Seven Days: Four Hundred

Aidan O'Brien with his eye on the next Group 1 target | Emma Berry 


On December 3, 1995, the G1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle was won by the Aidan O'Brien-trained Thats My Man (Ire). It is unconfirmed, but those may well have been the words uttered by John Magnier when he decided to appoint O'Brien to uphold the good reputation of his surname at Ballydoyle. This he has done with aplomb.

From that December day at Fairyhouse until Sunday at the Curragh, A P O'Brien has been the name printed alongside 400 Group or Grade 1 winners. From his roots in National Hunt, he quickly set about conquering the Flat world. In O'Brien's first year at Ballydoyle, Desert King (Ire) became his first Group 1 winner in the 1996 National Stakes in the colours of Michael Tabor, with Walter Swinburn up. The son of Danehill later became his second Classic winner, but only by 24 hours, when the trainer signalled the manner in which he intended to continue his Flat training career by saddling the winners of the Irish 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas in the same weekend. Classic Park (Ire) struck in the fillies' contest and, like so many top-class fillies trained from Ballydoyle, became influential in her stud career as the dam of Derby runner-up and sought-after National Hunt sire Walk In The Park (Ire).

Desert King went on to win the Irish Derby and later that year we would see just how well recommended by John Durkan was the brilliant Istabraq (Ire), when he posted the first of 23 wins for O'Brien and JP McManus.

O'Brien's first triumph in an Epsom Classic came in 1998, when Shahtoush (Ire) won the Oaks. Giant's Causeway was perhaps his first real superstar, with his imperious run through the high summer of 2000 foreshadowing the appearance of the horse with whom O'Brien's name will be forever entwined: Galileo (Ire).

He was of course the first of his trainer's eight Derby winners in 2001. By the end of this week it's not impossible that O'Brien will have brought his tally of Classic wins at Epsom to 20. He has six of the remaining 15 entries in the Oaks, led by Savethelastdance (Ire), a daughter of his old friend Galileo, and four of the 16 for the Derby, including the winter favourite Auguste Rodin (Ire), looking to bounce back from the disappointment of the 2,000 Guineas.

Over last weekend, it was Paddington (GB) and Luxembourg (Ire) who brought his tally of Group 1 wins to the 400 mark, with the former sparking an Irish Guineas double for Siyouni (Fr) which was completed by Tahiyra (Fr) for the Aga Khan and Dermot Weld on Sunday.

The Older Guard

Luxembourg's triumph over Bay Bridge (GB) (New Bay {GB}) and Piz Badile (Ire) (Ulysses {Ire}) in the Tattersalls Gold Cup brought to a close a treat of a week when it came to action from the older-horse brigade.

There was the rare, if not unique, spectacle of last year's Coronation Cup and Derby winner, Hukum (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and Desert Crown (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}), returning in the G3 Brigadier Gerard S. after neither had been seen in public since their respective Epsom wins. Hukum's turn of foot in the closing stages was a sight to behold as he reeled in Desert Crown as the post loomed to win by a half-length. His trainer Owen Burrows kept the ball rolling with another of his older inmates, and another grandson of Cape Cross (Ire), when the five-year-old Anmaat (Ire) became the first Group 1 winner for this sire Awtaad (Ire) in Monday's Prix d'Ispahan.

The aforementioned Luxembourg perhaps doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Like the previous weekend's Lockinge winner Modern Games (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) , he is a Group 1 winner at two, three, and four, which is no easy feat and is the mark of a proper horse.

Luxembourg's sire Camelot (GB) surely holds a place in Aidan O'Brien's heart for providing his son Joseph with a first Derby triumph as a jockey. As we head into the Derby weekend it is worth reflecting on the influence of Camelot's sire Montjeu (Ire), whose sons Motivator (GB), Authorized (Ire), and Pour Moi (Ire) also won the Derby in a seven-year-period, to be followed by Pour Moi's son Wings Of Eagles (Fr) in 2017.

The quirky but brilliant Montjeu was often derided when it came to his record as a sire of fillies, but he is currently performing well in the broodmare sire table, some 11 years after his death at the age of just 16. On Saturday, he featured as the damsire of Classic winner Paddington, while previous group winners around the world this year out of Montjeu mares include Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}), Dubai Honour (Ire) (Pride Of Dubai {Aus}) and Coltrane (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}). He has already featured as the broodmare sire of an Oaks winner, courtesy of Meon Valley Stud's 2019 victrix Anapurna (GB) (Frankel {GB}), and he could enhance that record further if Heartache Tonight (Fr) were to oblige on Friday for David Menuisier. The daughter of Recorder (GB) has been produced on the same pattern of 3×3 inbreeding to Sadler's Wells as Anapurna, and they respectively have the half-brothers Unfuwain and Nashwan in the bottom half of their pedigrees. 

It was also a big week for some of the star juveniles of 2022. Little Big Bear (Ire) (No Nay Never) pulled up lame after the 2,000 Guineas but put that firmly behind him with a resolute win in the G2 Sandy Lane S. under Frankie Dettori. In the second of two cracking sprints at Haydock, Steve Parkin's homebred G2 Queen Mary S. winner Dramatised (GB) (Showcasing {GB}) returned to lift the G2 Temple S. She heads to the G1 King's Stand S., while Little Big Bear is now a warm favourite for the G1 Commonwealth Cup.

Whitsbury World

When it comes to golden geese, Whitsbury Manor Stud appears to have one of both the male and female variety. The stud record of last year's leading freshman sire Havana Grey (GB) goes from strength to strength, and on Thursday his son Elite Status (GB) emulated his dad by winning the Listed National S. for the Karl Burke stable, becoming the first stakes winner of Havana Grey's second crop. Among those from his debut crop of three-year-olds, Mammas Girl (GB), Great State (GB) and Shouldvebeenaring (GB) are all black-type winners this year, with the last two named, along with Elite Status, having been bred by Whitsbury Manor Stud.

The stud also features this year as the breeder of 2,000 Guineas winner Chaldean (GB) (Frankel {GB}), whose half-sister Get Ahead (GB) (Showcasing {GB}) gave Whitsbury Manor yet another Listed win on Friday in the Cecil Frail S. The four-year-old thus became the fourth stakes winner for the increasingly celebrated mare Suelita (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}).

Stand By To Party

When Con and Theresa Marnane's Different League (Fr) (Dabirsim {Fr}) appeared at Royal Ascot in 2017 with two wins under her belt and promptly took the G3 Albany S., the revelling continued not just late into that night but for several months. Stand by then to join the party if Givemethebeatboys (Ire) (Bungle Inthejungle {Ire}) should follow suit for the Marnanes in the G2 Coventry S. Similarly unbeaten so far in his two starts, the Airlie Stud-bred €11,000 yearling consigned two six-figure rivals to the minor placings when winning the G3 Marble Hill S on Saturday. Like the aforementioned Chaldean and Get Ahead, he is out of a mare by Dutch Art, in this case the 1m4f winner Dromana (Ire), a half-sister to the G3 Henry II S. winner Lismore (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}).

It was a good day for the Marnanes' Bansha House Stables, which sold Salisbury debut winner Reveiller (Ire) at the Goffs UK Breeze-up Sale last month. The Archie Watson-trained colt took the tally of wins for Soldier's Call (GB) to 11. Ballyhane Stud's young sire was also trained by Watson and triumphed as a juvenile at Royal Ascot, where a number of his first-crop members will surely be heading.

Incidentally, Different League, who went from being an €8,000 foal to a 1.5 million gns in-training purchase, was represented by her first winner at the Curragh on Friday when her three-year-old son Subzero (Ire), who has borrowed his name from a Melbourne Cup winner, won the three-year-old maiden for Peter Brant and the Coolmore team.

Premierisation and Injunctions

It is generally the preference in this column to sail on and celebrate all that is good about the sport. There are, however, two looming issues which cannot presently be ignored. 

It is a desperate measure for a racecourse operator to have to apply for a High Court order in an attempt to prevent disruption at a major meeting, but this is exactly what the Jockey Club has been forced to do in the wake of overt threats from the protest group Animal Rising. On Friday, an injunction was granted for Epsom Downs, which could lead to fines and/or imprisonment for anyone attempting to prevent the smooth running of races during the Derby meeting. 

The group has been offered a spot near the entrance to the racecourse to conduct a peaceful protest, but it remains a chilling prospect that this will not be taken up, and instead the safety of the horses, which the protestors claim they want to protect, and their jockeys will potentially be put at risk by those intent on halting proceedings.

As well as facing outside threats, racing is not immune to acts of self-harm, and it remains to be seen how well the British Horseracing Authority's 'premierisation' experiment works. In announcing some of the details of this scheme on Thursday, the BHA stressed that this is a two-year trial. Its key element revolves around restricting Saturday afternoons to two premier meetings and one of lesser status, referred to as a core meeting, in order to drive betting turnover. Data supplied to the BHA by the betting industry is said to imply that a clearer schedule during the 2pm to 4pm slot will encourage punters to bet more. It seems a dubious claim, but time will tell.

What is not in doubt is that staging fewer meetings on a Saturday afternoon will have a negative affect on racecourse attendances, which are already on the wane. There are few better ways to introduce new people to the sport than through an enjoyable day out at the races, and for many working people, a weekend afternoon presents the perfect opportunity for this.  

Other racecourses beyond the three with the selected meetings can still race on a Saturday, but they must either start early enough for their races to be concluded by 2pm, or stage a twilight or evening meeting. Both options are less convenient for most racegoers (not to mention owners, trainers and racing staff).

Enhancing the current fare on offer on Sunday afternoons in Britain has also, sensibly, been suggested, and along with that will be staged a trial of Sunday evening racing. It is no surprise that the prospect of the latter has been greeted with widespread dismay. 

As stated, however, it is a trial. If owners and trainers don't like the idea, they can simply not enter to run. It has to be said that some of the language used in reference to this pilot scheme sticks in the craw a little, with the fixtures described as betting sessions rather than race meetings. These six test sessions are, of course, for “lower-grade horses” and will take place between January and March. 

The meetings are clearly not aimed at encouraging racegoers–more for the punter at home during what has been identified as a time when “betting activity tends to be strong”. But the horses and the travelling staff still have to get there and, more importantly during the winter months, get home safely in the cold and dark. The same goes for the owners of those lower-grade horses, plenty of whom enjoy actually going racing to see them run. It is up to them and their trainers to decide whether this is a step too far, or whether the rewards on offer will be enough to entice them away from Countryfile on a Sunday evening.


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