Tag Archives: Aiden O’Brien

Preview: 2018 Melbourne Cup

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A cocky headline: “Here’s Your Winner!” – that was it for the Melbourne Cup preview exactly twelve months ago. Oh how good that felt, when half a night of sleep later Rekindling landed the big pot at 14/1!

Now, up until then it had been a solid decade of failed attempts to find the winner in the race that stops a nation. So I can hardly claim of having magic power if it comes to making a winning selection. But sometimes you have this feeling of certainty. You simply know it…. the 6th November of 2017 it was exactly that.

Do I know this time as well? No. Plain and simple.

This year is incredibly competitive. There are a good seven or eight horses on my shortlist. Three from the list I fancy significantly more than the others. And two of them I’m most confident will be in the money, granted they get a run for it.

It certainly isn’t my cup of tea punting the favourite. Less so in the Melbourne Cup. Guess what? Yucatan is my selection. As he’s on the drift throughout the day already, his price finally reached a point where I have to conclude: too big!

I get why there is increased negativity around the once-Derby-fancy. Suddenly the commentary of “it’s been only a single good run” become much louder, as all the experts get their opinions out there with the race approaching ever so slowly. The wide draw has done the rest. Oh, and the ground. Rain is coming. How much? How will it impact the going conditions? Hard to say. This bit of uncertainty doesn’t help.

What is certain: Yucatan never lived up to the 12-1 quotes he received for the Epsom Derby more than a year ago. He never had the chance to do so, missing the big one, but also endured issue after issue ever since. Aiden O’Brien alluded as much in recent days:

“Yucatan was a horse we couldn’t really get 100 per cent right through the whole year.”

In honesty, judging him by this 2018 European form he’s not a Melbourne Cup favourite. A Group 3 success over 1m 2f and a Group 3 third place finish over 1m 4f behind smart Eziyra can be considered decent form, yet it’s far from exciting.

Nonetheless, Yucatan always remained a talented individual, who only would need to get a clear run of form and the right conditions – that what connections always felt. For some horses this day never comes. For Yucatan it did. And boy, it id!

First start in Lloyd Williams colours Down Under at Caulfield in the Herbert Power Stakes  last month: it seemed Yucatan is a different horse to what he was only a few weeks earlier in Europe. Was it the sun? The ground? The change of scenery? Maybe a bit of everything.

The dramatic mid-race-move from the back of the field, while always travelling three wide, to take it up from 3f out, leaving the rest of the field standing still, jockey James McDonald pulling him up with half a furlong to go….  visually this was one of the most stunning performances you’ll ever see in Group company.

The question is, of course, what is it worth? I’d argue it’s worth more than some people want to make us believe.

True, those in second and third are no world beaters. But the third, Prince Of Arran, was a 111 rated individual in the UK, who ran a massive race when runner-up in the Northumberland Plate earlier this year, and who followed up on his third behind Yucatan with a fine victory in a Group 3 at Flemington earlier this week! Dismissing this rival so easily rates as pretty significant in my book.

Significant also the comments by Aiden O’Brien – usually not the type of character who’d give a lot away beyond the “he’s well” mantra. For him it’s rather bullish stating:

“The way it fell, it looked like he was going to really suit the Melbourne Cup but he was too low in the weights, so we he had to win to get in, and we saw what happened. … He looks on a very good mark.”

He looks indeed! A nice weight, not a nice draw, though. Statistics say it’s near impossible to win from gate 23. This year might be different. Pace is drawn close to him and might give him a nice lead to follow early in the race. Obviously you don’t wanna burn too much fuel early on either, given we aren’t sure whether he truly stays the new trip. On the other hand, drifting back into the pack will mean he’d need all the luck in the world – something you surely don’t want to rely on if you’re on the best horse in the field.

In saying that, whether he’ll appreciate the extra furlongs is the main question mark for me. I never looked like he’s crying out for, to be honest. But he’s by Galileo. So there is always a fair chance he does get the distance. So, if his chances aren’t ruined after the start hen I’m fairly confident we will see Yucatan go extremely close in the 2018 Melbourne Cup.
I mentioned at the beginning of this preview that there are two horses I feel extremely positive about. Yucatan is one. Cross Counter is the other one. A lightly raced three-year-old finding his way into the race with the benefit of a featherweight. Where have we heard this story before? Yep, right – Rekindling!

It’d argue this lad is at least as good as last years winner. For a start, he’s achieved the second highest time speed rating of all in this field. Only Cliffs Of Moher bettered this – last year in the Derby. I’m not sure if I trust that particular figure, nor whether COM is able to reproduce anything like it ever again; however, Cross Counter has run to 106 and 107 subsequently in his last two starts. Surely this guy is on the up and still improving, if not already top class.

His Gordon Stakes success at Goodwood over the summer was scintillating; overturned as a short-priced favourite the next time in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, he was staying on strongly to be only beaten by a head eventually. Not a bad race either, given the third, Kew Gardens, followed up with an impressive success in the Doncaster St. Leger!

No doubt, Cross Counter was still learning his craft. He often looked a little bit raw; but he’s approaching his eight lifetime start now – he should have learned plenty.

Trip and draw are the main question marks. He’s also wider drawn than ideal. Hopefully, like with Yucatan, he can get a nice lead by the pace around him to tow him toward the front of the field. Trip wise, of course, you never find out until you run them – in saying that, the way he ran on in the closing stages at York are a positive indicator that the trip might be within his range.

Given his official rating of 114, he isn’t far off the best European raiders already, however his featherweight off eight stone should be a tremendous advantage.

 

So, there we have it: two selections for the race that stops a nation. I’m not as confident as last year. Simply because of the draw situation and because there are few others in the field you have to take quite serious: last years co-favourite Marmelo and Chester Cup hero Magic Circle are dangerous. The main threat, though, should be impressive Ebor winner Muntahaa. He’s top class and will run big if his temperament holds up.

Selection:
10pts win – Yucatan @ 6.2/1 MB
10pts win – Cross Counter @ 8.4/1 MB

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Preview: Breeders’ Cup Classic 2018

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9.44 Churchill Downs: Breeders’ Cup Classic, 1m 2f

It’s always hard to assess US form properly if you watch the Dirt racing only with one eye. So, when I dismiss the home raiders in the blink of an eye I do so knowing full well it may turn out to be a foolish move in a few hours time.

But if it comes to this years Classic I feel pretty strong about two European runners. For different but then also somewhat similar reasons. In either case, the one of Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn, a lot will depend on the start of the race, I believe. It’ll make or break their chances.

Thunder Snow in gate one faces an uphill task. He’s never showed tremendous gate speed, so this is a major risk. However, if experienced Sumillon in the saddle is able to push his mount forward, so he’ll not end up behind a wall of horses entering the first bend, but rather tracking the pace in third, fourth or fifth, then the reigning Dubai World Cup champion is in a position to win the race.

That performance back in March is to be taken with a pinch of salt due to the rail bias that day. However, he beat some excellent dirt horses in tremendous style and ever since the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the goal.

A disappointing effort in the Juddmonte International aside, on his return to the US, for the first time after his disastrous experience in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow ran a tremendous race in defeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He was more sensibly ridden than the two pace setters, but still was pushed forward rather aggressively from the widest gate. That must have cost vital fuel. Contrast that with the eventual winner of the race, who had pretty much the perfect race and ride and simply picked up the pieces in the closing stages, having the most left in the tank.

Thunder Snow tracked the pace from a long way off in third place throughout the race and was gradually closing in until catching the leaders entering the home straight. He led in the final furlong, eventually beaten on the line by the fast finishing Discreet Lover.

That was an excellent run, the second after a break and only a prep for today – you would think there is still a bit to come from him, hoping he’ll peak when it matters most: today.

His form on dirt reads an impressive 11P21212 – so clearly Thunder Snow is a classy individual. Everything hinges on the start. If he can get through that without getting too far behind, then I’m confident Godolphin has a major shout at celebrating a first Classic Success.

A first one in this regard it would also be for team Ballydoyle. I’m sure there are quite a few who’ve already given up on Mendelssohn at this stage, given in three starts over in the US, ever since producing that sheer unbelievable performance in Meydan, he’s yet to come close to winning.

I see it from a different perspective: today was always the goal. Knowing Aiden O’Brien, you can be sure he’ll have Mendelssohn spot for the race they want to win desperately. Also, something that seems overlooked: Mendelssohn, for whom the way races are run in the US must have been a bit of culture shock, has steadily improved from race to race over there.

You can easily draw a line under the Kentucky Derby; since then 3-2-3, the last two in Grade 1 contests over the Classic trip. I’ve been mightily impressed with this most recent performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Mendelssohn was sprinting forward right from the start, racing for the lead with odds-on favourite Diversify – the two set mad fractions and where more than ten lengths clear halfway through the race! They were caught eventually, but it was Mendelssohn who battled on toe finish a two lengths beaten third in the end.

One could argue, only with some sort of soft lead, steeling the race from the front, Mendelssohn will have a chance to win today. He’s not quite up to the standard to be considered a major contender, otherwise. That is probably an assessment not too far of the truth, by all we know up until now.

I see it from this perspective, though: Mendelssohn is improving. His latest run was a new career best. He’s still not got too many miles on the clock. He’s got an ideal draw to move forward today. He had a pretty ideal preparation, stays the trip and is a returning Breeders’ Cup winner, i.e. he has class!

I might be totally wrong. Overestimate these two Europeans, and underestimate the US horses, like favourite Accelerate, Mckinzie and Catholic Boy. I might overvalue the merit of the Jockey Club Gold Cup performances. And if I fancy the second and third of that race, I should fancy the winner, Discreet Lover at massive odds of 50/1 even more so today, right?

Well, I stick to my analysis, that both Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow didn’t have ideal races that day, ran big despite the factors against them, and both offer significant upside coming into the Breeders’ Cup Classic today.

Selections:
10pts win – Thunder Snow  @ 14/1 Coral
10pts win – Mendelssohn @ 10/1 PP

Preview: Dewhurst Stakes 2018

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Odds-on favourite Too Darn Hot couldn’t have been more impressive in his three career starts. Winning the Champagne Stakes thanks to a deadly turn of foot without making it even remotely look hard work was quite something. He’s hard to oppose on that basis.

On the other hand, analyzing a a metric that I personally hold dearly – time speed ratings – the achievements of those lining up today turn this renewal of the Dewhurst into a more open race than one would have thought, if purely checking the betting market and assessing the left-hand column of the racecard.

Best TS Rating to date: 
Too Darn Hot – 106
Mohawk – 104
Anthony Van Dyck – 103
Advertise – 100

Obviously you can’t take this at face value. There is more to racing and performance. Particularly with these unexposed juveniles, performances can fluctuate, improvement can be sudden and unexpected, also TS ratings depend on circumstances.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting additional layer to interpret performance to date. Certainly what this shows is that TDH is likely to be the best horse in the race on what he’s achieved on the clock to date – but only by a slim margin.

For me the takeaway here is the urge to assess the two O’Brien horses, who ran to career best 103- and 104 TS rating last time out. Anthony Van Dyck’s National Stakes performance certainly rates highly. He’s expected to improve for it and he should make it a race for the favourite. He looks useful type who can progress into a top class individual next year.

In saying that, at given prices, his stable mate Mohawk clearly is a much more interesting individual. Five starts already, he didn’t look anywhere near top level when comprehensively beaten in the Futurity- and National Stakes subsequently.

However, this son of Galileo looked still raw and green to some extend those days. On the other hand, as a January foal, he should be rather forward by now. And he finally turned good last month at Newmarket in the Royal Lodge Stakes.

He looked bigger and better than ever. Granted, it was probably not the strongest of Group 2’s ever ran at HQ, it was still an impressive performance visually, as Mohawk quickened nicely in the closing stages to win a shade cozily. The fact that the visual impression is backed up by the TS rating gives me confidence that this lad has learned and improved, indeed.

The Royal Lodge was over a mile. Dropping back to 7 furlongs, a trip Mohawk was outran in Group company already, isn’t ideal. The rain is coming though, should take the fast out of the ground potentially, and may help to make this race more of a stamina test.

That’s a lot of “could be” and “if’s” to hope for – in saying that, as I am trying to make a case for a 25/1 shot, that’s rather expected. The likely outcome is that Mohawk, with Wayne Lordan in the saddle – which isn’t exactly a vote of confidence – won’t be good enough.

Regardless, the price is too big in a race where we can not predict how these juveniles have progressed since we saw them the last time. Given Mohawk appears to be making significant steps in the right direction I feel he’s got a chance to be competitive today.

Selection:
10pts win – Mohawk @ 25/1 PP

Preview: Prix Marcel Boussac 2018

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Arc day kicks off in under an hour – the opening race is one that interests me given the Aiden O’Brien trained filly Pink Dogwood is nice price in an open contest.

The favourite for the home side, Rocques has to be taken very serious after a recent Group 3 success, however is too short in the betting.

Instead Pink Dogwood offers tremendous value. This February foal has improved with each run this year and won in impressive style a couple of weeks ago at Gowran Park. She made all from the front and easily left the rest – in fairness not a particularly strong – field standing still in the closing stages.

The daughter of Camelot is stunning to look at, she clearly is quite forward and should be uncomplicated to ride in this small field, where she might be able to dictate from the front and then difficult to peg back.

Let’s hope this is a good start to the day; the cherry on the cake follows in the main event?

Selection:
10pts win – Pink Dogwood @ 4/1 PP

Preview: Irish Champion Stakes 2018

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This years renewals of the Irish Champion Stakes wins in excitement purely on the basis of the renewed clash between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. Both met several times in big races over the last two seasons and it has been interesting to see how each individual progresses differently.

One could argue that since the 2017 Racingpost Trophy Roaring Lion has been the more progressive one; certainly since Saxon Warrior landed his own early season target with the 2000 Guineas, Aiden O’Brien’s charge has been playing second fiddle on three occasions behind “The Lion”.

The last time, in the Juddmonte International, the gap was at its biggest ever since these two dated each other for the first time. 5 lengths Roaring Lion had to spare that day. Will it be different today?

It’s been a long year for both horses now and it probably comes down who’s able to hold his form.

On paper Roaring Lion is poised to win another battle today. Ground and track should suit him, and the fact AOB seems to throw the kitchen sink at him reminds me a little bit of 2009 when the same happened taking Sea The Stars on.

Regardless, taking prices into account, I find it impossible to back the favourite, even if he is the most exciting horse of 2018 and he’s likely to win today. Odds-on is a no go for me. And this particular race has proven over the last number of years it can be a bit of a minefield for short priced favs.

So I settle happily with Ballyoyle’s second string: Rhododendron. Her Lockinge Stakes win earlier this year rates as a superb piece of form and as she has proven in the past to stay 10 furlongs she would be a much shorter price if not for an abysmal run of form.

I bank on her to find back to her best today, for the simple fact the AOB yard wasn’t right for some time this summer and her runs were simply too bad to be true.

The setup of the race today could suit her well. In saying that, she has to find with the two market principles, of course. But then, she is a massive price, and on her best form she should be half of the odds available today.

Selection:
10pts win – Rhododendron @ 22/1 PP

Big Race Preview: St. Leger 2018

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A wide open St. Leger – I’m saying that despite the betting telling a different story. It’s a foolish price for John Gosden’s clearly exciting filly Lah Ti Dar. But so exciting to believe 7/4 is the right price? Surely not. Not for a filly that, albeit totally unexposed, has yet to run to a time speed rating of 100 or more.

She may well be the one to beat here, she may well be proving her class and stamina today – at this incredibly short price I rather look elsewhere.

I have not to look far. My eyes set firmly on what Aiden O’Brien brings to the table. And that is so much more than Kew Gardens. He’s clearly a classy individual. He should enjoy the Leger trip. But can he improve again? Does he even have to? Probably not. He’s setting the standard here, in my mind.

But he’s well exposed. We know what we get. And that may or may not be good enough. At given prices it’s nothing more than fair. And the fact team Ballydoyle brings a handful of runners here doesn’t scream confidence in Kew Gardens.

Two other runners have caught my eye. Not for the first time this is The Pentagon. A promising juvenile last year, he also showed continued promise earlier this year; I quite liked his 3rd placed finish in the Derrinstown Derby Trial and subsequently saw him as a fair each-way chance in the Derby.

He was a long way beaten that day eventually, though that run was better than the bare form may suggest. He’s been beaten in the Irish Derby and the Great Voltiger subsequently – but both runs showed there is some class. Particularly his Curragh performance, where he made a lot of ground from the back of the field is interesting.

Stepping up in trip could suit. The Pentagon has no turn of foot, he’s more of a grinder, I feel. That may well suit the Leger and he can outran his big price tag.

So can be stable mate Southern France. Less exposed and a huge individual in physical presence, his return from a small break in the Irish St. Leger Trial last month was hugely promising.

He clearly wasn’t well placed trailing the field and had a lot of ground to make up in the home straight. Which he did pretty easily. He wasn’t beaten up to finish closer to those in front of him who also either set the pace or rode close to it for most parts of the race. It was a lovely prep for the big one, I feel.

Selections:
5pts Win – The Pentagon @ 26/1 MB
5pts Win – Southern France @ 17/1 MB

Friday Selections: August, 3rd 2018

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

Three on the bounce! What rare joy to find a winner on three consecutive days – Land Force (7/2) clearly stayed the trip as hoped and won the Richmond Stakes in commanding style under a class ride by Ryan Moore.

……

5.50 Newmarket: Class 5 Handicap, 12f

It was a disappointing handicap debut for Floria Tosca the other day after she showed a bit of promise in three maiden starts. I was keen on her the last time as I thought that judged by her second start at Chelmsford she could be well treated off her opening mark. That form worked out incredibly well and her subsequent performance at Bath looked more than decent too.

A fortnight ago the race then didn’t quite worked out the way as hoped. They were crawling for most parts, Floria Tosca was left flat footed over 4f out but then made quite a bit of stylish progress to lead briefly over 2f out. She didn’t see it out eventually and that becomes a bit of a habit now, which is a concern.

Hopefully it is more greenness than anything else. She is bred for the job so upped to 12f may suit. There should be a fair pace on the cards today and it is very winnable race. Dropped 3lb to a mark off 70 plus interesting young apprentice Marco Ghiani in the saddle who claims another 7lb means the filly must enter calculations here.

Selection:
10pts win – Floria Tosca @ 11/1 PP