There are times when Aidan O’Brien would break your heart.
Take last Sunday’s Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh, a contest where he was due to saddle three of the seven runners.
But two of them, Royal County Down and Cormorant, didn’t meet the engagement, because of “unsuitable ground.’’
That meant his sole challenger was Innisfree, leaving five participants on ground that was officially heavy. There was no evidence whatsoever Innisfree would handle the surface.
Anyone who knows anything about racing will be well aware such conditions can be a serious leveller and so seeking an alternative to the odds-on Innisfree seemed a perfectly logical move.
The obvious choice had to be the Dermot Weld-trained Shekhem, who had been good to us previously in a maiden at Listowel, on soft ground, and who was beaten just a neck by Innisfree, on good ground, at the Galway festival.
When 7-2 became available that represented real value and the trigger was quickly pulled. Despite the fact Innisfree was particularly strong in the market, 4-6 from 5-6, Shekhem was far from neglected and returned at 11-4.
Shekhem did sweat up a bit before the race - it was no great concern - but when he bounded away from the stalls and tried to win the one-mile contest in the first three furlongs then we were immediately on a wing and a prayer.
He simply wouldn’t settle and there was little rider, Chris Hayes, could do about it. But we still had our ace in the hole, his proven ability to plough though the ground.
Innisfree, in contrast, was totally relaxed in behind and shaped as if he could take Shekhem whenever Donnacha O’Brien decided.
But surely, he would start to struggle at some stage and we waited and waited for the surface to finally take its toll. We’re still waiting.
Typical of an O’Brien-horse and typical of a son of Galileo, he would not lie down and fought all the way to the line to beat Shekhem by a neck. Queue silent mutterings of “what does a guy have-to-do to win at this game?’’
And that’s why taking on O’Brien, whether you are a trainer, jockey, or punter, is fraught with danger.
Mind you it hasn’t been the best of campaigns for the Ballydoyle juveniles and, basically, they have not been good enough.
His Armory and Arizona were blown out of the water by Pinatubo in the National Stakes at the Curragh and his three runners in last Saturday’s Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket cut little or no ice.
King Neptune, a 66-1 shot, fared best in fourth, but the rather more highly-rated pair, Lope Y Fernandez and Monarch Of Egypt, were a disappointing sixth and eighth of eight respectively.
But there have been one or two green shoots of late that indicate the war is far from over. Innisfree is clearly a promising talent, but whether a heavy-ground Beresford Stakes will prove a reliable guide to the future remains to be seen.
And then there is O’Brien’s Wichita, who has three outings under his belt. He won a modest maiden on debut at the Curragh on August 23 and followed by finishing half a length second behind the Roger Varian-trained Molatham in Listed company at Doncaster.
There was nothing very exciting about either effort, but then nine days ago Wichita made a big step forward when tackling a Group 3 at Newmarket.
He won in a canter, by seven lengths, but what makes the contest so interesting is fourth placed Monoski, who was beaten ten and three quarter-lengths.
Mark Johnston’s horse was also fourth in that National Stakes at the Curragh and was eleven and a half lengths adrift of Pinatubo. Could Wichita actually be in Pinatubo’s league? Surely not!
IT was lovely to see the affable Shane Foley ride his first Group 1 winner in Britain aboard Jessica Harrington’s Millisle in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.
It is some turn of events that Foley has made such a fantastic recovery from losing his job as first jockey to Michael Halford to reach dizzy heights with the rather amazing 72-year-old, Harrington.
It has never really been explained as to why Foley, who was over ten years with Halford, got the bullet in the first place. At the time Halford was quoted as saying: “There has been no falling out, we’ve just decided Shane won’t be automatic first choice. Shane has been a great asset to us and we’ve had some great days.’’
That’s one mystery and an even bigger mystery is how the Harrington job became vacant in the first place.
Last season Colm O’Donoghue was doing the Harrington driving and that seemed a marriage made in Heaven.
He formed a terrific relationship with her superb Alpha Centauri and they won four Group 1’s, including the Irish 1000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
But this season Foley was appointed as first jockey and has been a massive success, especially with the Harrington two-year-old fillies.
You’d imagine he can hardly credit the fact that one door was slammed firmly shut in his face and another, far more lucrative, flew open.
WE will all be glued to television tomorrow to see if Enable can make history and land an unprecedented third Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.
This has to be Enable’s to lose and only if the five-year-old underperforms can one envisage her meeting defeat.
I mean if she was able to win last year, following the worst possible preparation, then you really want to be with her now, after the ideal preparation.
In 2018 she didn’t make her seasonal debut until winning on the all-weather at Kempton in early September.
Then she won the Arc by a fast diminishing short neck from Sea Of Class, literally dying a thousand deaths in the final hundred yards.
This season she is unbeaten in three Group 1’s, at Sandown, Ascot and York, and will surely take some whacking. Hopefully, she can do it, because showman-Dettori has the capacity to set the place alight!
DO not run your horses out of their grade, unless you want to have seven bells kicked out of you by the handicapper.
Aidan O’Brien’s then 63-rated Four Leaf Clover had the audacity to run in Listed event at Galway last month and was beaten about ten lengths when eighth of ten behind Willie Mullins’ Diamond Hill.
She only beat two horses home, but they were rated far higher and so Four Leaf Clover went up a whopping 17lbs for her troubles.
At Cork on Tuesday she had her sights considerably lowered, contesting a modest mile and a half maiden.
If the handicapper was anywhere near to being right the worst that could have been expected was she would at least be competitive. Eleven horses finished ahead of Four Leaf Clover.