Joseph O’Brien feels Magician heads into today’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh as a relatively unexposed horse – despite him lining up for what will be his sixth race.
Having only won one of his four starts at two, Magician turned up at Chester for the Dee Stakes rather unheralded compared to many of his contemporaries at Ballydoyle but he bolted up, prompting Derby quotes in the process.
Rather than stepping up to a mile and a half, however, he comes back to a mile but his young jockey, who is bidding for a hat-trick in the race after wins on Roderic O’Connor and Power, does not envisage that being a problem
“He was impressive and showed plenty of pace at Chester,” said O’Brien jnr.
“Obviously the step back to a mile is an unknown but we’re hoping he’ll like the quicker ground and I think he’s certainly unexposed under these conditions.
“We always thought he was a real nice horse and he ran nicely first time out but he was very green, greener than we anticipated.
“Then he was unlucky not to win in Dundalk when again he was green and in another ocuple of strides I’d have won.
“He won real well at the Curragh but then he went to Leopardstown on bottomless ground when we really fancied him and he was running really well when he nearly got brought down, he was lucky to stand up.
“So it was a combination of things, with him improving over the winter and not having it go his way last season, that might have caught a few by surprise.
“He’s a nice horse and even though he’s had plenty of racing he’s unexposed to a certain extent.”
O’Brien, who has won the race eight times, also runs Flying The Flag, who will be ridden by Colm O’Donoghue, Seamie Heffernan’s mount Gale Force Ten and George Vancouver who will be partnered by Pat Smullen.
Richard Hannon ruled Olympic Glory out of the race earlier in the week but still holds a strong hand with Havana Gold, a close-up fifth in the French Guineas, and Van Der Neer, third to Dawn Approach at Newmarket.
Van Der Neer is owned by Saeed Manana and his racing manager, Bruce Raymond, said: “Immediately after the Guineas, there was a temptation to step him up to 10 furlongs as he finished very strongly.
“We were thinking Dante originally, but if you win a Dante you would feel obliged to run in the Derby and being by Dutch Art, a mile and a half would maybe be too far for him at this stage.
“So, his owner said with this race coming up, he’d rather run in another Classic and step him up in trip after this.
“We’ve always thought a lot of him and William Buick loved the horse at Newmarket.
“He’s going there as second-favourite and he’s got a very good winning chance.
“I know he’s won on soft at Leicester but Richard Hughes felt that was the reason he got beaten in the Racing Post Trophy and he showed at Newmarket that fast ground is fine for him so that won’t be an issue here.”
Hannon’s son and assistant Richard jnr also feels Van Der Neer will run a big race while not discounting Havana Gold.
“Van Der Neer’s third in the Guineas was an extremely good run. We’ll ride him a little bit handier than at Newmarket. He needs at least a mile, if not 10 furlongs, and he’ll run very well,” he told At The Races.
“If he steps up on the form from the Guineas, he’ll take a lot of beating.
“Havana Gold used a lot of energy to get where he did in France. Jamie (Spencer) had no choice and gave him a super ride, he just got tired going to the line and was beaten about two lengths.
“He’s capable of winning a Guineas.”
Johnny Murtagh sorted his trainers’ licence out just in time for this weekend and is hoping for a dream start with Fort Knox, who was bought by Sheikh Mohammed after winning a trial for this race.
Murtagh also runs the Andrew Tinkler-owned Ask Dad, who was supplemented.
“Fort Knox is in very good form, he was impressive at Leopardstown and since then we’ve had a clear run,” said Murtagh, who will ride the horse himself.
“He’s a hold-up horse, he likes following them and using his acceleration at the end.
“The Sheikh Mohammed team bought him after Leopardstown and have been out to see him on the gallops. It’s great they left him with us.
“Andrew (Tinkler) was keen for Ask Dad to run. We thought he’d run better at Naas last week but it was his first run for a while. Andrew has had Dubawi Gold and Foxtrot Romeo placed in the race recently.
“He’s not a pacemaker, he has to step up but we think he will.”
Andy Oliver’s First Cornerstone has had a couple of little setbacks which have delayed his reappearance until now.
First Cornerstone was fourth in the Racing Post Trophy last season after winning the Futurity Stakes.
“We took him out of the Derrinstown (Derby Trial Stakes on May 12) due to a bad scope but that looks to have cleared up now,” said Oliver.
“Obviously I had hoped to get a run into him and it’s not ideal for him to be having his first start of the season, but those are the circumstances we find ourselves in and I’m hoping for a good run.”
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