In our presence for two lots on a mild morning in Ballydoyle, one rogue dares step out of line – momentarily. It’s nothing really, hardly noticeable. Then back in line, and the serenity returns, the horses complete their warm-up, and head out of the barn, each rider having been greeted individually, and given instruction, via ear-pieces tuned to O’Brien’s open-channel walkie-talkie.
It’s all very inclusive, very fair, and open. The horses, all wearing heart monitors, walk to the bottom of the gallop and come up, as instructed. Despite our distance, the boss tells us which each is, often referring to them by their dam’s name.
Air Vice Marshal leads Air Force Blue in his work. It’s routine, very relaxed, and both, to the untrained eye, look on good terms with themselves. O’Brien agrees, before divulging more on the latter, who was champion juvenile in 2015 but disappointed when short-priced favourite for the Newmarket 2000 Guineas on his return.
Derby trials dominate the programme currently, but getting Air Force Blue on track is obviously of most immediate importance, and that opportunity will come at the Curragh in less than a fortnight, when, he contests the Irish 2000 Guineas.
In typically self-deprecating manner, O’Brien blames himself for what might have gone wrong in Britain, but retains full faith in the War Front colt.
“He’s very natural, very fast, and we treated him like all our other Guineas winners. But, all horses are different, and maybe I overworked him,” he explains.
Asked whether the tongue-tie he sported at Newmarket would be refitted, he replied earnestly, and with a smile: “I don’t think it will be, because anything I did for the English Guineas I won’t do again - because it was a dramatic failure really, wasn’t it?
“It was put on because his work was very good, but his second-last piece of work I was shocked how quick he was. First impression was: I’m not sure you’re going to get a mile. He was very strong on the bridle.
“Sometimes when you put a tongue-tie and a cross-noseband on a horse it can make him slow down and back off a little bit. He did that straight away in his canter.
“You’re making calls all the time, but sometimes you can make bad ones. But, if you think something can make a horse better I would always rather do it. Everything we do is in good faith, but until you do it, you can’t be sure it will work. You hope you’ve done things wrong, and that you’re able to get it back. His work is changing and, looking at it recently, you’d think he’s going to travel strong early in the Irish Guineas. That’s his natural way of doing it, and that’s how he was as a two-year-old.
“There’s nothing wrong with him, and I hope we’ll see a different horse the next day. Then we’ll know whether or not we over-trained him. It’s always possible he does not stay a mile – I still won’t believe he’ll get it until I see it. He has the option to go back in trip – possibly for the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot.
“The Curragh comes at a good time, because it sorts out your plans for Ascot. We’ve had a lot of horses run in the Guineas and get beaten, and then run at Ascot and be different horses. He could make progress to the Curragh, and more to Ascot.”
Air Vice Marshal, who fared much better at Newmarket, finishing fourth behind Galileo Gold, will likely join his stablemate at the Curragh. But little time is spent discussing his merits. It’s quite clear: there’s a point to prove with Air Force Blue - last season regarded the best two-year-old his all-conquering trainer has handled – and until that happens, his meticulous master will not be satisfied.