Through reputation, and loosely based on victory in a Curragh maiden, the Galileo colt became favourite for next month’s English Derby and, just as quickly, lost that distinction, despite being successful in his trial at Chester.
It is something which bemuses his trainer, who admits to have come away from that race happy that his charge remains on course for Epsom.
“Everyone has been knocking US Army Ranger, but they shouldn’t,” he insists. “There’s no doubt I was a lot happier coming out of Chester than I was coming out of the Curragh. I remember Joseph saying to Ryan (Moore), giving him the leg up at the Curragh, that this horse could get beaten here and still win the Derby – that’s how far back he was.”
It was always going to be a race against time with a colt which never saw the track as a juvenile, and last week’s run, in which he just held off the attention of stablemate Port Douglas, was just the next stage in a rushed education.
Added O’Brien: “We knew going to Chester that he could easily get beaten, but we had to do it if he was to have a chance in the Derby. He had to learn in one race what he should have been learning in two or three races.
“Often there is one horse which everyone latches onto. If we didn’t run Port Douglas in Chester, US Army Ranger would have been an eight-length winner, a short-priced runner for the Derby, and everyone would be anxious.
“One of the things I loved about him there was how strongly he travelled. At no stage in the race were they going anywhere near quick enough for him.
“When they haven’t run at two, you’re playing catch-up, and it’s a very hard thing to do, especially when you’re going to the Derby. It will test every fibre of his body – his turning, he’ll have to stay, he’ll have to be quick, his mind will be tested – everything will be tested.”
Thus far in 2016, it is the fillies who have performed with distinction for the Ballydoyle team, and such is their perceived superiority over the colts it has been suggested Newmarket 1000 Guineas winner Minding could be asked to take on the colts in the Derby.
Whilst not ruling it out entirely, O’Brien is cold on the idea, preferring to take his time with the classic winner.
“I never heard that,” he reveals. “I wouldn’t be any bit surprised if the lads (Coolmore bosses John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith) spoke about it amongst themselves, but it’s never came as far as us to say ‘this is the plan’.”
Asked whether it would be a commercial risk to run a filly against their colts, who are potential stallion material, he explains: “From my experience with the lads, as they get older, the commercial side doesn’t matter as much as it did when I came here 20 years ago.
“They want to be racing, to have runners in the big races, and have the best chance of winning. One time the lads wouldn’t like to see a horse getting beaten, but they’re very happy now if it’s a part of a programme.
“And, you can’t say for sure Minding would get a mile and a half – it’s not guaranteed, by any means. I would imagine they would prefer to go gently finding about that – go against the fillies first and, if she proves it, go against the colts later on.
“It’s obviously a business, but the lads would like to win the race. And it mightn’t be the right thing to put Minding the Derby – it’s taking two steps, where you could take one step and have a look at the Oaks.”
Even if Minding will take the Oaks route, there are numerous potential Derby contenders amongst her stable companions – Shogun, Idaho, Port Douglas, Deauville, etc. A high-class bunch, no doubt, but make no mistake, US Army Ranger still tops the trainer’s list. I’d be very happy if we end up with a better one,” he asserts.
Meanwhile, O’Brien feels top-class older filly Found is developing into “something very special”.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf heroine suffered defeat on her seasonal reappearance in the Alleged Stakes, but bounced back to win the Mooresbridge and will return to the highest level in the Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday week.
O’Brien said: “You would have to be delighted with Found. The plan was to give her two runs before the Tattersalls Gold Cup. The first day she just did plenty in soft ground. She let go towards the end of the race.
“The next day we knew she had progressed and the thing was to let her relax again and she did. We are seeing what she is starting to turn into now. She is starting to turn into something very special.
“After the Tattersalls Gold Cup, we have either the option of the Coronation Cup or else the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.”