and 2008, but though he has Irish Derby winner Capri as one of the favourites for the St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday week and the globetrotting Highland Reel heading his squad for a Breeders Cup raid at Del Mar in November, he’ll need to win at least three big ones this weekend to keep the home res burning.

However, even without Minding, who has been retired to stud, O’Brien has assembled a powerful team for Ireland’s most prestigious two days, with Winter or Roly Poly (Matron Stakes), Churchill (Irish Champion), Clemmie, Happily and Magical (Moyglare), Gustav Klimt (National Stakes) and Order Of St George (Irish St Leger) all having rock-solid claims of taking centre-stage.

WINTER, who is filling Minding’s shoes, was O’Brien’s best filly early summer, following up her brilliant Newmarket classic triumph by beating Roly Poly in both the Irish 1000 and the Coronation Stakes, but ROLY POLY has improved since, winning both the Falmouth at Newmarket’s July meeting and the Prix Rothschild in Deauville, and Ryan Moore seems con dent of winning whichever Aidan finally decides to run.

Similarly, Ryan is bullish about CHURCHILL, who has frightened off the other big players, having run a stormer to finish second to Ulysses in the Juddmonte International at York, where the step up in distance seemed to suit him.

O’Brien is spoilt for choice with his two-year-old fillies, but I have maintained all along that CLEMMIE was a bit special – and she certainly looked just that when winning the Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge at Newmarket.

Ryan loves Clemmie, too, and is convinced she could improve for going up to 1400m in the Moyglare.

GUSTAV KLIMT is second- favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas, so with the much-heralded Goodwood winner Expert Eye having been taken out of the National Stakes because of a dirty scope – he waits for the De- whurst – this one looks a penalty kick, while playing at home gives a great advantage to ORDER OF ST GEORGE for his eagerly awaited clash with the popular Big Orange in their Leger.

Feature in Britain on Saturday is the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup, but while Harry Angel looks a worthy favourite, his odds are skinny for a horse who has not run since the July Cup and I think at around 5-1 BRANDO is “an Each- way bet to nothing.”

Brando was only third to Harry Angel at Newmarket, but Kevin Ryan, his trainer, had to shut down his entire stable through June because of an equine herpes virus, and Brando was “only just ready” for the July Cup.

Having since won the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville, Brando’s confidence is sky high, and his yard has enjoyed a purple patch these last six weeks and are making up for that lost time.

However, Clive Cox, who trains Harry Angel, could gain some compensation in the Group 2 Flying Five at The Curragh on Sunday with PROFITABLE, who, despite coming up a touch short in the Nunthorpe at York, is still capable of winning a big one.

And with a cloud hanging over Coolmore’s hype machine Caravaggio, who has had feet problems in recent races, Profitable could leave us just that.

On the world stage that remarkable Australian mare Winx made it 19 straight wins, thereby equalling the feat of Zenyatta, America’s first female winner of the Breeders Cup Classic, and New Zealand superstar Gloaming by sprouting wings up the straight to land the Chelmsford at Randwick last weekend.

It was probably one of Winx’s greatest performances as the Sydney crowd were preparing for the unthinkable as the 1-11 favourite still had a mountain to climb with just 200m to travel.

Winx had “got out of jail” in her previous race, the Warwick, in which she completely blew the start, but in first-time earplugs, she broke well this time, only to find the trailblazing 25-1 outsider Red Excitement opening up a 10-lengths lead and seemingly still full of running turning into the straight.

Jockey Hugh Bowman admitted afterwards that while he reduced the deficit to five as he moved into second place, he was “running out of time and seriously worried”.

However, engaging the after burner at the 150m mark, Bowman got an explosive response from Winx, who was back on the bridle six strides from the post, ultimately winning snugly by a length.

That flying Aussie sprinter Black Caviar holds the record number of straight wins worldwide (25), but while you would not bet against Winx emulating that figure next year, the main priority remains drawing alongside the legendary Kingston Town in winning a third Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on 28 October.

Meanwhile, while Arrogate, undisputed Horse Of The Year in America last season, has lost his mojo, looking a pale imposter of the colt who produced spinetingling victories in the Travers, Breeders Cup Classic, Pegasus and Dubai World Cup when beaten in his last two races at Del Mar, USA racefans have found a new hero in Gun Runner.

Arrogate had cut down Gun Runner with ridiculous ease up the home stretch at Meydan in March, but the runner-up has clearly improved, because he looked even better back at Saratoga last Saturday.