PAT KEANE: Aidan O’Brien facing problems on two fronts

PAT KEANE: Aidan O’Brien facing problems on two fronts

We know there has been something of a cloud hanging over the Ballydoyle horses for a while now, with Aidan O’Brien reporting that the bug was “the worst we’ve had.’’

Worryingly, however, well before any reports of this began to emerge, it was somewhat clear O’Brien’s juveniles were shaping as nowhere near the level we have come to expect.

Whatever is ailing the horses will, presumably, pass soon enough but a lack of quality among the two-year-olds offers a deeper problem, given they obviously represent the future.

Go back to Royal Ascot in June and it is well to remember O’Brien did not train a two-year-old winner at the meeting.

Taken in isolation that is no big deal and the likes of his Sergei Prokofiev, Gossamer Wings, Land Force, So Perfect and Fairyland performed perfectly respectably.

Given O’Brien’s horses in general improve from run to run then it was reasonable assume such would be the case. As well, June is very early in a campaign and who knew what was waiting.

But it hasn’t worked out like that at all and, right now, there are very few juveniles in Ballydoyle which can be spoken of as possible classic winners for next season.

In the last couple of weeks, O’Brien has had his share of two-year-old winners in Ireland, such as the potentially smart pair in Anthony Van Dyck and Zagitova, Christmas, Land Force, Broome and Hermosa.

But there have been lots of costly failures as well, starting with the defeat of the apparently unbeatable Goddess in a Group 3 at Leopardstown on July 26.

She arrived on the back of a brilliant debut when scoring by ten lengths, also at Leopardstown, two weeks earlier.

In the Group race she left the gate at 4-9, but died a thousand deaths in the straight to finish a remote sixth of six behind Skitter Scatter.

Goddess has not been seen since and signposted a succession of defeats for Ballydoyle juveniles in the last few weeks.

Mount Tabora disappointed at the Galway festival, while Mount Everest (4-9) was turned over by the Emmet Mullins-trained newcomer, Duckett’s Grove, at Cork earlier this month.

Then the high-profile Sergei Prokofiev ran a stinker in the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh, finishing fifth of five behind Advertise.

At Gowran Park ten days ago, O’Brien’s South Pacific was beaten and the following day produced two far more costly failures, at Leopardstown.

Sydney Opera House, following a promising first outing at the Curragh, looked nailed on in a colts and geldings maiden, but the 4-9 shot had no answer to the surge of Kevin Prendergast’s first-timer, Madhmoon, through the final furlong.

Earlier on the card, O’Brien’s Fire Fly, the 2-1 favourite, powered ahead up the straight, in a fillies’ maiden, but was eventually run down and decisively beaten to the tune of a length and three quarters by Jim Bolger’s newcomer, Operatic Export.

And then at Deauville last Sunday, O’Brien’s Land Force performed moderately to be beaten over seven lengths in fourth behind the impressive filly, Pretty Pollyanna, in the Group 1 Prix Morny. This week at York, however, it was a bit better, with some encouraging signs the tide maybe turning.

It would be ridiculous, of course, drawing too many conclusions and only time will reveal whether it’s the bug that is responsible for the relatively poor form of the Ballydoyle juveniles.

It is well to note, for instance, that while many of his stable companions have been dropping the baton, the imposing O’Brien-trained Anthony Van Dyck has been stamping himself as a potential star of the future.

A modest seventh on his debut at the Curragh, he won his maiden by eight lengths at Killarney, before slamming the opposition in the Group 3 Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown.

Usually at this time of year, O’Brien would have numerous horses figuring high up in the markets for next year’s 2000 Guineas (May 4) and the Epsom Derby (June 1).

At the moment, though, only Anthony Van Dyck is regarded as a player for O’Brien, 14-1 for the 2000 Guineas and the 16-1 favourite for the Derby. That tells you all you need to know about the current crop of Ballydoyle juveniles.

Mind you, in the midst of all of the worries, there was a Ballydoyle two-year-old that caught this particular eye, Constantinople, at Leopardstown nine days ago.

The son of Galileo was fifth of eight in the maiden won by the aforementioned Madhmoon, after going off an unconsidered 12-1 chance.

Beaten over seven lengths, he didn’t seem to have a clue as to what was required, but was noted going on quite nicely in the final furlong.

Listen, Constantinople may only possess sufficient ability to be able to run to warm himself, but let’s see how he travels in the market next time!

In any case, when the dust has settled at the Curragh today and tomorrow, we are going to be a lot wiser, with O’Brien running two-year-old’s all over the place.

On the bright side...

- KILLARNEY this week housed some decent quality racing and that was enjoyable, considering the number of horror programmes we endured through the summer.

Wednesday was particularly interesting, producing winners that have to be noted going forward, led by Aidan O’Brien’s I Can Fly in a one-mile Listed race.

She looked a good thing and won in a canter, but was returned a remarkable 2-1, was 5-2 on Betfair at one stage, due almost certainly to the indifferent form of O’Brien’s horses.

Dermot Weld is enjoying an excellent campaign and his twice-raced, and unbeaten, Falcon Eight is developing into a really solid sort.

He won a mile and a half maiden on his debut at the Curragh and followed at Killarney by easily dismissing a pair of useful horses in Light Pillar and Legal Spin over eleven furlongs.

What’s to admire about him is that he gets down-and-dirty when the questions are asked and has gone to the line very strong both days.

Experience has long taught me these are the type of horses to have on your side and the son of Galileo has a most likeable attitude.

We wrote here last week about the terrific drive Colm O’Donoghue gave Still Standing, last to first, to win by a head on his belated seasonal debut at Ballinrobe.

The handicapper wasn’t at all impressed, however, at least with the horse, and raised Still Standing by only 3lbs. At Killarney, nine days after Ballinrobe, connections said thank you, as the progressive colt took another handicap in a canter, unextended by three and three parts of a length. This week the handicapper decided a further rise of 10lbs was appropriate.

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