AIDAN O’BRIEN'S ROYAL ASCOT
Aidan O’Brien won the top trainer title for a tenth time at Royal Ascot last week in what was a good if not great meeting for him. From 53 runners he had five winners and 15 placed horses when Betfair SP projected he would have 5.8 expected winners so from a market standpoint he was doing what he was supposed to.
The more interesting figure is the 53 runners, his highest yet ahead of 52 last year though he had never more than 36 prior to 2018. 52 of those were individual runners – Le Brivido ran twice – and for context he has run 122 individual horses this Irish flat turf season; that means 42% of his stable to run so far this year took part at Royal Ascot, a staggering number really, and revealing of how important the meeting has become for Ballydoyle.
His five winners were Arizona (Coventry), Circus Maximus (St. James’s Palace), Southern Hills (Windsor Castle), South Pacific (King George V) and Japan (King Edward VII), their respective races interesting for one reason or another.
Arizona didn’t travel with much fluency in the Coventry and looked more of a National rather than Phoenix Stakes horse to my eye though the stable have the ability to make the latter race as strongly-run as they wish.
The one to catch the eye in that race was his stablemate and eventual seventh Royal Lytham who came into the race off just one run. He got squeezed out leaving the stalls and was making his move up the rails in the closing stages before meeting traffic and running on well thereafter. This was a blanket finish with less than four lengths covering the first ten so it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if something lightly-raced like him improved past the principals.
Aidan O’Brien has won lots of prizes in his career but they might need to inaugurate another one after he won the St. James’s Palace with Circus Maximus, the Derby sixth hard to fancy for me at least pre-race but coping surprisingly well with the drop in trip. The signs were there – a supplementary entry and first-time blinkers – but the former looked more a by-product of Magna Grecia not making the race.
In any case, it was an excellent piece of training/placing though he looked flattered on the day, King Of Comedy shaping like the best horse and unsuited by coming off a steady pace while Shaman is another that wants upgrading, the Ascot sectional data (available for all races on this site) having him travelling much further than the rest.
Southern Hills finished out his race much better than had been the case on his previous two starts at the Curragh and Navan, inexperience seemingly his undoing at Navan at least, while South Pacific led home an O’Brien one-two-three in the King George.
Both he and Constantinople got good rides from Seamie Heffernan and Ryan Moore respectively albeit for different reasons. Heffernan’s winner had a wide trip and had his head high as is his wont but the jockey coaxed him gradually into the race, not going for everything until late, and few are better aboard a quirky one.
Constantinople’s head carriage is no better and while Moore maneuvered him in and out at stages, sectional data shows he got an efficient trip, travelling a shorter distance than most. The jockey produced him late but was ultimately beaten by a better-treated rival.
This race produced a high time-figure but the concern is that it was one quirky horse beating another and they may be found out when coming up against equally talented and/or well-handicapped horses that are more genuine.
Japan produced the best pure rating of any of the O’Brien winners at the meeting, allowing that the race was choreographed for him with stablemate Sir Jack Yeats going hard from early on. That was a sensible approach from connections as an eight-runner field could have produced a slow pace for their strong-staying favourite and while Moore took him very wide in the middle part of the race it was likely to avoid the backwash of the pacesetters who he knew had to fade.
The Leger looks an obvious target but the trainer was talking more Grand Prix De Paris and King George and Japan still has scope; he had a setback this spring and the Derby was a rush for him while he also did all his racing in September last year. Like Circus Maximus, he provided a strong boost to the Epsom form which sets things up nicely for the Curragh this weekend.
THIN PICKINGS FOR THE REST
Plenty of other Irish trainers tried their hand at Royal Ascot but it was – in bare terms of winners – a fruitless meeting for them; the 45 non-Aidan O’Brien trained Irish runners failed to produce a winner and managed only six places. Betfair SP projected them for 2.3 expected winners.
This was a reminder that Royal Ascot might be the toughest meeting of the year to get a winner as you face not just the massed ranks of Ballydoyle but also the pick of the UK trainers as well as those from further afield.
Still, there will be plenty of trainers asking questions of themselves and their horses in the aftermath though one person who will be happy if feeling a touch hard done by is Ken Condon, his Romanised an unlucky fourth in the Queen Anne while Celtic Beauty was a fine second in the Albany.
Romanised surprised me with how well he ran as I thought he would never reach the heights of his Irish 2,000 Guineas win again, a race set up for a closer with the subsequent July Cup winner U S Navy Flag going off a July Cup pace, but he seems to have improved this season.
His hard luck was there for all to see, travelling as well as anything two furlongs out and needing the run that Lord Glitters got but it never came until it was too late. The mile division is open rather than stellar at the moment and with three-year-olds coming into it over the coming months lacking a standout, a second Group 1 win may not be beyond Romanised.
Ger Lyons had another juvenile winner at Leopardstown last Thursday, his One Last Look impressing with both her race time and attitude, doing well to beat experienced winners, going away in the finish. Her time-figure was decent, her closing sectional better, the best on the card over the last three furlongs.
To this point, Lyons had run seven individual two-year-olds and five have won with Marchons Ensemble probably unlucky not to do so at Limerick and they have come at the best tracks, two each at Naas and Leopardstown, one at the Curragh.
None ran at Royal Ascot – Siskin was entered for the Coventry but not declared – and that could prove sensible in the long-term; the juvenile races at the meeting are daunting for trainer and horse (and punter!), the average field size in the six two-year-old races last week 19 runners so horses can conceivably run a clear career-best and finish sixth.
The litmus testing for the Lyons-trained youngsters really starts this weekend at the Curragh with the likes of Siskin and Peace Charter having entries and with Aidan O’Brien having run 15 juveniles at Royal Ascot last week, there should be at least some window of opportunity.