PAT KEANE: US Navy Flag just defies all known logic

Isn’t US Navy Flag one of the most extraordinary horses in the history of flat racing?

At Newmarket last Saturday he landed the six furlongs Group 1 Darley July Cup and it was an astonishing performance, given what had gone before.

We know Martin Pipe revolutionised the manner in which National Hunt horses were trained and it is no exaggeration to say that U S Navy Flag’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, is threatening to do the same, when it comes to the flat game.

I mean I cannot think of any horse, at least at the top level, who has been campaigned the way that U S Navy Flag has.

The July Cup was the sixteenth race of his life, only half way through his second season in training. The diminutive son of War Front ran no less than eleven times as a juvenile and clearly possesses some constitution.

He actually got beaten in his first four races last season and, in the fourth of those, was fourteenth of eighteen in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Starting at 33-1, he didn’t shape as a horse with much of a future.

But then he came home and landed his maiden immediately at the Curragh, at 13-2, and, essentially, hasn’t looked back since.

U S Navy Flag won three more times before season’s end, including two Group 1 successes, the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes, both at Newmarket.

He ran four times in Britain as a two-year-old and then rounded off a seriously punishing season by making no show at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup in early November.

Because he literally turned up for every dog fight we assumed, at least some of us did, that he really wasn’t exactly highly rated at Ballydoyle, despite his considerable achievements, and probably didn’t warrant a whole lot of attention this season.

His first four runs of 2018 indicated that was solid enough thinking, even if he did finish second behind Romanised in the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh.

In his last race, prior to Saturday, U S Navy Flag was a poor ninth of ten behind John Gosden’s Without Parole in the St James’ Palace at Royal Ascot and that seemed to confirm he was best ignored for future reference. But then O’Brien dropped him down to six furlongs in the July Cup, his three previous outings were over a mile, and U S Navy Flag bounced out and made all to beat the best sprinters around. It was a display that just defied logic.

And, of course, the plan now is for him to head to the richly endowed six furlongs The Everest at Randwick in Australia in October.

What you have just got to love about O’Brien is his determination to race his horses again and again, with no thoughts of wrapping them in cotton wool and rushing off to stud.

Indeed, he said that was very much now the policy of Ballydoyle-Coolmore in an interview with ITV on Saturday, after U S Navy Flag had won. Basically, he indicated there is to be no hiding place for his horses, with a view to stallion duties down the line.

It is a fantastic policy and who wouldn’t want to own or train a horse by U S Navy Flag, as tough a devil as ever set foot on a racecourse.

O’Brien’s attitude seems to be boys and girls you live in a five-star facility, with everything laid on for you, but with that comes responsibility. Your responsibility is go and do what comes naturally anyway, race and race and race some more — when requested.

Another great O’Brien example of running a horse over and over again, eventually finding massive improvement, is the three-year-old filly Athena. She was actually very lightly raced as a two-year-old, finishing seventh and eighth in her only two races.

But by golly has she made up for lost time so far this season, running on no less than eight occasions. She is living proof that this relatively new O’Brien way may well be the right way!

Beaten in her first four races, Athena finally got off the mark in a maiden on the last day of May. At Royal Ascot on June 21, she was fourth behind Magic Wand in the Ribblesdale Stakes and then reappeared ten days later to finish third behind Urban Fox in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh.

Time for a little break for Athena then? You have got to be kidding and six days after the Curragh she found herself strutting her stuff at Belmont Park in New York.

Contesting the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, and partnered by Ryan Moore, Athena came from the back of the field to win in a canter.

There are lots of other examples of O’Brien’s desire to ask his horses to repeatedly show exactly what they have got on the racecourse, the likes of Saxon Warrior and Kew Gardens, for instance.

Kew Gardens is a really good case, who had lots to prove after finishing a remote ninth in the Epsom Derby.

But he has bounced back to take the Group 2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp last Saturday night. Now, suddenly, Kew Gardens has developed into a live Ascot King George hope.

And one other thing about Aidan O’Brien that is becoming clearer by the minute, he is absolutely set on making his son, Donnacha, champion jockey this season. And why not, because Donnacha is a bloody good rider.

THE difference nice ground and fences have made to the Henry de Bromhead-trained Nick Lost cannot be underestimated.

It is no exaggeration to say that during the winter over flights the six-year-old wasn’t much of a horse.

But this brilliant jumper is now unbeaten in two outings over fences and was superb when slamming the 144-rated Childrens List at Limerick last Saturday.

Racheal Blackmore has become his regular partner and isn’t she some rider? It is quite unbelievable to think she is currently the leading National Hunt pilot in the country, in the only sport in which women have no choice but to take on their male counterparts.

She is more than holding her own and recent successes, when getting the best of tight finishes with Davy Russell and Paul Townend, emphasised just how talented she is. They are two of the best around and you have to say that Ms Blackmore is some lady.

WE wrote here last week about how unreliable the handicapper’s ratings for fillies can be and there was further evidence they may be best ignored at Killarney on Monday night.

In a conditions’ race for two-year old’s, Jim Bolger’s daughter of New Approach, Scriobh Nua, had 12lbs in hand of Aidan O’Brien’s colt, El Greco. When they went by the line, however, El Greco was in front, with Scriobh Nua beaten a head and half a length into third. Oops!


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