Ten Sovereigns will spearhead what trainer Aidan O’Brien believes is another formidable squad for the new Flat season.
O’Brien opened the gates of Ballydoyle to the press on Monday morning and discussed some of his big hopes for the new campaign.
Speaking about the general strength of his team, the 21-times champion trainer said: “We think at the moment we have ammunition, but it is moving and changing all the time. You have to have them performing, but we are hoping we are on the right track.
“We have 200 horses riding out in total – 100 are two-year-olds, we have 10 to 12 older horses and the rest are three-year-olds. That is our full capacity, but it is very manageable.
“Last year the horses weren’t able to acclimatise as there was snow early in the year and it became very warm during the summer. Not once were the horses galloped on grass last year from January to December, whereas this year we have done a lot of grass work already.
“The first weekend in May is usually the first time we hope to have them in good order and other than that, the idea is to start and see where we are.”
The star of O’Brien’s juvenile crop last season was Ten Sovereigns, who won each of his three starts – completing his hat-trick with a narrow verdict in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.
A return to the Rowley Mile for the 2000 Guineas is his likely starting point.
“Ten Sovereigns physically has done well and is a very relaxed horse. Nothing would suggest he wouldn’t get a mile,” said O’Brien.
“We will skip the Greenham Stakes at Newbury (on Saturday) as there is no point taking on Too Darn Hot when he isn’t fully ready and he will go straight to the 2000 Guineas.”
More immediately, O’Brien – who also showed off his Vertem Futurity Trophy winner Magna Grecia – is planning to send two runners to Chelmsford on Thursday, with both Antilles and U S S Michigan confirmed as intended runners in the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes, a trial for the Kentucky Derby.
O’Brien said: “Antilles and U S S Michigan will both run at Chelmsford. If we were to have a horse for the Kentucky Derby, U S S Michigan would be the only one.
“I’m not yet sure if a win at Chelmsford would be enough to get him in to Kentucky, but he is a big, long-striding cruiser and we always thought he would get a mile and further.”
The Kentucky Derby is one of the races O’Brien would love to add to his CV, having so far come up short in ‘The Run For The Roses’ – most recently with the well-fancied Mendelssohn last season.
“Last year was a good experience to witness it and see it – it was totally ruthless,” said the trainer.
“We learned a lot and the fierceness of the whole thing surprised us. It was a good experience and there are things we need to improve on.”
Sergei Prokofiev has already been seen in winning form this season – making a successful return in Listed Cork Stakes at Navan late last month.
O’Brien said: “Sergei Prokofiev is a very fast horse – as fast a horse as I’ve ever had.
“He was a three-year-old running against older horses with a penalty at Naas and won.
“It’s the way he comes through his race – he is very fast and is a five-furlong horse, but won’t stay six furlongs.”
O’Brien has some thinking to do in terms of splitting up his potential Derby candidates.
He added: “The Derby Trials are coming up a week or 10 days after the Guineas, so there will be a bunch trained for the Guineas and it is also possible there will be a couple of Derby horses we’ll let run in the Guineas.
“There is a lot of horses to get out and the likes of Circus Maximus could go to a Guineas instead of a Derby trial.
“Hermosa will go straight to the Guineas and along with So Perfect both have physically done very well. Just Wonderful and Fairyland will also go straight to the Guineas and I’m very happy with both.
“I’m very happy with Japan and Mt Everest – a beautiful-moving horse who has done extremely well physically.
“I was very pleased with Broome winning at Leopardstown the other day and Anthony Van Dyck is another Derby horse and will run in a trial first. Old Glory and Norway are other horses who will run in Derby trials.
“Goddess is just coming back into full work. She was a bit sick last year and didn’t get back to run.
“I don’t think she will be back ready to run in the Classics and if you asked us now, I’d say not.
“She will probably be looking at Royal Ascot and have a run before it.”
O’Brien’s small but select team of older horses includes Capri and Kew Gardens, of whom he said: “The Ascot Gold Cup is the big one for us mid-season and Capri will step up in trip and go the staying route.
“Kew Gardens will go the mile-and-a-half route first before running in the Coronation Cup and then the King George.”
O’Brien also gave an insight into how much the time he gets to spend with his horses dominates his thoughts.
He said: “I look forward to coming out to the horses every single morning and every morning is different and new. I don’t have any other interest – not another thing. This is my golf and everything rolled into one.
“The only time I’m not here is when I’m at the races for a few hours – you need every minute of the day to get it all together and you need to stay as fresh as you can the whole time.
“I work through the day first and would take time in the evenings to relax, but you have to keep yourself fresh and clear to get the information straight away to make a decision about something.”
I don’t have any other interest – not another thing
O’Brien’s string was hit by a virus in midsummer last year, and he added: “You have to be prepared that a virus can happen to you, as it can happen to everybody.
“Things don’t always work and I would look back on last year and see how and why it happened. If we made decisions on how and why it (the virus) came in, I would think back on those things and we would try to change them.
“We didn’t have a bad year last year, but there were some races the horses didn’t go in and some horses didn’t progress the way we would have liked, but there was no point in crying or talking about it.”