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?