Aidan O’Brien has squad to overhaul Bobby Frankel’s Group One record
Sunday 7 May 2017
Andy Stephens looks at Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle firepower after Churchill and Winter handed him his third Guineas double at Newmarket and analyses whether Bobby Frankel's record of 25 Group or Grade Ones in a calendar year is in jeopardy from the Ballydoyle maestro.
Different day, same result.
The Coolmore juggernaut again flattened its rivals on the Rowley Mile on Sunday and the bad news for those trying to halt the momentum of Aidan O’Brien over the summer is that he is only just getting warmed up.
The victory of ante-post gamble Winter in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas, at the expense of stablemate Rhododendron, came 24 hours after Churchill had made a successful reappearance for the same all-conquering connections in the 2000 Guineas.
Seventh Heaven and Somehow also won significant prizes with ease at Headquarters over the weekend, and with the stable enjoying a one-two-three in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown this felt like one-way traffic with the lights green at every junction.
Those seeking variety over the months ahead may be in for slim pickings.
You name it, O’Brien has the ante-post favourite for it. The market leader, or in some instances market leaders, for the Irish 1000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, St James’s Palace Stakes, Gold Cup, Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes all reside at Ballydoyle.
And that only takes us to the end of next month.
No trainer in the history of the sport has achieved so many top-tier wins as O’Brien - almost 300 now on the Flat and over jumps - and the foundations are in place for him to finally surpass Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group One/Grade One wins in a year.
O’Brien traded short last year in his global pursuit but his team ran out of puff in the autumn and early winter. He was left with a haul of 23, with 22 of them on the Flat and one over jumps.
Some will say it is early days to be talking about him pushing the boundaries this season but the horses he has at his disposal suggest it might be a formality.
Paddy Power offer 6-1 against him breaking the record but William Hill are less cautious and go 10-1. That latter price may just be the bet of the year.
Last year, the 13 horses who combined to provide O’Brien with his 22 winners at the highest level on the Flat were Minding (five wins), Highland Reel (two), Alice Springs (two), Seventh Heaven (two), The Gurkha (two), Churchill (two), Found, Deauville, Order Of St George, Rhododendron, Brave Anna, Caravaggio and Roly Poly.
Found and The Gurkha have been retired but the other 11, responsible for 19 of the victories, remain in training.
That gives O’Brien a tremendous “A Team” and does not even include Winter, who came of age on Sunday.
The “B Team” consists of horses such as Cliffs Of Moher, Orderofthegarter, Venice Beach, US Army Ranger, Idaho, War Decree, Lancaster Bomber, Washington DC, Acapulco, Cougar Mountain, Douglas Macarthur, Yucatan and Capri.
It does need end there, of course, because then there is the untapped potential of O’Brien’s “C Team” - his late-maturing unraced or lightly raced three-year-olds plus his battalion of two-year-olds.
Last year, five juveniles combined to give him six Group One victories.
Traditionally, the weak link in O’Brien’s armour has been in the sprint division. The top prizes over five and six furlongs have gone begging but that could change over the months ahead. Acapulco, the Queen Mary Stakes and Nunthorpe runner-up who is 7-1 for the King's Stand Stakes, has joined the Ballydoyle ranks from Wesley Wardand it seems increasingly likely that the unbeaten Caravaggio will have his head turned in that direction.
Speaking exclusively to Racinguk.com, O’Brien said a decision over whether Caravaggio would contest the French 2,000 Guineas or instead be campaigned as a sprinter would be taken early this week.
The Lacken Stakes, a six-furlong race exclusively for three-year-olds at Naas on May 21, has already been identified as an alternative to a trip to Deauville.
“We will probably decide [which route to take] on Monday or Tuesday,” O’Brien said. “There’s a chance he might go sprinting. We are trying to split them up a little bit.
“He might fit into that [sprinting] slot, which would be great. He was a very exciting horse last year.”
Earlier, when asked about his domination, O’Brien typically deflected praise away from himself.
“We are a big team and I’m a small part of it,” he insisted. It is a familiar refrain.
“People [at Ballydoyle] take pride in what they do. It’s a massive team.
“We take one day at a time, that’s all we can do. We have beautifully-bred horses, they come from great bloodlines. Everyone all along the line is doing their best and, I think, enjoying what they are doing.”
Asked how he would view himself if it were him trying to keep up, he initially said: “I’m always very happy for everyone in every way.” Then, struggling over his words, he smiled, gave up and said: “You ask me very difficult questions. I’m not educated enough to be answering that one.”
If O’Brien does break Frankel’s record, which has stood since 2003, he intends doing it fairly.
On Saturday, there were some whispers about an element of team tactics in the 2,000 Guineas but O’Brien is very sensitive about the subject and, on Sunday, volunteered his thinking when it came to pacemakers.
“Usually in races if we have front-runners, or horses that are ridden we always strike them up in the middle,” he said. “By doing that everyone gets a clean shot.
“We always think we do our best, and that’s all we can do, fairly, you know what I mean? Listen, it still doesn’t always happen that way because things happen.”
Two down, 24 to go. Beware getting in the way of the O'Brien Group One-win machine.