Guineas-Bound Porta Fortuna Spearheads Strong Team for Donnacha O'Brien

Porta Fortuna claims the G1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park S. | Getty Images


Donnacha O'Brien has a lot to look forward to as he launches into his fifth year of training since retiring as a champion jockey in Ireland.

The 25-year-old, who operates under the nom-de-course Bawnmore Racing, is off to a fast start already this spring as he had his first 2-year-old winner of the year at Dundalk on April 13 with Usdi Atohi (Ire) (Ten Sovereigns {Ire}) and just this past weekend at the Curragh, his 4-year-old trainee Yosemite Valley (GB) (Shamardal) claimed the listed Lester Piggott Gladness S. But there is plenty more horsepower in the pipeline back at O'Brien's base in County Tipperary and of course the horse that everyone is asking about is still backstage preparing for her much-anticipated 3-year-old debut.

Porta Fortuna (Ire) (Caravaggio), a top juvenile in 2023 whose victories include the G1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park S., will return to the spotlight for the G1 Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Sunday, May 5.

Like many horsemen who attempted to circumvent the temperamental weather over the winter, O'Brien has had to remain flexible while constructing an early campaign for his star filly. He initially considered sending her to the G3 Ballylinch Stud 'Priory Belle' 1,000 Guineas Trial S. at Leopardstown on April 7, but opted to skip the contest due to less-than-optimal conditions and point straight for Newmarket.

“The weather has been a bit of a nightmare,” O'Brien admitted. “Just trying to get them on grass and make sure their works all go okay and trying to get them to come into their coats. But Porta Fortuna has strengthened up very well over the winter. She was always quite a long filly, not very tall, so we think she has grown a little bit. She has filled into her frame and strengthened up behind the saddle. I think she's more mature mentally as well, so we're very happy with her.”

Porta Fortuna took O'Brien's team and her American owners on a thrilling journey last year. Bought by partners Medallion Racing, Parkland Thoroughbreds, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Barry Fowler after her winning debut, the daughter of Caravaggio quickly reeled off victories in the G3 Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies Sprint S. and G3 Albany S. for her new owners and then placed in a pair of Group 1 contests before claiming the Cheveley Park.

One of four Group 1 winners O'Brien has already campaigned, 'Porta' has always been a yard favourite having been bred by Donnacha's parents Aidan and Annemarie O'Brien, but the ever-dependable filly also went on to become Donnacha's first Breeders' Cup performer as a trainer. She put in a game runner-up effort half a length behind Hard to Justify (Justify) in the GI Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita Park.

“She's a very special filly in many ways,” O'Brien reflected. “It's a very hard thing for a filly to do, to have that many races and have that long of a year. Her best two performances were arguably her last two races. She's just a super tough, consistent filly and we're really lucky to have her in the yard. We think she's in a good place and we're excited for the year.”

When Porta Fortuna's syndicate originally purchased the filly, their plan was to get to Ascot and then bring her to the U.S. But as she put in one breakout performance after another, there became fewer opportunities for her to race in America at the top level so they decided to keep her at her home base until the Breeders' Cup. The situation is similar this year, with only a handful of Grade I races available for 3-year-old turf fillies in the U.S.

“Pretty much all of those races are at or over a mile and an eighth,” explained Medallion Racing's Phillip Shelton. “So I think a lot of it depends on how she handles the trip in the Guineas. A mile might be the absolute max she can handle, but there's plenty of pedigree that makes you think she could stretch.”

Porta Fortuna's dam Too Precious (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) was a winner going over a mile and another daughter of Caravaggio, Whitebeam (GB), has thrived since shipping to the States and claimed last summer's GI Diana S. at a mile and an eighth.

O'Brien also seems to believe that Porta Fortuna should handle added distance.

“We'll see how the Guineas goes,” he noted. “We're still not 100% sure what her trip is going to be, but I think she's bred to stay a mile. We'll start her off in Newmarket and depending on how that goes, we're probably going to Ascot whether it be for the Coronation or possibly back to the Commonwealth if we feel that she hasn't really stayed in the Guineas.”

Despite Porta Fortuna's upcoming start happening during one of the biggest weekends in American racing with the GI Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, several members of the filly's ownership group will be making the trip across the pond for the occasion.

Shelton will be especially busy as he watches another Medallion-owned horse race during the Kentucky Oaks undercard Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs and then boards an overnight flight with the hopes of reaching Newmarket well before Porta Fortuna's performance on Sunday.

Porta Fortuna at Santa Anita Park | Horsephotos

Medallion Racing is the racing partnership branch of Taylor Made Farm and was created with the goal of taking its investors to the biggest days in racing. Over the past year, Medallion Racing and the other members of Porta Fortuna's syndicate have expanded their involvement both in O'Brien's yard and in European racing at large. This year Medallion Racing, which focuses specifically on fillies, has a pair of 2-year-olds with Paddy Twomey and four juveniles with O'Brien.

The half-sister to Porta Fortuna stands out among O'Brien's quartet. Named Sorella Carina (Ire), the daughter of Ten Sovereigns was bought for 400,000gns in Book 1 of the 2023 Tattersalls October Yearling Sale by Avenue Bloodstock, Medallion Racing and M.V. Magnier. She is slated to debut either this Saturday at Navan or on Monday at Naas.

The group is rounded out by three more fillies recently named Sharpen (Ire) (Fastnet Rock (Aus}), Fitzroy Gardens (Ire) (Australia {GB}) and Lush Lips (Ire) (Ten Sovereigns {Ire}) who were bought for £200,000, £100,000 and £82,000 respectively.

“We tried to buy a balance of horses that we felt like were going to be early, or at least early enough to have an Ascot dream with, and then a couple others that will be later maturing,” said Shelton.

In the past, Medallion Racing has focused on purchasing horses that have already won with the goal of bringing them to the U.S., but it appears that Porta Fortuna may have set a new standard for the partnership. Shelton said that their group's experience at Ascot last year combined with a trip to Ireland to visit O'Brien's yard the following week inspired several members of the syndicate to express an interest in going out and buying yearlings to race in Europe.

“Ninety per cent of our horses are in America and all of our partners are in America, but we've had some success with Euro imports,” he explained. “We had 21 partners go over to Ireland and it was a very cool experience. Everyone got to tour Donnacha's yard and I think for a lot of people, they thought it was a way better environment for the horse than being at the track. Donnacha was very gracious with his time and came to dinner with us one night. He gave a lot of access to our partners.”

Communication is key for a syndicate group based an ocean away from their horses and Shelton said that this is another factor that has increased their involvement in O'Brien's program.

“Every time one of our fillies breezes, I get a video and a voice note,” said Shelton. “He is brutally honest. If the filly isn't doing good, you're going to hear about it. If one has an issue, you'll know. I can share the voice notes to all of my partners and it's not just me recapping a conversation. Our partners can be comfortable hearing the good and the bad.”

Medallion Racing and the rest of Porta Fortuna's syndicate are not the only American groups who have found their way to O'Brien. D.J. Stable, Commonwealth Racing and Ocean Reef Racing are all part of a growing list of clientele.

 “We've been trying to get more owners in the yard and obviously fillies like Porta make it easier,” said O'Brien. “Through her and through different people we've been able to get some American clients which has been fantastic. We're lucky to have them and hoping to continue to expand over the next few years.”

Bawnmore Racing, which is based just outside Cashel and is David Wachman's former yard, has its biggest crop of 2-year-olds yet this year and the ambitious O'Brien shows no signs of slowing down.

“I think we have about 45 to 50 2-year-olds overall, so a nice mix of some earlier types and some later types,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to grow slowly. We want to make sure we have the right people and facilities to be able to deal with the number of horses. We want to grow in terms of quality as well, which is important. I don't see myself ever having 250 or 300 horses or those kinds of numbers, but we're hoping to gradually grow and we'll see where it takes us.”


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