O'Brien Has Lots of Thinking to Do

Is Aidan O’Brien loaded this year? Are baked potatoes with cheddar cheese, bacon, garlic, butter, and sour cream loaded? Let’s just say that dish is not nearly as rich as the Master of Ballydoyle, whose success in less than four months of racing might be considered bordering on obscene by rival trainers.
But here in the States, no one gives a hoot what his rivals think. A prosperous O’Brien means a prosperous Breeders’ Cup, and a prosperous Breeders’ Cup often is due in good part to a full-scale invasion launched by the conquering commandos of Cashel.
And General O’Brien has assembled quite a potent army this year, with top-class horses being aimed at possible targets such as the group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Juddmonte International in England, Irish Champion Stakes in Ireland, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Turf, and Mile in America, and Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in Australia.
With former Australian superhorse So You Think’s gutsy victory over last year’s English Derby and Arc winner Workforce in the group I Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, O’Brien this year has won the Eclipse and group I Tattersalls Gold Cup, finished one-two-three in the Irish Derby, winning that classic for the sixth year in a row; finished one-two in the Irish 1,000 Guineas; won the Irish 2,000 Guineas; finished second, beaten a head in the English Derby, and was also a close fourth at Epsom; won the group I Ascot Gold Cup; won the group I Coronation Cup; demolished champion Midday in the group I Pretty Polly Stakes; finished a close second to potential superstar Frankel in the St. James’s Palace Stakes; won a pair of 2-year-old stakes – the group II Coventry Stakes and listed Chesham Stakes – at Royal Ascot; and won the group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Who knows where this gluttony of talent will wind up this fall. So You Think, who is most accomplished at 10 furlongs, could go for the King George or Juddmonte International or Irish Champion Stakes or Breeders’ Cup Classic or return to Australia to try for his third Cox Plate.
Await the Dawn, a vastly improving powerhouse of a colt, has won four straight and five of six lifetime, and has won three consecutive stakes – the group III Kilternan and Huxley Stakes and group II Hardwicke Stakes – by a combined 16 1/2 lengths. By Giant’s Causeway, out of a Dixieland Band mare, this impressive-looking colt could be O’Brien’s best shot at the BC Classic since his sire’s heartbreaking defeat in 2000.
And don’t think for a second he isn’t aware of that. After the 1 1/2-mile Hardwicke, O’Brien said, “I’d say he won in spite of the (soft) ground, as he’s a daisy-cutter. We were hoping he had so much class he’d get the mile and a half. We think he’s a very serious horse. We were always dreaming of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the dream is still alive.”

After crushing Midday by six lengths in the Pretty Polly Stakes, the 3-year-old filly Misty For Me, who also won the Irish 1,000 Guineas, likely will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), according to O’Brien.
And O’Brien could have a legitimate candidate for the BC Mile after Zoffany’s flying finish in the St. James’s Palace Stakes, in which he was bearing down on the freakish Frankel, who had won all six of his career starts by an average margin of six lengths, which is unheard of in Europe. By falling only three-quarters of a length short, Zoffany, already a group I winner last year, looks to have a bright future.
O’Brien also has Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Roderic O’Connor as a potential BC Mile horse. After disappointing efforts in the French and Irish Derby, he likely will be returned to mile races. He also was a group I winner last year, taking the Criterium International at Longchamp, and finished a respectable second to Frankel, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the group I Dewhurst Stakes.
O’Brien has several top mile and a half horses, headed by Treasure Beach, winner of the Irish Derby and second, beaten a head, in the English Derby; Seville, second in the Irish Derby, beaten three-quarters of a length, and second in the group II Dante Stakes; the hard-hitting Memphis Tennessee, third in the Irish Derby and fourth, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in the English Derby; St. Nicholas Abbey, winner of the group I Coronation Cup and a nine-length winner of the group III Ormonde Stakes; and even Cape Blanco, last year’s Irish Derby and Irish Champion Stakes winner who finished fourth, beaten only a length, in this year’s Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). He was totally out of his element in the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes against the likes of Goldikova and Canford Cliffs in his last start and will be better suited returning to 1 1/4- or 1 1/2-mile races. For whatever it's worth, O'Brien nominated him to Saturday's Man o'War Stakes (gr. IT).
As for Fame and Glory, a five-length winner of the 2009 Irish Derby and second in the English Derby, and winner of the Coronation Cup and Tattersalls Gold Cup last year, this 5-year-old son of Montjeu scored by three lengths in this year’s 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup, despite never having run farther than 1 3/4 miles in his career. Could he be heading for the Melbourne Cup?
What is worth noting about O’Brien’s powerful stable is that six of his top horses – Treasure Beach, Misty For Me, Seville, Roderic O’Connor, Cape Blanco, and Chesham Stakes winner Maybe – are all by Galileo, who was a superhorse for O’Brien and Coolmore in 2001.
One final note about So You Think, if you want to know why he was revered in Australia as one of the all-time greats, and prompted O’Brien to indicate he may be the best horse he’s ever trained, consider this. In his final three starts Down Under, he won the prestigious Cox Plate at 1 1/4 miles for the second time, won Group I Mackinnon Stakes at 1 1/4 miles seven days later, and then stretched out to two miles and finished third, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the Melbourne Cup three days later in a 23-horse field.
When he won the Eclipse Stakes after a gut-wrenching stretch run, he was coming back only 17 days after his stunning defeat in the group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes, a defeat for which O’Brien took sole responsibility, blaming himself for under-training the horse. It also didn’t help that his pacesetter messed up the strategy and forced jockey Ryan Moore to go to the front too soon, where he was nailed at the wire by a true stayer and powerful finisher in Rewilding.
In the Eclipse, Moore took off So You Think to ride Workforce for his regular client, Sir Michael Stoute. Moore had ridden Workforce in all of his races and now knew everything about his main rival. If So You Think had any chinks in his armor or any likes and dislikes, Moore was in position to take advantage of it.
As it turned out, Moore had Seamus Heffernan, on So You Think, trying to figure out where to go until it looked as if he had waited too long to make a decision. When Workforce outran So You Think early and tracked his own pace-setter, trying to make the race more of a test of stamina, it left Heffernan to decide when to make his run and where. But after the Prince of Wales’s debacle, this is just where O’Brien wanted So You Think – held up for one run.
Turning for home, Workforce took over from his stablemate, who had allowed him to slip through a gaping hole on the rail, and Heffernan had to decide whether to attempt to split them or sit and wait for Workforce to come off the fence.
He sat and waited, and for a brief moment seemed to contemplate trying to sneak his way through on the inside. Workforce not only held his ground he kicked for home and seemed to have gotten an insurmountable jump on So You Think, who was quickly running out of time. When Heffernan finally played his cards and steered So You Think outside Workforce, it looked to be too little too late. Workforce wasn’t coming back and So You Think was not making up any ground on him. Then, inside the furlong marker, So You Think showed why he is a true champion. He lowered his head and neck and found another gear, eventually wearing down a stubborn Workforce to win by a half-length. Clocking the final quarter, it showed that So You Think had come home in :23 4/5, and that’s running uphill.
So, with Royal Ascot and the Eclipse over, O’Brien now must plan his summer strategy, which pretty much will be a springboard to the big fall championship races. Whatever battle plan he comes up with, O’Brien already has had a memorable year that could ascend to historic heights with a big second half.
It is hoped that the Breeders’ Cup will be the beneficiary of that success. How special would it be for O’Brien and the Coolmore gang to finally land a Classic with a son of Giant’s Causeway over the same track the “Iron Horse of Ballydoyle” suffered his agonizing defeat at the hands of Tiznow 11 years earlier?


Leave a Comment:

Karen in Indiana

I watched So You Think in both of those last 2 races and thought the same as you in the Eclipse - that there was no way he was going to make up that much ground in that short a time.I was impressed and even more so now that you've let us know it was only 17 days apart (time flies).

What I find interesting about this list of horses - Galileo, Workforce & So You Think - is how much North American bloodlines they have and the distances they are routinely running (or have run). That and the fact that so many thoroughbreds who formerly raced on the flats are doing well in steeplechasing here in the States kind of puts the lie, at least to my eyes, that the breed is getting fragile. Races started shortening up and times between started lengthening when horses started being 'managed' instead of being 'trained'. There's a difference. Just knowing what goes into training a horse, I don't see how the big box trainers could do it right and stay in business. It would take more time and personnel than they could afford.

I'll get off my soapbox now. You are right - this Breeder's Cup may be very competitive and interesting if they ship some of these superstars over.

05 Jul 2011 12:57 PM

Wow is all I can say. I knew Mr O'Brien was having a good year but seeing it summarized leaves me speechless. I'm loving all the BH coverage of the English and Irish racing.

05 Jul 2011 2:03 PM

With a less than imposing group of older horses on both dirt and turf stateside, the Breeder's Cup Classic and Turf are ripe for the taking by foreign invaders.  As the blog clearly illustrates, O'Brien is loaded.  On the domestic side I am anxious to see Twirling Candy in Hollywood Gold Cup this weekend.  He does have some upside.

05 Jul 2011 2:59 PM

might be a long post this, so apologies in advance.

told you the eclipse would be worth watching on a previous blog. what a race. must say I was impressed with so you think up to half a furlong out at ascot but at sandown. oh boy, the horse is a monster. looks like he should be running in the chases at sandown not the group 1s on the flat. cannot quite work out whether he gets 12 furlongs. await the dawn also looked very good. but I will wait for the day that a european-trained horse wins the bc classic at cd when I see it.

as for the other horses, yes they are good horses, but there is no real standout there. see how cape blanco does on saturday in ny. the others are not really standout for me. yes, they have cleaned up a lot of races but I have yet to be convinced by st nicholas abbey (might be wrong there), misty for me's win over midday was in the bog. fame and glory will stick to the cup races over 2 miles plus. zoffany got turned over in france at the weekend and frankel's star seems to be fading already. it may just be that apart from so you think, canford cliffs, goldikova, pour moi, and maybe await the dawn, we just don't have a very good crop of horses in europe at the moment. perhaps workforce, rewilding or redwood can prove to be something. I am really not convinced of the horses behind pour moi in the derby, maybe I'm wrong. you can't argue with the ballydoyle wins but not really convinced of the quality. steve, you are right, they have cleaned up but I for one am not sure they are world beaters. I think perhaps khaled abdulla has more up his sleeve, which given its size is understandable.

thanks for doing this piece. it's nice to see an article on european racing. I know you do quite a few. was very impressed with the two-year old power at ascot that you mentioned.      

05 Jul 2011 6:57 PM
Abigail Anderson

Okay...if my Damascus stole your heart, this article on O'Brien has stolen mine! And, may I add, you can really pack a punch, Steve, when it comes to trimming a subject that could go on and on into a tantalizing tale of great horses and Ballydoyle possibilities!!! I just adore So You Think and thought your salute to him just fantastic because he really is a great, great horse, as his last run on UK soil proved. In fact, his Aussie trainer was pretty devastated by his defeat at Ascot, saying that he thought O'Brien was not pushing him hard enough. Your info. on his Aussie campaign tells us why he thought that.

I also think Misty For Me (LOL!) is a wonderful filly, although the others in the O'Brien line-up are not to be ignored by any means. I am a huge fan of Canada's little champion, Northern Dancer, and so am pleased to see Galileo's apparent talent at stud. Coolmore will certainly be looking for another Sadler's Wells and between Galileo and Montjeu, they might come pretty close.

What interests me even more about Ballydoyle-Coolmore is their loyalty to the Dancer sire line and their enormous success at breeding them. (As most of your readers will know, this reflects a master plan hatched by the late great Vincent O'Brien and millionaire Robert Sangster who were truly bereaved to lose Nijinsky to the USA...followed by El Gran Senor, The Minstrel and other Irish-trained champions. They decided to find another thoroughbred as potent as Nijinsky and finally found him in Sadler's Wells.)

And guess what? Our Rags To Riches has just produced a Galileo colt.....imagine that, right? I can hardly wait!!!!

05 Jul 2011 7:06 PM


This is one of your best. Every time you touch British racing you deliver the goods.

Thank you for giving the closing time for the Eclipse. Both horses were winners covering the final quarter in 23 4/5, while traveling uphill under 133 lbs, in a race that employed a pacemaker. These treats do not occur every day.

It is truly remarkable that Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore keep doing it while relaying largely on their own stallions. They have created a dynasty which we will be talking about for years.

Each time O'Brien wins a Grade 1, I wonder whether we are looking at the next great thing. Then I am reminded that he finished second in the Epsom Derby to another Coolmore production, Pour Moi. They can do little wrong.

Nothing they do in the Breeders Cup will be a surprise.

Great going Steve.

05 Jul 2011 7:16 PM

Steve, O'Brien and Coolmore are always loaded. They have the best horses but what makes it hard for them to dominate the BC is he gets the horses to peak for the major races of the European season. As a result the horses who do run are at the end of their season and over the top. There are other factors as well. As a racing fan, I wish they would train the horses to peak for the BC so us fans could see really good performances on BC day. Steve, do you think any turf horse from America could win any of those top races in Europe running off the plane at anytime of the year? Answer......No way!

05 Jul 2011 10:59 PM
Needler in Virginia

Steve, I know this is premature, but I see Trainer of the Year looming on the horizon above Ballydoyle; how on Earth can anyone argue that? Mr O'Brien has the clients, the horses, the horsemanship, the good sense and the Irish Touch. What more could anyone ask? I hope we see all his horses at the BC, and wish him, and them, well.

Cheers and safe trips.

06 Jul 2011 10:41 AM
Arthur Wellesley

Being English and attending Sandown last Saturday (via trian) I feel obliged to comment on what you have written. So You Think only beat Workforce because the Arc hero is a mile and a half horse who struggles to quicken at a faster horses rate when running over 1m1/4. The Coolmore horse is at his best over the latter. If Sir Michael Stoute was not so determined to increase the stud value for the Prince then Workforce would have been aimed for the Corronation Cup on Derby day. Being on course to witness Sir Nicholas Abbey's victory that day I can say with 99% certainty that Ryan Moore would have ridden this Khallid Abdulla horse to victory that day. I have no doubt that So You Think is a good horse but over 1m4f he couldn't beat the likes of Rewlilding, Workforce and Pour Moi. The horse was fantastic looking and looks the spitting image of High Chapparal but not a patch on Sea The Stars (of whom I also saw win the Eclipse). However, on the main point: Aiden O'Brien has failed to really hit the best races in the world in recent years. He failed to train a horse to come within 15lengths of Frankel in the 2000 Guineas and beaten by a substandard horse in the fillies version. His horse was outgunned in the Oaks (in which I backed the winner at 20/1) and it was the same the day after in the world famous Derby. Fame And Glory won a vey substandard Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and isn't a patch on Yeats. Although I was very impressed with Wonder Of Wonder's who doesn't seem good enough for the Arc so the BC is a realistic target over 1m2f. And I will again inform you that nearly the whole Eclispe field including the 1,2 are traced back to the greatest sire of them all Hyperion. So You Think has had massive problems with quarantine and I don't see him running in Australia again or America. I was very suprised that he's even in the betting for th Arc as he's an unlikely runner and is more likely to go for the Champion Stakes at Ascot or if quarantine is sorted then maybe the BC. Fame And Glory is being re-trained for 1m4f throughout the rest of the seaon and wont even have the Melbourne Cup on the list of possible races. Misty For Me may well be kept to 1m2f after he defeat of Midday who could go Yorkshire Oaks and then ever the fillies race at the Arc meeting or at BC meeting. I feel as if her new optimum trip is 1m4f which could rule her out of both. Back to the winner, Misty For Me will probably go for the Irish Oaks but she'll be too streched over that trip and will probs go stay in Ireland for the remainer of the season. Zoffany has impressed me on all 3 starts this season but can't seem to win but maybe a tilt at the sussex or a drop to seven furlongs could be ideal but he lacks the sting of his faster mile competetors. Roderic O'connor was like many Richard Hannon horses who progress very strongly as a two year old but don't as 3yrolds, allowing the rest to catch him up. He may well drop in class for a confidence boost and stick to the mile races (as you predicted). And the rest of the season will have to pan out right if he's to be aimed abroad. Unfortuantly I don't see a European trained horse winning the Classic now its on DIRT! And a horse shant drop back from 1m4f to 1m2f on that. Its more likely for a proffesional 1m2f horse like Twice Over (who's forms abandoned him) or Carlton House who is all the horse a 1m2f specialist. I see it being won by a miler stepping up like Raven's Pass did in 2007 or was it 2008? but thats unlikely given this years milers. Around the world there is no amazing middle distance horse unless Pour Moi proves himself but given his gap I don't think he's anything special like Animal Kingdom who was a massive flop for all that Yank hype. Workforce, all going right, will win the Arc again beating Rewlilding who will be caught out by the course and distance. So You Think will beat Twice Over in the Juddmonte and then go for the Irish Champion Stakes. The worlds best mile horses will clash in the Sussex in which i desperatly hope the monster that is Frankel beats the class act of Canford Cliffs. I know there must be Goldikova fans here but I was jumping for joy when Canford Cliffs beat her and proved there isn't an older horse on the planet that could beat him. But back to the point. When was the last time O'Brien trained an original classic winner? He has the goodins thanks to Coolmore's stud quality but their no.1 trainer can't land any of the triple crown races. I do agree with Exbourne who is right in saying that our trainers get their flat horses to the best of their ability for the summer and try to get the horse so good that they have the class to win the Arc. That was the case with Sea The Stars - he was soo good come his Derby win that he could just keep on rolling through the season. But the BC comes in November which is too late for the top guns over here. And I also have to agree with the above that an American trained horse could not win a summer Group 1 over here or even a classic. I would say likewise for dirt over the winter in america but Raven's Pass did win (though that was on AW).

06 Jul 2011 12:50 PM


I reckon there are, or least in the past have been, plenty of u.s. horses that could have stepped off the plane and won big races in europe. and I hope this will be the next big thing in racing, u.s. horses coming over and having a crack at the big races in england and france. it's got to be well planned and the courses are up hill and down dale in england but it can be done.

remember. it took european horses at least about ten years to establish themselves properly at the breeders cup, then the floodgates opened.

06 Jul 2011 5:57 PM
Fran Loszynski

That's why I know it hurts when we see our champions stabled or leave to live in other countries, but that's how the industry is going to survive and I know if a famous horse I liked left it would bother me, so a compromise would be just to race in those countries and return the champions to their home in the U.S. Alot of countries love our horses and have alot of fans. I personally think the racehorses from Ireland have the great red dirt of Ireland's hills in their blood! On another note-Have a great life Dublin-it was awesome to see you in the Kentucky Derby like Dad Afleet Alex. Steve, just came back from seeing the great Afleet Alex he says Hey! or Hay!

07 Jul 2011 11:01 AM
On the Nose

So, how's O'Brien's record in the Breeders Cup?  I also hope to see him run a ton of horses again this year, and I'll bet against every single one of them.  If past form holds, I'll make some money.

08 Jul 2011 10:30 PM

With O'Brien's "potent army" having to compete on good ol' American dirt this year instead of a synthetic surface I'll stick with the stateside competitors at the betting window in the non-turf races.

10 Jul 2011 1:07 AM

Steve, thank you for a great story on Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien.  So You Think really captured my attention and heart with the Coral Eclipse.  Australia should surely consider him a national treasure.  I was heart broken when he didn't win the Melbourne Cup, thought he had the Prince of Wales, and was blown away by the Eclipse.

If memory serves me, Wesley Ward recently competed in the UK, but couldn't conquer the UK's top turf runners.  And Cape Blanco crushed the USA's turf Champion, Gio Ponti yesterday.  I would certainly agree that O'Brien  is fully loaded with some of the best ammunition in international racing today, and quite of few of his stable are already here and winning their races with infinite ease.  (They must think they're on a picnic when they run over a flat turf course rather than the undulating UK turf races.)

And Danny from the UK...what's up with Kingsgate Native?  I've always liked him but he can't seem to come in better than 6th or 7th this year.

I do believe that this is the year that Aidan O'Brien can sweep the turf races in the BC....and more power to him...he's already working with the best ever.

10 Jul 2011 8:49 AM

Coolmore/Ballydoyle, top to bottom, has the most dominant stable in racing right now, bar none!! The roster of great's currently residing in Ireland right now read's like a who's who. So You Think, Fame and Glory, St Nicholas Abbey, Cape Blanco, Await The Dawn, Treasure Beach, Misty For Me, Zoffany, and the list goes on. O'Brien's horses are going to be extremely difficult to beat in the any of the Breeders Cup Turf races this season. Also, with the retirement of the likes of Zenyatta, Blame, Lookin At Lucky, and Quality Road, I think O'Brien has a huge shot in this year's Classic with Await The Dawn. He's won all but one of his career starts, and his pedigree suggest that he may be even better on conventional dirt than he is on turf? Await The Dawn is sired by Giant's Causeway, who came within a nose of winning the 2000 Classic at Churchill Downs. Giant's Causeway by the great Storm Cat. His dam side is Valentine Band. Out of Dixieland Band. Who was quite a good conventional dirt horse in his day as well. With no standout this year among the older American horses, and what I frankly believe to be one of the weakest crop of 3yr.old's I've seen in years, I think Await The Dawn will take a world of beating in this year's Classic!! JMO.

26 Jul 2011 3:36 PM

Bake it, broil it, fry it, or fix it up anyway you like? There's no other way to say it than 2011 is an extremely down year for American racing. Especially among the middle distance horses. There's no standout's whatsoever among the older horses with the retirement of Zenyatta, Blame, Lookin At Lucky, and Quality Road. And 2011 has produced what I deem to be one of the weakest crop's of 3yr.old's that I can remember for eons. American racing fan's better get ready, because the European's are very likely to dominate the 2011 Breeders Cup, and they know it!! There's not a trainer anywhere in racing that will be at Churchill Downs with any stronger a team than Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore/Ballydoyle team will have. Cape Blanco has already proven his turf superiority in America by winning the G1 Man O' War and G1 Arlington Million. Now he's coming back for the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over 12f at Belmont. Which should set him perfectly for the B.C. Turf. His 3yr.old Irish Derby and Secretariat Stakes winner, Treasure Beach, is also likely for the B.C. Turf. But it's Coolmore's Australian superstar, So You Think, that could really light the Breeders Cup up this year. Although he too has an automatic "win and your in" for the B.C. Turf by winning the G1 Irish Champion Stakes. I firmly believe that Coolmore have every intention of running So You Think in this year's Classic. There's not a better middle distance horse in Europe than So You Think, and 1-1/4, in-particular, is his specialty!! Even on conventional dirt, So You Think is such a strong galloper at 10f that he'll gallop the American horses in the Classic off their feet. Let's not forget Goldikova coming back for a 4th B.C. Mile, and the French mare, Stacelita, looks a really good bet for the F&M Turf, also.

05 Sep 2011 4:58 PM

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