Few people outside racing fully realise Aidan O’Brien is Ireland’s greatest living sportsman and that Royal Ascot is his playground. O’Brien brings an arsenal to the Berkshire battleground this week, among them these five weapons.
1. Le Brivido
The most likely winner of the opening race of Royal Ascot is Le Brivido, who will look a little odd running for Ballydoyle in the unfamiliar red colours of Prince Faisal. Rated officially at 114, Le Brivido won the Jersey Stakes at this meeting two years ago when trained by Andre Fabre and looked poised to develop into a prominent Group 1 miler.
Unluckily, injury restricted him to just one more run for Fabre and he switched stables over the winter. His two runs so far for O’Brien have been unremarkable at face value but his fifth place in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May doesn’t tell the whole story.
He was delayed in traffic at two crucial stages of the race and when he did find daylight he quickened impressively, but was far too late to catch the winner, Mushtashry, who he re-opposes today. This colt could have far more ability than he has shown to date and O’Brien is right the man to find it.
Magical is an aptly named four-year-old filly who to date has banked over a million and a half in prizemoney in seven wins and yet still seems to be on an upward curve. Her Classic season was injury restricted, but she recovered well enough to win a Group 1 at Ascot in the autumn before running the brilliant Enable to half a length in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Both contests were over a mile and a half but O’Brien has dropped her back to 10 furlongs this year and three facile victories in Ireland this spring has her rock hard ready to shine in a fascinating race that includes Arc runner up, Sea of Class as well the ultra-consistent and multiple stakes winner, Crystal Ocean. This might well be the highlight of the week packed into two magical minutes.
Television coverage of the Royal meeting clumsily attempts to balance content that appeals both to the purist and the casual passer-by. A normally trusty device that offends neither is to spin an exaggerated narrative around a horse or jockey and squeeze the living daylights from it.
At Cheltenham in March it was all Bryony Frost and at Ascot it falls on the shoulders of the good stayer and latest ‘people’s horse,’ Stradivarius, who attempts to become the first stayer since the great Yeats to retain the two-and-a-half-mile title.
Although unbeaten last year, he always looked beatable and faces an array of talented Ballydoyle middle-distance horses moving up in trip. O’Brien has kept the five-year-old Capri in training for a tilt at the Stayers’ title and, following a couple of pipe openers, the Irish Derby winner from two years back should prove competitive at a generous price.
The Epsom Derby earlier this month was an exciting spectacle, but the quality remains unknown, as five horses are divided by just a length, suggesting group ordinariness rather than individual brilliance.
The third home that day, Japan, heads this week for the King Edward VII stakes over a mile and half. Japan won two from three last year, including victory over his better fancied stablemate, Mount Everest, in the Beresford Stakes and O’Brien made no secret of his regard for this son of Galileo at the start of the season.
He was the hard-luck story in the Derby as his jockey dropped his whip in the heat of the last furlong battle and it would be no surprise if he bounces back strongly this week before scaling greater heights.
5. Ten Sovereigns
Aidan O’Brien had convinced himself over the winter that Ten Sovereigns was a bone fide miler with a true shot at Classic greatness. Although he ran a good fifth over a mile in the 2000 Guineas it was enough to cause a rethink and he reverts to six furlongs in the Commonwealth Cup.
A son of the sprinter No Nay Never by a mare by Exceed and Excel, this looks the ideal trip for Ten Sovereigns, and could be the start of a dominant reign over shorter distances. The Ascot track should suit his running style — lie handy and quicken off a strong pace.
His main opposition could be Simon Crisford’s Jash, who he beat a lot easier than it looked in last season’s Middle Park Stakes and there is no reason why he shouldn’t do so again.