He confirmed as much at the Ballydoyle open day yesterday when admitting he was “flat on the ground” when the news was broken to him that the son of Danehill was to be taken out of training to replace the largely infertile George Washington.
Coolmore Stud had many mares booked in to George Washington, also by Danehill, and felt they had no choice but to replace him with Holy Roman Emperor, when it became clear George was proving less than successful at his new calling.
“It would be fair to say I am more hopeful than confident about the coming season,” said O’Brien.
“I was concentrating on Holy Roman Emperor and allowing the others to come along in their own time. We were concentrating so hard on him, we probably took our eye off the ball with the rest.
“We had all our eggs in one basket. Plenty of others have had to be moved up to see where we are.”
The message seemed clear enough. Right now there are no three-year-olds catching the proverbial pigeons on the Ballydoyle gallops.
Holy Roman Emperor was described by O’Brien as “a bit ahead of everything else here.” You suspect it might have been a good bit.
Mount Nelson and Duke Of Marmalade, possibly, lead the chase at the moment. Mount Nelson rounded off his juvenile career with victory in a Group 1 at Saint-Cloud, while Duke Of Marmalade finished with a creditable neck second to the highly-regarded Paul Cole-trained Strategic Prince in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in August.
O’Brien said of Mount Nelson: “He is a possible for the English 2000 Guineas. He had a break through the winter and is just not there yet. He is a big horse with a lot of scope, who will go to Leopardstown to work rather than run.”
THE son of Rock Of Gibraltar is currently clear second favourite for the Epsom Derby, ranging between 6-1 and 8-1, behind relative hot-pot, Jim Bolger’s Teofilo, who is an even shorter price for the 2000 Guineas.
Those holding ante-post vouchers, however, have every reason for concern. “I am not sure he will stay a mile and a half,” said O’Brien.
He has high hopes for Duke Of Marmalade. “We think a lot of him and he should stay further than a mile. He fractured a pastern and has two pins inserted in it. Like Mount Nelson, he could work after racing at Leopardstown and then go straight to Newmarket. He is a very solid horse and was all at sea, and green, when getting beaten at Goodwood.”
O’Brien is well aware both Mount Nelson and Duke Of Marmalade have plenty to prove. “I believe there is a good chance of them making the step up in class.
“But we are not under any illusions. They were behind Holy Roman Emperor last season and will have to be as good as him, if not better, to beat Teofilo.”
There are plenty lightly-raced horses at Ballydoyle who could step up to the plate as the campaign progresses, led by Motivator’s full-brother, Macarthur.
He only ran once last season, winning his maiden easily at Navan in October, and certainly will not be travelling the Guineas route.
“He may start in the Ballysax at Leopardstown,” said O’Brien.
“He surprised us the way he won his maiden.”
Eagle Mountain has done well over the winter. He looked a real star in the making when cruising to victory in the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh, but was then a bit disappointing when only fourth in the Racing Post Trophy at Newbury.
“He will definitely stay further (than a mile) and could get the Derby trip,” said O’Brien.
“Maybe the Irish 2000 Guineas will be his race.”
The Danzig colt Astronomer Royal will be afforded the opportunity over a mile, but his future could well be as a sprinter.
HIS two outings last season were over six furlongs and, after finishing second at Naas, he made no mistake next time when scoring with lots to spare at Newbury. “He will be given his chance to be a Guineas horse, but has plenty of speed,” said O’Brien.
Admiralofthefleet, who won the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot on his final outing last season, is another to note.
“He wants fast ground and could be a Derby horse. He may go to York for the Dante and, if the ground was good, might have a run before that.
There are some 25 unraced three-year-olds waiting to be unleashed, chief among them is Acapulco, a son of Galileo, and ETU, who is by Kingmambo.
“He’s a very nice horse and could be anything,” said O’Brien And ETU? “A big horse who will do well through the summer.”
Then there’s Cherry Hinton, a Green Desert half-sister to Galileo. “I’m not sure where she’ll start, but is raring to go.”