The saga continued right to the 11th hour as the owner of Native Khan, Ibrahim Araci, sought to have Fallon stood down for the race because he felt that the six-time champion jockey had been in breach of contract when getting off his horse to ride Recital.
The initial application for an injunction was denied but an appeal overturned that decision, leaving O’Brien scrambling for a replacement with less than 12 hours remaining to the stalls opening.
In the end, he found a quality pilot in Pat Smullen but he had never sat on the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes winner before.
“It had nothing to do with us but it wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t ideal for the horse because he’s very exuberant” explained O’Brien. “He wants to do it and you just have to be patient with him. Kieren had won on him and knew him whereas Pat got landed on him without ever having ridden him.
“Seamus (Heffernan) had ridden him a lot at home, but we never believed that the judge would overturn the original decision and Seamus had five booked rides in Tramore. It definitely wasn’t ideal.”
Recital is now being aimed for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, along with Epsom runner-up Treasure Beach, fourth-placed Memphis Tennessee and Seville, who finished tenth.
O’Brien won’t say if Fallon will return to the plate as “jockey arrangements are never spoken about until closer to the time”.
What we do know is that with this quartet, O’Brien will have a strong hand, not just numerically, but in terms of quality. He doesn’t think Epsom winner, Pour Moi or the Queen’s third-placed Carlton House will re-appear but is still expecting a competitive challenge.
It generally is but that hasn’t stopped the Ballydoyle maestro winning it eight times, with Cape Blanco making it five-in-a-row last year. The successes of Galileo and High Chaparral in 2001 and 2002 rank highly in his own personal highlights reel but there is always another test around the corner when you’re Aidan O’Brien.
“For us Epsom is the first time of the year that the three-year-olds are tuned up and also the first time they come together over a mile and a half. You learn an awful lot about them there. You learn the ones that stay, that don’t stay, what ground they like. So usually, what happens is that Epsom sorts them out in your head.
“Epsom can be tactical and you often need to be lucky at it but The Curragh is a straightforward, honest, galloping track and usually the best horse over a mile and a half wins the Irish Derby. There are so many variables at Epsom. You can get thrown in and locked in and a whole load of stuff. The Curragh is probably the best mile and a half track in Europe because it’s open and galloping.”
He is coy about what has been learned, apart from revealing that the trip didn’t inconvenience his horses and “there’ll be little adjustments we’ll be making”, probably in terms of making more use of some and holding onto others a little longer.
With Misty For Me and Roderic O’Connor having taken the first two Classics of the campaign in Ireland, the talk about the possibility of a repeat of the 2008 Aidan Slam, when the Wexford native garnered all five Classics, is already beginning to build. Only Jack Rogers had managed it before in 1935 so it says a lot that O’Brien is being tipped to pull it off for the second time in four seasons.
Whatever happens, Roderic O’Connor’s 2000 Guineas victory will reserve a special place in his heart, as it gave his 17-year-old son Joseph his first Classic success. Even O’Brien is amazed by Joseph’s rise but he understands why it has occurred.
“You have to remember that since his eyes were able to open he’s been in that environment, sucking in all the information. He’s a big man too which is a disadvantage in ways in that he has to be very disciplined (with his weight) but it’s an advantage in that he has unbelievable power for a young fella on a horse.”
Meanwhile, he is bringing his usual army to Royal Ascot next week. The horse everyone is talking about is So You Think, a winner of five Group Ones in Australia before being recruited by Coolmore. Having added the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh to his Group One tally, the machine described by O’Brien as “an unique specimen” will face his most significant European examination to date in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday.
“He’s very exciting. He had the reputation and the profile before he came to us. He was bred in New Zealand and was a great horse in Australia. He’s a unique specimen. We’re very excited with him. This will be his first big test after his two runs and it’s going to be exciting to see it. We’re looking forward to it.
“We don’t ever expose the horses too much at home or ask them to do a lot, but at home, everything about him has always been exceptional so we’ll try to take the next step.”
Another horse he branded exceptional last year was St Nicholas Abbey. Unfortunately, he didn’t build on a thrilling two-year-old campaign when disappointing in the Newmarket 2000 Guineas and not returning to the track for 12 months.
His recent Coronation Cup success at Epsom divided opinions but O’Brien was delighted and suspects that there is more to come from the still inexperienced Montjeu four-year-old.
“He hasn’t done much racing, he’s still very baby-ish and that was the reason we went to Chester with him, to try and teach him. He’d only raced as a two-year-old really, his one run as a three-year-old was a bit of a disaster.
“His first run as a four-year-old was still very baby-ish and we said, ‘if he’s going to go to the Coronation, he has to grow up and learn quick’ and that was the reason we went to Chester.
“(Midday) was a hardened race filly, who was getting three pounds and she quickened by him and got first run on him. He probably done exceptional to get back and win. He put his head down, he didn’t step back from it and, on the line, he was well on top.”
Just like his handler.