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 headlined by a strong team of older horses including Minding, Alice Springs, Order Of St George plus new recruit Acapulco. Even more promising is his team of three-year-olds, with Churchill, Caravaggio and Rhododendron being just three of his potential Classic winners.
Aidan was good enough to sit down with Kevin Blake to discuss their prospects for the 2017 season.
4 ch f Scat Daddy – Global Finance
Rated 107, she won the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and finished second in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York as a juvenile. She won a Listed race at Churchill Downs last year for Wesley Ward and transferred to Aidan O’Brien during the winter.
“She seems to have slotted into her new routine very well here. She’s been away to work a few times and we are looking at starting her off at Navan on April 24th. The hope is to have her covered by Galileo in the next week or so and the intention would be to race her a couple of times whilst she is in foal. If everything goes well at Navan, she’ll have another run after that and then it will be on to the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.”
4 ch f Galileo – Aleagueoftheirown
Rated 118, she won the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown and the Sun Chariot Stakes a Newmarket last year. She made a promising return to action when second in the Gladness Stakes at Naas in April.
“We were all happy with her comeback run at Naas. She went there quite heavy on the scale, but to be fair she did well physically over the winter so she’s probably going to just have a heavier racing weight this year than she did last year. She looks like a four-year-old now, whereas sometimes they can still look as they did as three-year-olds when they turn four. I think she’s made a big forward move in physical terms, but she has to go and prove that on the racecourse. Ryan was happy with her at Naas and stepping back up to a mile is what she wants. I think she is best on good or firmer ground. We’ll have a look at the Lockinge Stakes for her and if the ground is nice, she’ll probably run there before heading to Royal Ascot. She has only raced against colts on a couple of occasions, but on her day, I’d be hopeful she can compete with them.”
3 c f War Front – Liscanna
Rated 116, she won the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot prior to sending much-improved form to win the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in September.
“The plan is to start her off in the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket. While she was never a magic work horse, she’s done well physically over the winter and her work has been nice this year. She disappointed us when she stepped up to seven furlongs last season, but hopefully her run at Newmarket will give us a better idea of whether we should chance running her in a Guineas or step back to a shorter trip. She likes fast ground.”
3 gr c Galileo – Dialafara
Rated 113, he won three of his five starts as a juvenile including the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh. He finished fourth in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown on his seasonal reappearance.
“Seamus was very happy with his comeback run at Leopardstown, probably happier than anyone else was. He was very much of the opinion that he was the best horse in the race, but that the race was just a bit messy from a pace perspective. He felt he was running a bit keen with him early and he just took him back to get him relaxed, but the leaders slowed it up and he just had too much to make up when they sprinted for home. He’ll run in another Derby trial next, possibly the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial back at Leopardstown, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t very competitive in a race like that. He’s a big horse that has done well physically. He should stay a mile-and-a-half well and ground shouldn’t be a big issue for him. We put a tongue tie on him last year as he was playing with his tongue a lot, but we left it off him from the start of this year and he wasn’t playing with it anymore, which is why we didn’t run him in it at Leopardstown.”
3 gr c Scat Daddy – Mekko Hokte
Rated 116, he won all four of his starts as a juvenile including the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
“He’s working great. We brought him to Naas to work the other day and he’s plenty fit so we didn’t feel we needed to do a lot more with him. We’re just not sure about him getting a mile. He’s a very fast, very quick horse. What is very unusual about him if you go back and watch footage of him is that when he quickens, he nearly knocks himself over. He has so much physical power that he almost can’t put it down on the track. It’s very rare thing to see in a horse. A lot of those sprinters are about relentless speed, but this fella can really quicken. He has big shoulders, a big backside, a great head and he’s long too. Physically, he looks more like a sprinter. Even though he’s long and has scope, it’s all about power with him. We are training him for the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at the moment, but if we see anything that makes us think that asking him to try a mile is the wrong thing between now and then, we’ll run him elsewhere. He bends his knee a bit, but the ground probably isn’t a big issue for him and dirt would probably be fine for him too.”
3 b c Galileo – Meow
Rated 122, he won five of his six starts as a juvenile including the National Stakes at the Curragh and the Dewhurst at Newmarket.
“He’s doing everything unbelievably well at the moment. From this coming weekend it’s three weeks to the 2000 Guineas, so the next two weeks will be key, but he’s doing unbelievable at the moment. He looks a different creature altogether. He’s big, he’s powerful, he has a good mind and he’s a great mover. He’s physically very big, but he’s not a big long yoke, he’s compact, strong and well made. Off the top of my head, I think he weighs around 540kg. I saw his mother when she was a two-year-old and she was a big powerful horse too, so that might be where he gets it from. He was never really tested last year, but I think what crowned him was the bump he got off Mehmas in the National Stakes, as that really seemed to wake him up. Up until then, he had been inclined to idle when in front, but that seemed to spark him up and he stretched right away from them late on. He learned from that. In terms of trip, I always thought he’d be fine at a mile and maybe up to a mile-and-a-quarter. I wouldn’t be sure about a mile-and-a-half for him, but his temperament will give him every chance if he’s ever asked to try it.”
CLIFFS OF MOHER
3 b c Galileo – Wave
Built on his encouraging debut when winning a seven-furlong maiden at Leopardstown by 5½ lengths from Orderofthegarter in October.
“He’s not far away from starting back. We’re thinking of Chester for a Derby trial for him. We thought he was very nice the first day he ran at Cork, but the ground was very bad and he just got a bit lost going right handed. He went to Leopardstown after that and the plan was to drop him in, but he hit the gate fast with Seamus so he let him run and he won very easy. He beat Orderofthegarter that day, but he might have caught him on a bad day, as Orderofthegarter was green and a bit slow to react on the day. I don’t know if he’s as good as that bare form suggests, but we’ll be delighted if he is. You couldn’t be sure about how far he’ll stay, as his dam only barely got five furlongs. He could be an Epsom horse or maybe he could be a horse for the Prix du Jockey Club, we’ll see what he does in his trial. He’s a good mover and I think the better the ground is, the better it will suit him.”
3 b c Galileo – Alluring Park
Rated 110, he won a maiden at Leopardstown in July and acquitted himself well without winning in three subsequent starts in Group company, including when a close fourth in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October. He made a promising return to action when second in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.
“He’s a horse that we thought would step up a lot this season. Last year he was physically mature, but mentally immature. He was afraid when he was in amongst horses and when he’d get to the front he’d be looking all around him. He seems to have grown up mentally over the winter and his return at Leopardstown was very good. He will get a mile-and-a-half and has a good cruising pace, so I’m looking forward to see what he can do the next day.”
4 gr f Dark Angel – Staceymac
Rated 109, she won two Listed races over five furlongs for Michael Dods in 2016. She changed hands for 500,000gns in February.
“She is on a similar programme to Acapulco in that she is being aimed at the same races, but she might only be forward enough to have a racecourse gallop at Navan on April 24th. She has already been covered by Galileo and I believe she has been confirmed as being in foal. She’s a good mover, has a very good mind, is very clear winded and we’re happy with what we’ve seen of her.”
3 ro c Galileo – Miarixa
Rated 110, he is a half-brother to Blue Bunting and won a maiden at Galway in September prior to finishing a close third in the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh.
“He was ready to run at Leopardstown last weekend, but he got a little setback that led to him having a few days off. The hope was to run him in two Derby trials, but he’ll probably only get to run in one of them now. He’s a horse that handles an ease in the ground well, but I don’t think good ground will be a big problem for him.”
3 b c Galileo – Mystical Lady
Rated 101, he made it fourth-time lucky in a maiden at Navan in October prior to finishing seventh in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
“He’s a horse we always liked and we think he’s better than he’s shown so far. He was a bit babyish in mental terms last season and we’re hoping he’ll be more mature this season. He worked after racing at Leopardstown last weekend and will go for one of the Derby trials in England. He should get a mile-and-a-quarter plus.”
5 b c Galileo - Hveger
Rated 123, he won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf last season. He disappointed on his latest start in the Sheema Classic at Meydan in March.
“His run in Dubai was a bit of a mess for him as the ground got soft out there and that didn’t suit. It was his first run of the season too and after having a tough campaign last year, we didn’t lean too hard on him for it, so we think he’ll leave that form behind as the season goes on. He came home in good form and he’s being trained for the Mooresbridge Stakes with a view to running in either the Coronation Cup at Epsom or the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot. After that, he’ll go off on his travels again. He has a great constitution, a great mind and is a very sound horse.”
3 b f Galileo – Beauty Is Truth
Rated 111, she won a conditions race at the Curragh and finished second in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh and in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket as a juvenile. She made a winning seasonal reappearance in the 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown in April.
“She’s a solid filly that is being trained for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. She was very straight in fitness terms going to Leopardstown. She’s very genuine, very clear winded and while she might get a mile-and-a-quarter, I wouldn’t be sure about her getting a mile-and-a-half.”
4 b c Galileo – Hveger
Rated 119, he progressed into a high-class middle-distance performer last season, finishing second in the Irish Derby and winning the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York.
“He’s on the same programme as Highland Reel, as in he’s being trained for the Mooresbridge with a view to the Coronation Cup or Hardwicke. Physically he has done well over the winter. We always thought that he would get further than a mile-and-a-half, but unfortunately we didn’t get to find out for sure in the St Leger. I’d say we’ll stick to a mile-and-a-half with him for the time being, but we could explore longer trips a bit further down the line. He has a high enough action, but he handles good ground well.”
3 b c War Front – Sun Shower
Rated 117, he won a maiden at Leopardstown in August and went on to run very well when second in the Dewhurst at Newmarket and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. He made an encouraging return to action when fourth in the UAE Derby at Meydan in March.
“He ran a stormer in Dubai, better than I thought he would to be honest. It’s such a tough ask for a horse running on dirt for the first time and he missed the kick as well, so he had to face the kickback. Ryan was very happy with him. We were training him for the Kentucky Derby, but it looks like he might struggle to get in, so we might look at the Preakness for him.”
4 b f Galileo – Lillie Langtry
Rated 122, she was crowned European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 2015 and enjoyed a remarkable three-year-old campaign in which she won five Group 1 races including the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
“We’re very happy with her and she has changed physically over the winter. We decided to work her at Leopardstown rather than run her at Naas last weekend. Everything went well there and she might start off in the Prix Ganay in France. The Tattersalls Gold Cup and Royal Ascot will be possibilities for her too. Longer-term, we might hold off running her back at a mile-and-a-half until later in the season, with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe being an obvious option. She’s just a remarkably versatile filly in every regard and is really something to look forward to.”
ORDER OF ST GEORGE
5 b c Galileo – Another Storm
Rated 120, he won the Irish St Leger in 2015 and the Ascot Gold Cup last year. He also finished third in last year’s renewal of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“He’s going to start off in the Vintage Crop at Navan and is likely to have one more run after that before going back to the Ascot Gold Cup. He has done well both physically and mentally over the winter and is in good order. He’s happy with an ease in the ground and if last year’s Arc had been run on soft ground, he would have been an even bigger player. He ran a serious race that day and well capable of competing over a mile-and-a-half too.”
3 b c Galileo – Kitty Kiernan
Rated 111, he finished second in both his starts in maidens last season, but has shown much-improved form this season in winning a maiden at Naas by 11 lengths and the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes by 3¾ lengths.
“We are looking at the Irish 2,000 Guineas for him, but we aren’t sure whether he’ll have a run in between now and then. He’s a very solid, hardy, well-made, powerful and mature horse. He’s not a big horse, but he’s strong and has a good mind. What he’s done so far this year hasn’t been a big surprise, as we always thought he was nice. I think he’ll be fine on good ground and he might get a mile-and-a-quarter.”
3 b c Power – Hoh My Darling
Rated 113, he won a Listed race at Naas in May and the Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh in July prior to finishing a close third in the Prix Morny at Deauville.
“He’s ready to start off, I’m just not sure where it will be. He’s a hardy customer and when we started racing him, we had to keep going with him. He reminds me a bit of Rock Of Gibraltar in that he’s sound, tough and takes his racing very well. Once he starts back, he’s likely to be kept busy. I always thought he’d get a mile and I think he likes a bit of cover in his races. He has plenty of scope and will hopefully find some improvement this year.”
PROMISE TO BE TRUE
3 b f Galileo – Sumora
Rated 111, she won the Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown in July and went on to finish second in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly. She ran below form on her seasonal reappearance in the 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown in April.
“I was happy with her at Leopardstown. Seven furlongs is as short as she’ll ever want to go, as she’s a filly that will probably get a mile-and-a-half. She was forward enough in physical terms, but mentally she might not have really clicked in yet and that might have just caught her out on the day. She could go for the 1000 Guineas, the Irish 1,000 Guineas and then onto the Oaks. She will progress from race-to-race and will probably improve when she steps up in trip. She’s a very solid, uncomplicated filly.”
3 b f Galileo – Where
Rated 98, she made a winning debut in a seven-furlong maiden at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend for David Wachman and made a satisfactory return in the 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown in April.
“She was working very well before Leopardstown and the plan was to drop her in, but the pace of the race got a bit messy and that cost her on the day. Seamus was happy with her. I’m not sure where she’ll go next, but I think she’ll leave that form behind her. I’d see her as more of a miler than a mile-and-a-half filly.”
3 b f Galileo – Halfway To Heaven
Rated 116, she won three of her five starts as a juvenile including the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket.
“She’s doing everything right and it’s all going to plan with her so far. She’s a big, rangy filly that has done plenty well in physical terms over the winter. She will go straight to Newmarket for the 1000 Guineas and should have no problem stepping up to a mile-and-a-quarter in due course. I think she is versatile when it comes to ground.”
3 b f War Front – Misty For Me
Rated 115, she progressed into a high-class juvenile last season, winning the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket and finishing a short-head second in the Cheveley Park Stakes.
“She’s being aimed at the Nell Gwyn and could run in that along with Brave Anna. She was a hardy two-year-old, we gave her plenty of racing and she took it with a smile on her face. If her trial goes well, we’ll look at running her in a Guineas, be it the English or the French. She’s doing everything right so far this season and I think she’ll get a mile.”
4 b f Galileo – La Traviata
Rated 119, she won the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks last season and made an encouraging return to action when second in the Sheema Classic at Meydan in March.
“She has a bit of a stone bruise at the moment, but she’s in good order otherwise. She’s likely to go down the same road as Highland Reel and Idaho with the Mooresbridge being her first target and then either the Coronation Cup or Hardwicke. She ran a great race in Dubai considering the soft ground and steady pace didn’t suit her. I think a mile-and-a-half might be as far as she wants to go. She could be a filly to look forward to this year.”
SIR JOHN LAVERY
3 b c Galileo – Race For The Stars
Built on his promising debut when winning a maiden at Gowran Park by seven lengths.
“We were going to go for one of the early trials with him, but he picked up a stone bruise that got quite messy, as it burst out between the hair and hoof, so he’s just been swimming for the last four or five days. It’ll be fine and he doesn’t take much work, so he should be out for a trial in three weeks or a month. He won on testing ground, but he’s a good mover and isn’t heavy-bodied, so I’d imagine better ground will suit him. He’s a horse that was always easy to train, so we never needed to test him that much at home and don’t really know how he compares to those more exposed horses like Capri. It isn’t impossible that he could be as good as them, but I just don’t know at this stage.”
4 b f Fastnet Rock - Alexandrova
Rated 114, she won the Cheshire Oaks at Chester and the Snow Fairy Fullies Stakes at the Curragh last year. She made an encouraging seasonal return in the Park Express Stakes at Naas in March.
“She ran very well at Naas and I was very happy with her. She seems to have progressed well since last year and maybe a mile was just a bit sharp for her. She could go to Gowran Park for the Victor McCalmont Stakes next and possibly on to France for her run after that. ”
US ARMY RANGER
4 b c Galileo – Moonstone
Rated 119, he won the Chester Vase last year prior to finishing second to Harzand in the Derby. He made a satisfactory return to action in the Alleged Stakes at Naas in April.
“I was happy with his run at Naas. It was a mess of a race, they steadied it right down in the middle part of the race and he started to pull hard. Ryan did the right thing by making him sit in and do it properly, but it just left him with a bit to do when they sprinted for home. He’s a horse that gets a mile-and-a-half well, so the race panning out like that just didn’t suit him, but he still ran well. Looking back to last year, it was too much of a rush with him to try and get him to the Derby and he paid the penalty a bit. I had probably pushed the work into him too heavy and it just became a bit too much for much for him before the Irish Derby. After that, there was no pressure with him, so we let him just have his races and learn the things he didn’t have the chance to learn in his rushed preparation for the Derby. With the benefit of those runs and his comeback under his belt, I’d like to think he can step up and improve going forward. He’s a light-actioned horse and firmer ground won’t be a problem. Like most of the other mile-and-a-half horses, we’ll be looking at the Mooresbridge followed by the Coronation Cup or the Hardwicke for him.”
3 b c War Front – Royal Decree
Rated 113, he made a winning debut at Leopardstown in June and having finished second in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket, he won the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in fine style.
“He was a little bit off in front after the Vintage Stakes and missed a month, so we just didn’t have enough time to get him back to the track after that. He’s nearly ready to start and the Craven is what we are looking at for him. He’s a big horse and has done well in physical terms since last year. He’s done so well that you’d worry he might take a run just to tighten him up. We’ll see what happens in the Craven before we decide whether he’ll go to the Newmarket or French 2000 Guineas. He’s an unusually good mover, he covers a lot of ground and barely touches it, so fast ground should suit him well.”
3 b c War Front – Orate
Rated 108, he won a maiden at Naas in August and went on to finish in the frame in two Group races, most notably the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly.
“He’s ready to go and is in good order. He might go for the Craven. He was a bit disappointing in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and while he had looked previously that he wanted a mile, we weren’t 100% sure whether he got the trip that day at Chantilly. I’m not sure how far he’ll stay, but the Craven should tell us more. Fast ground suits him well.”
3 gr f Galileo – Laddies Poker Two
Rated 106, she made it third-time lucky when winning a maiden at Dundalk in August when trained by David Wachman. She showed much-improved form on her seasonal reappearance when a close second in the 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown in April.
“David always liked her last year and felt she was one of his better fillies. I was very happy with her at Leopardstown as she was drawn badly, caught wide and just ran a bit too free. Wayne was impressed with how well she kept galloping after racing as freely as she did. There’s a chance she’ll go to the 1000 Guineas and come back for the Irish equivalent before stepping up in trip after that. She’s out of a fast mare, but she should stay a mile-and-a-quarter and might get a mile-and-a-half. Physically, she looks like a middle-distance filly.”
3 b c Galileo – Six Perfections
Rated 111, he won a maiden at the Curragh prior to finishing second in the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh and in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. He made an encouraging return when a close third in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.
“He did very well over the winter in physical terms and I was a little bit worried that he might be carrying a bit too much condition going into Leopardstown. He came to challenge in the race and just got a bit tired, so I’d say that just caught him out a bit. Ryan was very happy with him and so was I. There’s a chance he’ll step up a good bit on that run and he’ll go back for another trial next, probably the Derrinstown. He’s a lovely natured horse, very relaxed. He’s a low mover and hasn’t a big action, so he can quicken well. He could be a good colt.”
MINDING – A superstar filly that is likely to have another lucrative campaign.
CHURCHILL – Winner of the National Stakes and Dewhurst, he is a top-class Classic prospect.
CARAVAGGIO – Top-class juvenile that is a leading three-year-old prospect.
CLIFFS OF MOHER – Very impressive maiden winner that could be anything.
ACAPULCO – An American import that could be a top-class sprinter in the making.
ALICE SPRINGS – Top-class filly on her day that should have a profitable four-year-old campaign.
ORDER OF ST GEORGE – Top-class stayer that is being aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup.