Aidan O’Brien is simply a phenomenon in the world of racing. A record-breaking National Hunt trainer in the initial stages of his career, his abundant talents didn’t go unnoticed and he was appointed as the trainer in the historic Ballydoyle complex in 1996 at the age of just 26. He quickly established himself as a dominant force in Irish racing and since then has broken every record worth breaking and won every race worth winning in Europe and beyond.
As always, O’Brien has an array of stars under his care for the new season and he was good enough to sit down with attheraces.com to discuss their prospects for the 2016 season.
AIR FORCE BLUE
3 b c War Front – Chatham
Rated 124, he was crowned European Champion Two-Year-Old having become the first-ever horse to complete the Group 1 triple of the Phoenix Stakes, the National Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes. He proved very disappointing on his seasonal reappearance in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“I think anything I did for the 2000 Guineas, I won’t do again, as it was a dramatic failure, really! Everything was smooth all the way to Newmarket. He never disappointed in his work and the horse he was working with went on to finish fourth in the 2000 Guineas, but he didn’t perform on the day.
We put on the tongue tie because in his second-last piece of work, I was just a bit shocked how quick he was and I thought he’d struggle to get the mile if he did that at Newmarket. Sometimes when you put a tongue tie and a crossed noseband on a horse, it can make them slow down and back off a little bit. It seemed to work well straight away in his canters at home, but it just didn’t work out at Newmarket. He might not always look like he is racing very freely as he has a very good head position when galloping, but if you watch closely, he was doing plenty.
Some would say that if the trip was the issue, that he should have travelled better for longer than he did, but it’s not always like that, as the pace is so different over a mile than over six furlongs. When you are restricting a horse from going the sort of pace they naturally want to go, they often don’t get much further than four or five furlongs. It might sound strange, but if a horse like that was allowed go six-furlong pace from the start in a Guineas, they would probably be competitive for longer than they would if restrained early on. I remember with Stravinsky, he wasn’t even able to win over seven furlongs against three-year-olds as the tempo just wasn’t strong enough for him, but as soon as we dropped him back to six furlongs and then to five furlongs, he came into his own.
With the tongue tie and crossed noseband, you’re making calls on things like this all the time and sometimes you can make very bad calls. I would always rather try something like that if I felt it would make the horse perform better and learn from what happens whether it works well or not and not be afraid to say it was the wrong call afterwards. So, we have left the tongue tie and crossed noseband off since Newmarket and I would imagine it will stay off for his next race too.
I still won’t believe he’s going to get a mile until I see it. I would imagine looking at his work recently that he’s going to travel very strongly early on, but that’s just his natural way of doing things. We’ve had horses that have disappointed badly in the 2000 Guineas before and come out and won the Irish 2,000 Guineas on their next start and hopefully he can be another one of them.”
AIR VICE MARSHAL
3 b c War Front – Gold Vault
Rated 112, he won a seven-furlong maiden at Gowran Park in June and went on to finish a close second to Birchwood in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket in July. He made a promising return to action when fourth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“He does all his work with Air Force Blue and he is likely to go to the Irish 2,000 Guineas. I thought he ran very well at Newmarket and should progress from it. He looks to be very much a miler.”
3 b f Galileo – Butterfly Cove
Rated 113, she progressed throughout her juvenile season to win the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh and the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp. She made a promising return to action when second in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“I thought she ran very well at Newmarket. She dwelt slightly and got a bit of a bump, so rather than charge up there, Seamus let her relax which was the right thing to do. Seamus knew from a long way out that she was going to be second at best, so he nursed her home and looked after her. I’d imagine that herself and Minding could be split up for their next start. The Irish 1,000 Guineas is an obvious option, as is the French Oaks. She should stay a mile-and-a-half based on her pedigree, but she might not have to go that far and I see her as a mile to a mile-and-a-quarter filly.”
BEST IN THE WORLD
3 b f Galileo – Red Evie
Rated 98, she won a maiden at the Curragh in October, but ran below form on her return to action in the Salsabil Stakes at Navan in April.
“She will run in the Musidora at York on Wednesday. She seemed a bit disappointing in the Salsabil at Navan last time, but Ryan was very happy with her. It was a bit of a mess of a race, they only hacked and then sprinted. She should be able to step up from that.”
3 gr c Galileo – Ecology
Made an impressive winning debut in a mile-and-a-quarter maiden at Leopardstown in April.
“He has had a setback and it’ll be the second half of the season before we see him on the track again.”
3 b c Galileo – Christmas Kid
Rated 103, he won a maiden at the Curragh in October prior to finishing third in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown. He made a winning return in a Listed race at Leopardstown.
“He will step up to a mile-and-a-quarter in the Dante at York on Thursday. Ryan gave him a very good and patient ride when he won last time and we’ll probably ride him like that again at York. He’s in the Derby picture with the rest of them and hopefully he will show improvement in the Dante.”
4 b c Galileo – One Moment In Time
Rated 118, he proved to be highly-progressive last season, winning the Group 3 Curragh Cup and being unlucky not to win the Great Voltigeur at York and the St Leger at Doncaster. He made a winning return in a Listed race at Limerick.
“The Yorkshire Cup is an option, but he could go to the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on Sunday instead. He ran in the Melbourne Cup last year and that is a race we’ll have in our minds for this year too.”
2 gr c Scat Daddy – Mekko Hokte
Made an impressive winning debut at Dundalk in April, beating the subsequent winner Lundy in good style.
“He is very fast. If he stays six furlongs, you’d be delighted, but you wouldn’t be sure he’d get it. He finds it very easy to go very fast. Going to Royal Ascot with two-year-olds, we’d always like to have at least two runs in them and he is likely to run at Naas on Wednesday.”
3 ch f Galileo – You’resothrilling
Rated 106, she broke her maiden in the Group 3 at the Curragh in September and made a satisfactory return to action in the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket in April.
“She’ll go straight to the Irish 1,000 Guineas.”
3 b c Galileo – Walklikeanegyptian
Rated 110, he progressed into a smart juvenile last season, winning the Group 3 Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown and finishing second to Foundation in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.
“The plan is to run him in the Dante at York on Thursday. He was disappointing in the Racing Post Trophy on his last start and maybe the year had just been a bit long for him at that stage or is it also possible that the ground was a bit too soft for him. He’s a solid horse that stays well and will improve from the run. We are happy with him.”
3 b c Street Cry – Vertigineux
An unraced full-brother to the great racemare Zenyatta.
“He’s absolutely massive! He’s probably the biggest horse we’ve ever had, he weighs about 620kg. He was trained in America last year and has come to us for this season. He isn’t close to a run yet, but it’ll be interesting to see what he can do.”
4 b f Galileo – Red Evie
Rated 119, she won a Group 1 as a juvenile and gained a second top-level success when beating Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. She got off the mark for this season in the Mooresbridge Stakes at the Curragh in May.
“The plan was to give her two runs prior to the Tattersalls Gold Cup, as we knew she was going to be quite fresh for her first run or two. She did too much on what was testing ground on her first start back, but she relaxed much better last time and did what she did. We’re starting to see now what she’s starting to turn into and she looks something very special. After the Tattersalls Gold Cup, she’ll have the option of the Coronation Cup or the Prince of Wales’s, but whatever happens, she’ll have a break after that and will come back with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as her target.”
4 b c Galileo - Hveger
Rated 119, he won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in August and the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December. He disappointed on his latest start in the QEII Cup at Sha Tin in April.
“He’s back here from his latest travels. His last race was a bit tactical and that didn’t suit him. We are looking at the Coronation Cup for him next.”
HIT IT A BOMB
3 b c War Front – Liscanna
Rated 116, he was unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile, with the highlight being his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland in October.
“I’m having to push him a bit to get him back to the track in time for Royal Ascot. Hopefully he’ll get there.”
3 b c Galileo – Hveger
Rated 108, he won a maiden at Gowran Park in October and has run well without winning in the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown this season.
“I was very happy with him on Sunday considering how the race went. It was a race run in two halves as while Kevin Manning obviously didn’t lead on the eventual winner, he was the one dictating and controlling the race. Our two were left a bit out of their ground and finished well. I could definitely imagine a scenario where that result could be different. There will be no hiding place in the Derby and he deserves his chance.”
3 b c Galileo – Inca Princess
Rated 113, he progressed throughout the season, culminating in victory in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in November.
“Unfortunately he won’t make any of the Classics and won’t be seen until the second half of the season.”
5 b h Galileo – Mystical Lady
Rated 110, he is a two-time winner at Listed level that finished an unlucky second in the Ascot Gold Cup last season.
“He had a bit of a setback and probably won’t make the Ascot Gold Cup. Hopefully we’ll see him back in the second half of the season.”
3 b f Galileo – Lillie Langtry
Rated 120, she was crowned European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly last year having won the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh and the Fillies Mile at Newmarket and looked better than ever when making a winning return in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“She is very exciting. Nothing is set in stone, but the two options for her next start would seem to be the Irish 1,000 Guineas or go straight to the Oaks at Epsom. We often use the Irish 1,000 Guineas as the next step towards the Oaks, but we are mindful that she ran such a big race on her first start of the season and that it will have taken a bit out of her, so that will come into the decision-making process. There has been talk about the Derby for her, but the lads have never said anything to me about it. Besides that, first and foremost you couldn’t say for sure that she will get a mile-and-a-half. With that in mind I would think, knowing the way that the lads tend to think, that they might prefer to go gently and test her stamina against the fillies first. If she proves her stamina against them, I would imagine they might then consider taking on the colts. With a bit of safe ground, you’d have to be excited about her running in the Oaks.”
ORDER OF ST GEORGE
4 b c Galileo – Another Storm
Rated 124, his form was unremarkable as a juvenile, but he showed significant improvement when upped in trip last season, most notably when winning the Irish St Leger at the Curragh by 11 lengths.
“He’s on the way back. He had a setback at the end of last season and I wasn’t able to do much with him during the winter, so he is a bit behind the others. He’s going to go for a racecourse gallop at Navan and if that goes well, he could go to the Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown in early June and if that went well he could go to the Ascot Gold Cup. He got a mile-and-a-three-quarters very well on soft ground at the Curragh and while you’re never sure of anything after you go past two miles, there’s a good chance that he could stay.”
3 b c Galileo - Walzerkoenigin
Rated 105, he won the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh last year and was beaten a short-head by US Army Ranger in the Chester Vase on his return to action.
“He’s likely to run in the Derby, as it was a very good run at Chester considering he had to give 4lb to US Army Ranger. We left the blinkers off him on the day as he was making a big step up in trip, but they definitely seemed to sharpen him last year, so they might be back on him next time.”
3 b f Galileo – Milanova
Rated 106, she won a maiden at Leopardstown in October and made an impressive return to action when winning the Salsabil Stakes at Navan in good style.
“When we held her up on her debut, she looked an ordinary filly, but her work has been better at home when in front than when held up, so we made the running with her in her two starts since and she has been very good. Hopefully her next run will show us whether how good she is, as we still don’t really know after her last run at Navan as there seemed to be a front-runner bias that day. There is a race coming up for her at Naas and that will tell us more.”
2 b f War Front – Misty For Me
Out of the top-class filly Misty For Me, she made a winning debut in a five-furlong maiden at Naas in April.
“It was a bit of a surprise that she won first time out and now that she’s won, she will have to go for something like the Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh. If you are hoping to go to Royal Ascot, it can sometimes be a disadvantage to win on debut in Ireland, as the opportunities outside of maiden company aren’t always there pre-Ascot. The Queen Mary is the race we’d be looking at, so we might rather take on the colts over five furlongs with her rather than run her in the six-furlong race at Naas and then have to drop her back to five furlongs at Ascot.”
3 b f Galileo – La Traviata
Rated 93, she won a maiden at Dundalk in April and followed up in the Oaks Trial Fillies’ Stakes at Lingfield in May.
“Ryan didn’t think she liked the undulations at Lingfield, so if she was struggling there, she is likely to struggle at Epsom, so she might not go there.”
3 b c Fastnet Rock – Perhelion
Rated 108, he won a maiden at the Curragh in July and has run well without winning in Group company on multiple occasions since, most recently finishing second in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown.
“Like with Idaho, we were happy with him at Leopardstown on Sunday as he was just left with a bit to do in a race that turned a bit tactical. We brought his sister straight from a mile to a mile-and-a-half and we didn’t think it was fair to do that with him, so that’s why we gave him his chance at a mile-and-a-quarter. We decided to ride him patiently given it was his first start at the trip, but looking at that run, we wouldn’t have any problem riding him handier next time and stepping up to a mile-and-a-half should be fine too. He’s a big rangy horse that is a work in progress and there should be more to come from him.”
3 b f Fastnet Rock - Alexandrova
Won a maiden at Leopardstown in April and followed up in a Listed race at Chester in May.
“I thought Somehow struggled with the track at Chester and usually if they don’t like it there, they find Epsom very tough, so she might end up in something like the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot.”
3 b c Galileo – Chintz
Delivered on the promise of his debut when winning a maiden at Navan by nine lengths in April.
“The plan is to run in the French 2000 Guineas and the French Derby would be a possibility, but he wouldn’t be sure to get beyond a mile as he shows plenty of pace. His two runs have been on testing ground, but he’ll prefer nicer ground. We always thought he was very good, but he was very sick as a two-year-old and was probably lucky to survive. Considering that, for him to be doing what he’s doing is massive really.”
US ARMY RANGER
3 b c Galileo – Moonstone
Made a winning debut in a maiden at the Curragh in April and followed up with a narrow win in the Chester Vase in May.
“Everyone is knocking the horse after Chester, but they shouldn’t be. There’s no doubt, I was a lot happier with him coming out of Chester than I was coming out of the Curragh. I remember Joseph saying to Ryan before he got up on him at the Curragh that this horse could be beaten here and still win the Derby. That’s how far behind he was where we wanted him to be.
We knew going to Chester that it wasn’t going to be easy for him, but he had to go there and learn if he was going to have a chance of winning the Derby. He was unraced as a two-year-old, so he had to learn in one race what he would have learned in two or three races. He was still so raw, he didn’t change his legs at all in the straight. He was whinnying before the race and after he pulled up, he was whinnying again, he didn’t know what was after happening.
What I liked the most about his performance was how well he travelled, as at no stage were they ever going quick enough for him. With hindsight, it would have been better for him if there was more pace in front of him, but he probably learned more the way the race panned out.
Of mine, he’s the one that’s open to the most improvement and I’m just going to have to hope that he’s not too babyish and is able to take the test that the Derby presents. We still have a few to run in trials, but I’ll put it like this, I’ll be very happy if we end up with a better one than him.”
3 b c Medaglia d’Oro – Skates
Formerly trained by Gai Waterhouse in Australia where he won the Group 1 Golden Slipper at Rosehill. He joined O’Brien in January.
“We are very excited about him, but we haven’t got a lot of time with him, as he’s going back to Australia after the July Cup. Looking at him physically, you’d be surprised that he did so well as a two-year-old given how big and powerful he is. What we have pencilled in for him is to run in the Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh on what will be a fact-finding mission, as won’t have been away from home prior to that, but we feel if he is going to go to Royal Ascot he needs to have a competitive experience fairly quickly. He will have lots of different entries for Royal Ascot, but he has to have been very fast to do what he did in Australia, so we are thinking more so towards the sprints than those over longer trips.”
3 b c Zoffany – How’s She Cuttin’
Rated 112, he won the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot prior to finishing second to Air Force Blue in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh. He made a winning return in a Listed race at Dundalk prior to disappointing in a Group 3 at Ascot in April.
“I was worried about the ground going to Ascot and he got caught on the outer as well. There’s a chance it could just be a run to put a line through. He’s likely to run at Navan next and then it will be the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.”
AIR FORCE BLUE – A star juvenile that will bid to bounce back in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
MINDING – A superstar filly that is hotly-fancied for the Oaks.
US ARMY RANGER – Unbeaten in two starts and a leading Derby hope.
FOUND – One of the top older horses in training.
BALLYDOYLE – Top-class prospect that made an excellent return in the 1000 Guineas.
ORDER OF ST GEORGE – Top-class stayer that is being aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup.
VANCOUVER – An Australian import that could be a top-class sprinter in the making.