PAT KEANE: Churchill developing into a bit of a puzzle

Isn’t Aidan O’Brien’s clearly well regarded Churchill developing into a bit of a puzzle?

He finished third on his debut at the Curragh in May and then we put him forward here as one for a decent wager on his next outing at Royal Ascot.

Churchill contested the seven furlongs Chesham Stakes and was backed as if defeat was out of the question. He won alright, by what could be best described as a scrambling half a length.

Of course we were delighted with the pay day, but a cold analysis of the performance raised more questions than answers.

The son of Galileo did a bit of weaving about in the closing stages, but it was only his second outing and was entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

He was a 2-5 shot subsequently when beating Tommy Stack’s Alexios Komnenos by a neck in a Group 3 at Leopardstown, but did not please at all on that occasion.

His immediate victims, Dermot Weld’s Currency Converter was third, have not reappeared in the meantime, so one cannot be overly critical of that form.

Then at the Curragh last Sunday, Churchill had little or nothing to beat when a 1-4 shot to cope with three relatively modest rivals in a Group 2. He duly scored by two lengths to earn a first prize of €76,700.

It was a desperately poor contest, after O’Brien had withdrawn the only horse who was capable of giving Churchill a proper test, Capri.

The reason for Capri not meeting the engagement was “unsuitable ground.’’ It was rather interesting, considering the surface on that round-course was officially yielding.

When Capri won his maiden at the Galway festival the ground was given as, yes you’ve guessed it, yielding.

Capri then followed up in a Listed event at Tipperary with an impressive front running display on ground that was worse than Galway, yielding (soft in places).

But we digress and back to Churchill. You would have to say he just did not convince at the Curragh at the weekend.

But all of O’Brien’s comments seem to indicate he really rates this horse and, as a son of Galileo, only a fool wouldn’t respect his opinion.

One thing that did impress about Churchill on Sunday was that he has become such an imposing specimen.

He is certainly much bigger, already, than the man he is called after, Sir Winston Churchill, who stood at just at 5’6”.

Churchill is generally on offer at 8-1 for next year’s English 2000 Guineas and only stable companion, Caravaggio, is a shorter price.

Right now he seems like a horse who is very much a work in progress and the upcoming National Stakes at the Curragh will, hopefully, tell us a lot more about him.

In any case you can only cross the bridge as you go and, at the moment, I wouldn’t back him at twice his current odds for the 2000 Guineas.

YOU’D imagine Dermot Weld was thrilled with the performance of Fascinating Rock in the Group 3 Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh.

He ran on the pace throughout, but was never going to close down the all-the-way winner, Success Days, and was three parts of a length adrift at the line.

That was Fascinating Rock’s first outing since May and history tells us he is a horse who is always better for a run. He loves soft ground, so should enjoy a decent autumn.

But what are we to make of US Army Ranger, returning after taking second behind Harzand in the Epsom Derby in early June, who could only finish fourth in the same contest?

Aidan O’Brien had warned, anyone prepared to listen, that the horse was ready to start back and would come on plenty for the outing.

For most of the day, however, punters seemed intent on ignoring him and US Army Ranger was strong in the offices and on the exchanges.

But the final six or seven minutes before the race became most revealing, as US Army Ranger eased from tight odds-on to easy-to-back odds against.

He performed like a horse in need of a solid blow, easing into contention early in the straight, but soon bottoming out to finish fourth.

Knowing the way O’Brien trains his horses, chances are US Army Ranger will now proceed to improve a bundle. That said one’s over-riding emotion, after the race, was that that this was just a bit disappointing.

I HOPE we aren’t subjected to any more endless waffle about how badly Irish horses can be handicapped in Britain.

Surely, the victory of Tony Martin’s Heartbreak City, in the Ebor Handicap at York, has finally put an end to all of that.

Running for a prize in excess of £174,000, Heartbreak City didn’t just oblige, he did so with any amount in hand, by an unflattering four lengths.

He could be mapped as the likely winner all the way up the straight and it was only a matter of when his 5lbs claiming rider, Adam McNamara, said go.

McNamara is clearly a capable young man and his claim was inspired, to make sure to be sure, so to speak.

But so much in hand had Heartbreak City that he might even have won had his pilot put up 5lbs overweight!

The trainers of the 18 British challengers in the Ebor must have been doing a fair bit of muttering under their collective breaths.

HERE are two Aidan O’Brien-trained horses that are winners in waiting, the two-year-old, Exemplar, and the three-year-old, Tree Of Knowledge.

Both were creditable runners up at the Curragh on Sunday and we are sure to be all the poorer should they fail to deliver, sooner rather than later.


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